Scouts favour Aaron Ekblad to go No. 1 overall in 2014 NHL entry draft

Defenceman Aaron Ekblad is a favourite among scouts as the top pick of the 2014 NHL entry draft.

The NHL draft is only days away and it looks like Aaron Ekblad is the favourite as the No. 1 overall pick among scouts.

Yahoo Sports polled five different amateur scouts from different NHL teams to pick their brains prior to the 2014 entry draft on Friday in Philadelphia. The scouts all cover different territories – including Western Canada, the U.S., Ontario and Quebec-Maritimes.

Ekblad, a defenceman with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, was the player the majority would select if they held the first pick – like the Florida Panthers. If that comes to fruition, Ekblad would become the first defenceman since Erik Johnson in 2006 to go first-overall.

“He's the one player who is most ready to step in and contribute next season,” said one scout of the 6-foot-3, 213-pound defender. “Also (he’s) simply the best player available.”

“It’s hard to ignore the size on the back end, leadership experience both in (the OHL and) in national team events,” said another scout. “He has the intangibles that teams look for and there’s still room to improve.”

The 18-year-old defenceman was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada which allowed him to play in the OHL a year early as a 15-year-old. Even as a rookie in the league, the Belle River, Ont., native proved to be a calm and reliable on the blue line. He didn’t look out of place when he became one of Team Canada’s top defencemen at the 2014 world junior tournament in Malmo, Sweden, either.

“He has the body of like a 35- or 40-year-old,” said world junior teammate Mathew Dumba during an interview in Malmo in January. “The guy shaves his chest every week. I can’t believe it, he’s a man-child.”

Only one scout said he’d choose Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart with the top pick: “He has high-end skill, (hockey) sense and character.”

According the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s final rankings, Kingston Frontenacs forward Sam Bennett is the top-rated player followed by Ekblad and Reinhart. Finnish forward Kasperi Kapanen, son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, is the top-rated European skater.

Of all the forwards to make the jump to the NHL next year, the majority of scouts felt Reinhart was the most ready.

The scouts were also unanimous in terms of how shallow this year’s draft is expected to be in terms of top-end talent – especially when compared to the last few years. The 2015 draft already has blockbuster potential with highly touted forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and defenceman Noah Hanifin.

As for the 2014 NHL draft which begins at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, these scouts expect the talent to drop off quickly.

“You’ll have six real high-end guys,” said one scout. “Then it drops again after about 22.”

“The draft will be all over the board once we get into the third and fourth rounds,” said yet another.

Here are a compilation of the scouts’ answers to a few questions asked prior to the draft:

Is there a player you think has been rated lower in the CSB rankings than he should be?

- Josh Ho-Sang, C/RW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

- Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

- Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

- Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL), Brandon Montour, D, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL), Dominic Turgeon, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), Edgars Kulda, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

- Connor Chatham, RW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)


Which player do you think has the greatest potential to end up as a bust?

- Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

- Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

- Josh Ho-Sang, C/RW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

- Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

- Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)


Of the top forwards available for the draft who in your estimation is the most ready for the NHL?

- Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

- Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

- Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

- Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

- None of them, they all need way more time. Generally we tend to push guys into the NHL too soon.


Each year someone expected to go high falls down the draft list – who’s that player this year? 

- Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

- Hard to tell this year, could be a number of players.

- Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

- Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

- Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)