2014 NHL Entry Draft: Prospect Wish List

Aaron Ekblad, Nikolay Goldobin, and Thatcher Demko highlight the prospect wishlist.

With the NHL Entry Draft less than a month away, we take a look at prospects who are ranked around where the Panthers have selections, and which of those I'd like to see them add to the organization come Draft Day, 2014.

Panthers Selections

This year, the Panthers have five selections in the draft:

  • Round 1: 1st overall pick
  • Round 2: 32nd overall pick
  • Round 4: 92nd overall pick
  • Round 5: 143rd overall pick
  • Round 7: 182nd overall pick
Due to the nature of the draft and prospect rankings, there will be huge discrepancies in rankings from team to team, and scout to scout, and as such, the projections given are just that; projections.  It's very possible that a team sees something they like in a prospect, and select him much higher than the majority of mock drafts would have guessed.  It's also possible that NHL teams see something in a prospect that shows a lack of NHL potential, and this could cause a prospect to fall considerably from where he was ranked.

Round 1

1st Overall

With the first overall selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...

1) D Aaron Ekblad - Scouting Report - Ekblad is the best prospect among defensemen in this year's draft, and uses his size and strength effectively in the defensive zone.  Ekblad possesses incredible instincts, and will adapt to the situation and make the best play available.  Though he doesn't have elite level speed, he's fast enough to keep up with forwards, and can carry the puck up through the neutral zone if necessary.  When in the offensive zone, he can unleash a cannon from the point, and is effective at making sure he has an open shooting lane before releasing his shot.  The only aspect of his game that may need work is his footwork and agility, as he could make the jump to a truly elite prospect if he adds a little more jump to his first couple of steps.

If the Panthers do not end up trading the first overall selection, then Aaron Ekblad should be their selection  He's the best prospect available, and fills in one of the club's future needs, as he can log huge minutes as a number one, shutdown defenseman who's also capable of stepping up when needed offensively and contributing on the power play.  As for jumping into the NHL right away, Ekblad has the size and maturity to play next year.  He's probably the most NHL-ready prospect, as most of the forward prospects will still need time to develop and grow in size before making the transition.  Personally, Ekblad is the way to go.  He will take over games the same way NHL superstars such as P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty, and Ryan McDonagh do now.  Also, he will be able to jump in the NHL next year, and removes the need to risk wasting money and cap space in free agency.

Round 2

32nd Overall

With the thirty-second overall selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...

1) F Nikolay Goldobin - Scouting Report - Goldobin is an extremely offensively-gifted talent who has above average speed, an explosive first step, and shifty lateral movement that helps him move around or through defenders and into open spaces.  He also has smooth hands that he can use to either go through defenders with a one on one move, or find and control the puck in a high traffic area.  He has an outstanding release on his wrist shot, and his one timer is pro caliber already.  His vision and passing abilities are also outstanding, as he routinely finds teammates open in traffic, and is adept at using his speed and hands to draw defenders to him before moving the puck to a wide open teammate.  His biggest weakness is lack of consistency, as he seems to lose interest in games where he has to play defense and the puck isn't on his stick.  He is "virtually invisible on the ice until an offensive chance sparks his interest and then he can become unstoppable".  He's also weak along the boards, though this will be fixed as he grows into his body.  As one scout had to say, "If this kid brought it every shift, he would be the top pick this season."

Goldobin has incredible offensive talent, and plays on the wing, a position where the Panthers severely lack scoring ability.  Though there are questions about his consistency from shift to shift,  he has the ability to single-handedly take over games, and that type of talent on the wing is simply too enticing for the Cats to pass over.  Unfortunately, Goldobin may not be available in the second round, as he certainly has 1st round potential; if he's available, however, Florida would be foolish to skip over this type of offensive talent.  He is explosive, fast, and insanely gifted on the offensive side of the puck.  If the "Russian" is coached out of him, the sky is the limit, especially if he plays on the wing of a potential franchise center like Barkov.

2) G Thatcher Demko - Scouting Report - Demko is the highest rated goaltender going into the draft, and certainly has the potential to be an above average starting goaltender at the NHL level.  He has great athleticism for his size, and when he drops into the butterfly he is capable of covering such a large part of the net that he doesn't need to be as aggressive with his angles or movements in the crease.  He has great lateral mobility and is rarely caught out of position for long, as his size and athleticism allow him to get back into position quickly.  Mentally, not much rattles him, and if he lets in a weak goal, he rebounds quick enough that he is back to excellent before the next shot on goal.  The biggest knock on Demko is his puck handling, which will come with development.  He also has slight trouble with traffic in front of the net, though he usually is able to see around screens and is in position enough to handle deflections.  All in all, Demko has borderline-elite potential and will certainly backstop an NHL team for years to come.

With Roberto Luongo being 35-years-old, the Panthers have only 3-5 years of solid, number one goaltending guaranteed.  In the pipeline, Sam Brittian and Rob Madore don't project to be solid, consistent NHL starting goaltenders, and as such the Cats need to find a goaltender for the future, who will be able to take over after Luongo leaves.  Though it's likely Demko won't be available in the second round, if Goldobin isn't available, it makes no sense to skip over a talent like Demko if he is there, especially when it fulfills an organizational need.  As content as the Panthers are to develop their goaltending prospects, next year's draft is much stronger than this one at the skater position.  Taking a goalie this year, then, makes more sense than not, as it allows the organization to use the picks next year on skaters instead of goalies, and this year's options at the back end will more than suffice in giving the Panthers options down the road at the most important position on the ice.

3) G Mason McDonald - Scouting Report - McDonald is the second best goaltending prospect available in the draft, and shows around the same potential as Demko, though he is a bit more raw.  His development may have been hindered earlier in the season, as he was a backup with his first team (Bathurst in the "Q").  After being traded to Charlottetown, he became the starting goaltender, and his play and his development skyrocketed.  He finished off the season superbly, helping Charlottetown qualify for the playoffs, and backstopping a weak Canadian team to a bronze medal at the u18 World Championships.  McDonald has great size and incredible athleticism, and above average reflexes.  He usually utilizes his athleticism to challenge the shooter, and has great rebound control that he uses to smother the puck and prevent scoring chances.  He tracks the puck well, and is efficient at seeing through traffic and making the save.  Though he may not be as polished as Demko is, McDonald certainly has number one, NHL starting goaltender potential.

Though Demko may be the better prospect, McDonald will certainly fulfill the organizational need at goaltender.  It's highly unlikely that Goldobin, Demko and McDonald are gone by this point of the second round, and McDonald has the talent to fulfill such a gaping organizational need that it doesn't make sense to skip over him in the draft, especially if there aren't better options available.

Round 4

92nd Overall

With the ninety-second overall selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...

1) F Edgars Kulda - Scouting Report - Though he is an overage prospect, Kulda really showed strong development this year in the CHL.  He is a shifty, opportunistic winger who has an above average top speed and footwork, which he uses to dart into soft spots in opposing defenses. He's efficient with his shot, and has soft hands that allow him to both finish and handle the puck well in traffic.  Though he could have better vision, he is good at taking the puck to the net and creating havoc for opponents.  Although he has a tendency to make decisions too quickly, especially down in front of the net, Kulda is a very efficient forechecker, who energetically pursues loose pucks and has the positioning and defensive skills to steal the puck from defenseman, and from skaters in his own zone.  He looks to become a scoring winger, either in the top-6 or top-9 range, who is capable of covering in his own zone.

Kulda impressed at the Memorial Cup, as he was named the MVP of the tournament and he really showcased his ability to perform in pressure situations.  He's also an exciting player to watch, as he darts around the offensive zone, both with the puck and without, and always seems to bother the opposition.  His offensive potential makes him the top pick for this area of the draft, and though he will still need work to fully pan out as a prospect, Kulda could add the scoring depth on the wing that the Panthers currently lack.

2) F Miska Siikonen - Scouting Report - Siikonen is a big-bodied Swede who plays a North American style game.  He uses his body to shield the puck well, both on the rush and off the boards, and drives hard to the net off of the wing.  He plays a simple game, consistently pushing the puck north-south and towards the net, plays good defense, and is a two-way threat that can be a force both in his own zone and in the opposition's.  Most importantly, Siikonen showed great development this year with the U20 Pelicans in the SM-Liiga, and has an incredible desire to get better.  His biggest weakness is his foot speed, which will need work if he wishes to become an effective power forward at the NHL level. Though he also doesn't have the flashy hands and explosive shot of most other forwards in the draft. his work ethic, coupled with his natural size and two-way ability, should put him in a very effective top-9 role with an NHL squad one day.

Siikonen has both the talent and the work ethic to become an effective winger at the NHL level, and produce consistently enough to be threat.  The most encouraging aspect of Siikonen is his development, as he put in tons of work this year to develop his game.  Players with that type of work ethic just seem to get better and better until they make it onto an NHL roster.  He also adds size and power to the wing, something that is currently lacking for the Panthers as an organization.

3) F Michael Bunting - Scouting Report - Bunting is a late bloomer, who really showed his worth this season as a complimentary winger on a skilled line.  He has a very intense style of play, and consistently forces turnovers in the neutral zone and on the forecheck.  He's not afraid to play physical or go to the dirty areas in front and has a soft touch around the net, though his shot isn't NHL caliber yet.  He has good puck skills, vision and hockey sense, and finds open teammates well, especially after just stealing the puck from an opponent. Could work exceptionally well doing the dirty work on a line with skilled teammates.  His biggest weakness is his skating, as he needs to get faster and improve his footwork if he wants his particular style to translate to the next level.  Regardless, he exhibits a high intensity and compete level, and could make it as an energy player in a top-9 role on an NHL squad.

Bunting could bring energy and offensive talent to a team that needs younger players to fill out depth, and could become a consistent player who fulfills an Andrew Shaw type role for the Panthers, darting around the offensive zone and wreaking havoc on opponents who try to fight him for loose pucks.  Also, his ability to compliment skilled players could be a helpful attribute down the road, as the ability to move the "hot" player around in the lineup can produce key goals when needed for a Stanley Cup caliber team.  

4) F Julien Nantel - Scouting Report - Nantel is one of the youngest prospects available in the draft, having been born only nine days before the September 15th cutoff, so he has plenty of time to develop. That being said, Nantel already plays a very sound two-way, positional game that should translate to the NHL level.  He has above average skating ability and good protection skills that he uses to control the puck.  He also has a bit of power forward in his style of play, as he uses his size, strength, and speed to get the puck to high-chance scoring areas.  His offensive ability isn't overly impressive, though he still contributes enough to be a useful asset for his team.  He really shines in the defensive aspects of the game, using his size, positioning, and intensity on the puck to shut down opposing scoring chances. Those attributes also make him an exceptional penalty killer, While Nantel's game possesses no real weakness, he doesn't have a whole lot that stands out in particular.  He's one of those players who does all the little things right, and he could make it as an effective lower line forward in the NHL.

Drafting Nantel would add a solid bottom six winger to the prospect group, and his compete level and drive to succeed would have him filling out and becoming an effective penalty killer and third line player for the Panthers.  I personally really like Nantel, as he's got the speed and size to be a solid player, though drafting him may be a bit of a risk as he reminds me of Quinton Howden; speed, size, and skill, but the inability to put up numbers.

5) F Vladimir Tkachev - Scouting Report - Tkachev is a small, but explosive winger with tremendous offensive potential.  Though he doesn't have elite speed, he still definitely has a motor on him, and is incredibly elusive, as he has the ability to change speed and direction on a dime, and can shift and explode his way through defenseman.  Tkachev has incredible hands, and can make defenseman look silly with his one on one moves.  He also possesses a great shot,  killer finishing instincts, above average playmaking skills and vision, and isn't selfish with the puck, though he prefers to shoot rather than pass the puck.  The biggest knock on Tkachev is his size, as he is small and extremely easy to push off the puck.

Tkachev is a very high risk, high reward prospect, as all of the offensive tools are there for him to become a top-6 scoring winger for the Panthers.  He can make defensemen look absolutely absurd, and puts up highlight reel after highlight reel goal.  Unfortunately, with prospects such as Kyle Rau, Vincent Trocheck, and Rocco Grimaldi already being undersized in the pipeline, taking Tkachev may be too much of a risk at this stage in the draft, as having that many players lacking size at the NHL level can make controlling the puck difficult.

Round 5

143rd Overall

With the one hundred and forty-third overall selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...

1) F Christian Dvorak - Scouting Report - Dvorak is an underrated offensive prospect who has high end speed, excellent shiftiness in the offensive zone, and great playmaking skills.  He also has good offensive positioning, and is consistently open and available for a pass in the zone, though his shot could use some work before being NHL ready.  He will also need to add strength to increase his effectiveness along the boards.  Dvorak also could be more creative with the puck, as he has the skill set to make dynamic plays, though he doesn't make them often.  Overall, Dvorak will be a bit of a project, and he's a risk to take, especially since he suffered a season ending ACL injury early in the year, and scouts haven't seen him play since December.

Dvorak has the offensive skills to be an asset at the NHL level, though he's a bit of an unknown and a bit of a project.  He may never play a game at the NHL level, but at this point in the draft, most players won't see the bigs anyways, so the Panthers would be better off going with a high reward pick, even if the risk is just as high.  Why settle for a player who will be a perennial minor league call up when you can go with a potential NHL contributor?

2) F Daniel Muzito Bagenda - Scouting Report - Bagenda plays a punishing, physical style of game.  He doesn't have exceptional skating abilities, but has a good top speed and can be hard to stop when he has a full head of steam.  He likes to park himself in front of the net and make life difficult for defenseman and goaltenders.  Though he needs to work on his offensive consistency and foot speed, he has the size and work ethic to play a bottom six role in the NHL, or at least contribute at the AHL level.

Bagenda is another project, though he mostly needs work on his footwork.  He doesn't have high end offensive talent, though his size, physique, and work ethic could lead to him being an asset in the bottom six of an NHL roster.  He can be fun to watch, especially in overseas leagues, as his rough and tumble style of game consistently messes with other players who clearly favor the finesse of the European game.

3) F Lucas Wallmark - Scouting Report - Wallmark has great playmaking attributes, and has tremendous poise and vision while in the offensive zone with the puck.  He also has a tremendous hockey IQ, and is able to be a force in the defensive end.  Wallmark's biggest question marks are his skating skills and work ethic, as he would need tons of work on his agility, acceleration, and top speed in order to have a shot at the NHL. If the skating pans out, however, Wallmark could become a sturdy top-6 forward, who plays a cerebral game in all three zones and has great playmaking abilities.

Wallmark won't be NHL ready for a while, and needs almost TOO much work on his skating to be considered an NHL prospect.  Though the other skills are there, he's really a long shot to make the league, though, if he does, he could become a point producing top-6 forward on an NHL roster.  Again; if you feel you can develop the player properly, why take a perennial minor leaguer when you can potentially add an NHL player to your team from late in the draft?

Round 7

182nd Overall

With the one hundred and eighty-second overall selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...

1) Chase Perry - Scouting Report - Perry is a goaltender who will be a project for whoever drafts him, but he has the size, reflexes, athleticism, and mental composition to make it as a starting goaltender at the NHL level.  He needs work on his angles, rebound control, and glove hand, but certainly could develop, given enough time, into a starting goaltender on an NHL roster

The Panthers have plenty of time to develop a goaltending prospect, and Perry has the potential to become the goaltender that they need, as he would have time to develop in the organization and maximize his potential.  This pick looks even better if the Cats don't get a goalie in an earlier round, as he gives the Cats a prospect to develop and groom to take over after Luongo's eventual retirement.

2) F Brendan van Riemsdyk - Scouting Report - The younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs sniper James van Riemsdyk, Brendan exhibits some of his brother's talents, including the ability to be both a sniper, dangler, and power forward with the puck.  His first couple of steps need to be quicker, and his defense could use work.  Overall, van Riemsdyk is more of a raw prospect who could use a lot of refinement in his game, but has the physical tools to possibly make it in the NHL.

At this stage of the draft, there still is NHL talent available, though it's difficult to find.  van Riemsdyk may need a lot of work, but he has the raw talent and could spend plenty of time developing in the system before making the jump to the NHL.

Honorable Mention

Though the Panthers don't have picks around where it would make sense to take these prospects, I would still like to see them select...

1) F Connor Chatham - Scouting Report - Chatham is as close to a surefire pick as there is, as he is a big body with strength, skating abilities, and hands.  He also has a great compete level, and plays a bit of the agitator role, and he has the size to do it very effectively.  He doesn't have flashy offensive skills, however, and could probably put in some work on the defensive end.  All in all, it will be surprising if Chatham doesn't make an NHL roster as a third line forward who controls the puck, chips in offensively, gets under the skin of his opponents, and helps out on the penalty kill.

Chatham is one of my favorite prospects in the draft, as he plays the game with a lot of heart and isn't afraid to make his presence known, even if he doesn't show up on the score sheet.  He's the type of player contenders have as "depth" players, and in playoff series between evenly matched teams, depth forwards are the difference the majority of the time.  He'll most likely go early in the third round, where the Panthers don't have a pick, though I certainly wouldn't mind a trade that would allow us to select Chatham.

These are just my personal favorites in the draft; obviously there are tons of other prospects who could add solid value to the farm system.  It's up to Dale Tallon Inc. to figure who exactly fits into the "Blueprint", and finish stacking the roster to make a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  As shown by the Kings, teams can't be built by free agency anymore. Building starts at the draft, and hopefully Tallon can put the finishing touches on the team he's assembling down here in South Florida.

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