A lot of us were expecting fireworks just after 7 p.m. last night, but the Florida Panthers played it safe and selected Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick despite a decent offer from the Vancouver Canucks and a late attempt by the Philadelphia Flyers to pluck the pick from Dale Tallon's mitts. It was the second time in franchise history the Cats made the selection when having the opening choice. The first time was back in 1994 when they picked Ed Jovanovski.
Vancouver stole the headlines earlier in the afternoon, dealing "over it" center Ryan Kesler to Anaheim for the Ducks 24th overall pick (Jared McCann), Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa. The clubs also swapped third round picks.
The Canucks also traded former Panther Jason Garrison and his big cap hit, along with Jeff Costello and a seventh-round pick, to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Bolts' second-round pick (50th overall). If you include last season's Roberto Luongo deal, Vancouver has shed a large chunk of salary, as they embark on, what they hope, is a quick rebuild.
Another noteworthy deal was the Pittsburgh Penguins dealing sniper James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The Pens, who helped their cap situation a bit, were looking to increase their depth at forward, while Nashville gets a much-needed gunner.
As for the actual draft, not a lot of surprises. Sam Reinhart did leap frog fellow Sam, Bennett, to go second overall to Buffalo. Bennett was taken fourth by the Calgary Flames after the Edmonton Oilers selected Leon Draisaitl as expected. Panther fan favorite, in case of a trade down, Nikolaj Ehlers went ninth overall to the Winnipeg Jets.
The second round is underway, and the Panthers will be picking second after Buffalo. With the selection of Ekblad, it's hard to imagine they go defense again. My guess is they will address the organizational weakness at wing by selecting either Anton Karlsson or Aaron's Barrie teammate Brendan Lemieux. Top-ranked goaltender Thatcher Demko will also be available unless the Sabres nab him.