A defenseman was picked first overall just once in the 17 NHL drafts from 1997 through 2013, when St. Louis selected Erik Johnson No. 1 in 2006. Aaron Ekblad brought the blueline back into focus when Florida took him at the top of the 2014 draft, ahead of Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl.
Here’s a look at the original top 10 draft picks in 2014, followed by a redo of the top 10 with the benefit of hockey hindsight.
2014 NHL draft: The original top 10
1. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
2. Sam Reinhart, Buffalo
3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton
4. Sam Bennett, Calgary
5. Michael Dal Colle, NY Islanders
6. Jake Virtanen, Vancouver
7. Haydn Fleury, Carolina
8. William Nylander, Toronto
9. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg
10. Nick Ritchie, Anaheim
2014 NHL draft: The top 10 do-over (with original draft position in parentheses)
1. Leon Draisaitl (3rd, Edmonton)
2. David Pastrnak (25th, Boston)
3. Brayden Point (79th, Tampa Bay)
4. Aaron Ekblad (1st, Florida)
5. Dylan Larkin (15th, Detroit)
6. William Nylander (8th, Toronto)
7. Nikolaj Ehlers (9th, Winnipeg)
8. Viktor Arvidsson (112th, Nashville)
9. Sam Reinhart (2nd, Buffalo)
10. Tony DeAngelo (19th, Tampa Bay)
Honorable mentions: Kevin Fiala (11th, Nashville); Jakub Vrana (13th, Washington); Nick Schmaltz (20th, Chicago); Kevin Labanc (171st, San Jose); Brandon Montour (55th, Anaheim).
- Forgot about Drai: OK, nobody exactly “forgot” about Draisaitl. The Oilers made the powerful center the highest-drafted German-born and -trained player in NHL history when they took him third overall. But it’s pretty obvious that he’s No. 1 in the redo – not only is he the best player in the 2014 draft, but he’s vying for the mantle of best player in the league, period.
- Pasta special: The way you win at hockey is by scoring more goals than the other team, and few players in the NHL have the goal-scoring knack like Pastrnak. It’s pretty wild when you realize that Pastrnak, at 25th overall, is the highest-drafted player on Boston’s ‘Perfection Line,’ with Patrice Bergeron going 45th in 2003 and Brad Marchand 71st in 2006.
- Lightning larceny: Tampa Bay’s selection of Point at 79th overall is the steal of the 2014 draft. He’s not at the superstar level of Draisaitl or Pastrnak, but he’s clearly a cut above the rest of the forward class.
- Blueline stud: Ekblad has endured some concussion issues and perhaps come up a bit short on his No. 1 draft hype, but he’s an all-around, top-pairing defenseman who can play in any situation. Ekblad hit double digits in goals in each of his first five NHL seasons before slowing down with five goals in 67 games this year.
- All-out offense: While Ekblad went first overall, the 2014 draft will likely be remembered for its forwards. Draisaitl and Pastrnak are the headliners, with Point, Larkin, Nylander, Ehlers, Arvidsson and Reinhart making the updated top 10 as bona fide first-liners. (Arvidsson, it should be noted, ranks up there with Point as another big steal in the 2014 draft after being picked 112th overall by Nashville.) There are four more forwards among the honorable mentions (Fiala, Vrana, Schmaltz and Labanc) and there’s still more after that: Kasperi Kapanen (22nd, Pittsburgh), Danton Heinen (116th, Boston), Jared McCann (24th, Vancouver), Alex Tuch (18th, Minnesota), Ondrej Kase (205th, Anaheim), Warren Foegele (67th, Carolina), Victor Olofsson (181st, Buffalo), Virtanen (6th, Vancouver), Bennett (4th, Calgary), Robby Fabbri (21st, St. Louis), Oskar Lindblom (138th, Philadelphia), Christian Dvorak (58th, Arizona), Ryan Donato (56th, Boston), Adrian Kempe (29th, Los Angeles), Ivan Barbashev (33rd, St. Louis), Sammy Blais (176th, St. Louis) and Ritchie (10th, Anaheim).
- Defensive shortcomings: Ekblad is elite and DeAngelo has come into his own with the Rangers over the past couple of seasons. Montour, one of the honorable mentions, is rounding into a top-four defender in Buffalo. Marcus Pettersson (38th, Anaheim) has found a home on Pittsburgh’s blueline. Travis Sanheim (17th, Philadelphia) is a regular with the Flyers. After that, there’s Devon Toews (108th, NY Islanders) and Fleury (7th, Carolina) and…well, that’s about it.
- Goalie watch: At this point in time, none of the netminders drafted in 2014 have done enough in the NHL to merit inclusion in the updated top 10. However, there could be two or three goalies who move up significantly if they continue on their current trajectory. In his first season on North American ice, Elvis Merzlikins (76th, Columbus) took over the Blue Jackets’ crease midway through the campaign and delivered five shutouts in an eight-game stretch. Thatcher Demko (36th, Vancouver) has been advertised as the Canucks’ goalie of the future and he lived up to the billing in his rookie season. Igor Shesterkin (118th, NY Rangers) didn’t arrive in the NHL until mid-February, then promptly went 10-2-0 with a .932 save percentage. Kaapo Kahkonen (109th, Minnesota) and Alex Nedeljkovic (37th, Carolina) also saw time in the big leagues this season.