The draft used to be so simple: Edmonton would pick first and the Oilers would select a high-scoring forward. But orthodoxy was thrown into flux this year when the Florida Panthers managed to snag the top selection and with GM Dale Tallon entertaining trade offers in a year with no dominant prospect available, things are getting hairy.
OK, so I'm having a bit of fun here. But seriously, no one knows what's going on. Teams are interviewing more players than usual because they're not sure who will be available when their slot comes up. Kingston's Sam Bennett, who has a pretty good chance of going first overall – and no lower than third – had 18 teams scheduled to interview him. Now, to be fair, teams have kicked the tires on top prospects in the past. The New York Islanders, for example, interviewed Seth Jones last year, even though the franchise was picking 15th overall (they took fellow blueliner Ryan Pulock instead). But there is really a sense that anything could happen when the picks begin to come off the board in Philadelphia next month.
Oshawa Generals star Michael Dal Colle is another great example. The high-scoring left winger looks like a top-five pick, but still had 23 teams request meetings with him during the combine. He finds the whole unpredictable situation exciting.
“I’ve climbed my way up since the beginning of the year," Dal Colle said. "Oshawa had a better year than expected and we turned some heads. Along with that came some personal success and it was a pretty good year for me overall.”
Fellow Ontario Leaguer Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts is the only defenseman with the chance to go first overall and it will be interesting to see where the blueline dominoes fall once he is picked. In the 2012 draft, an incredible eight of the first 10 picks were defensemen. Columbus blueliner Ryan Murray got the party started at No. 2, followed by Islanders prospect Griffin Reinhart at No. 4 and Toronto rearguard Morgan Rielly one pick later.
One year before that, a run of five defenders went in the span of six picks beginning with Dougie Hamilton to Boston at No. 9 and ending with Dallas prospect Jamie Oleksiak at No. 14. In 2013, blueliners were dispersed fairly evenly throughout the first round, with nine going overall. So it's surprising that only five or so D-men are ranked in the top-30 this year. But as one of those prospects points out, things change on the draft floor.
“Teams need defensemen," said Kingston's Roland McKeown. "Even if only a few are ranked in the first round, I think we’ll see more go. In past years that has proven to be right.”
McKeown, who describes himself as a defensive transition player who can move the puck and jump in the play when needed, is rooming with Bennett at the combine hotel. The two are teammates with the Frontenacs and were drafted into the OHL the same year. No doubt they'll both go in the first round again this summer – but the question for them and everybody else is where and when?