It is coming down to the wire in the NHL regular season. Many teams have already clinched playoff births, other teams are fighting for their lives in the playoff hunt.
With the end of the regular season coming, some teams are already looking ahead to June for the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. The Buffalo Sabres currently hold the number one pick in the draft followed by the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, and Calgary Flames.
The top five players in the 2014 NHL Draft are projected to be Sam Bennett, Michael DalColle, Leon Draisaitl, and, Aaron Ekblad, and Sam Reinhart. All five players are currently in their respected league's playoffs fighting for a chance to win compete for a championship, and also the CHL Memorial Cup Championship.
Being in Buffalo, all the hype now is on the NHL Draft. Buffalo has not had a first overall pick since 1987 when the Sabres drafted Pierre Turgeon. Since then, the Sabres have only picked in the top 10 of the draft three times, most recently defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen with the eight pick last year.
This year, Buffalo will have the possibility three picks in the first round alone.
So who will the Sabres and all the other 30 teams choose with their picks? Here is where I believe the first round will play out, and how each team ended in their place. Remember, this is without the Draft Lottery coming into play.
1.) Buffalo Sabres (22-52-8, 52 points)
C - Sam Reinhart - Kootneay (WHL)
Buffalo needs offense, and what better way to take the best offensive player available with the number one pick. Reinhart finished the year in Kootenay with 105 points (36+69) in 60 games played. So far in the playoffs for the Ice, Reinhart has 14 points (5+9) in five games. Reinhart is the type of player who knows where everyone else is on the ice. Reinhart is a dynamic player who has the qualities of a first or second line center. Reinhart may not play right away with the Sabres, but will have a great chance to play top line minutes in a couple years.
2.) Edmonton Oilers (28-44-10, 66 points)
D - Aaron Ekblad - Barrie (OHL)
Edmonton has the offensive firepower to be potent in the NHL. The Oilers' goaltending has improved now that they have found a possible number one goalie in Ben Scrivens. Their defense has been their downfall for the past few years, and adding Ekblad could possibly get Edmonton over the top. Many compare Ekblad to Shea Weber with his shot, but Ekblad can skate very well for a defenseman. His 6' 3" stature will make him a force to be reckoned with. In 58 games in Barrie last year, Ekblad scored 23 goals and added 30 assists to help Barrie to a second seed in the OHL playoffs. Ekblad so far has three points in four playoff games.
3.) Florida Panthers (29-42-11, 69 points)
C / LW - Michael Dal Colle - Oshawa (OHL)
Dal Colle is a big body that the Panthers would love to have at number three. The 6' 2" Dal Colle could help the Panthers within the next couple years, but one more year in the OHL could benefit Dal Colle. Dal Colle scored 39 goals and added 56 assists in 67 games for the Generals, and has 10 points in four playoff games.
4.) Buffalo Sabres (FROM THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS)
C - Sam Bennett - Kingston (OHL)
I believe the Islanders will give the Sabres their first round pick in 2014 IF the Islanders are not in the top three of the NHL Draft. Sam Bennett, like Dal Colle, would benefit from another year in the OHL. Bennett is an electrifying player in Kingston with great speed, and great play-making ability. Bennett seems to know where his teammates are and is a really good passer. Bennett scored 36 goals and registered 55 assists in 57 games played, even when he was hindered with some injury problems throughout the year.
5.) Calgary Flames (33-41-8, 74 points)
C / LW - Leon Draisaitl - Prince Albert (WHL)
Leon Draisaitl is possibly one of the more interesting players in the draft. The German born Draisaitl has got some good all around skill that will help any team that drafts him. Registering 105 points (38+67) in 64 games, Draisaitl is a power forward who has got some great hands. Draisaitl could benefit from playing in Prince Albert for another year, but if drafted by Calgary, do not be surprised if he gets a chance to make the 23-man roster.
6.) Carolina Hurricanes (35-37-10, 80 points)
RW - Jake Virtanen - Calgary (WHL)
Carolina could use some defensive help, maybe Haydn Fleury could be an option, but with the talks of possibly moving a forward at the draft, do not be surprised if the Hurricanes look to forward to fill a void. Jake Virtanen is possibly one of the better goal scorers in this year's draft. Virtanen scored 45 goals and registered 25 assists in 71 games with the Calgary Hitmen. Virtanen has blazing speed, a strong shot, and soft hands to make some great plays with the puck. Virtanen is a sleeper pick to watch for in the top 10 of the draft.
7.) Nashville Predators (35-35-12, 82 points)
C - Jared McCann - Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
McCann will be a good addition for the Predators on offense. McCann will need some time to develop in the OHL, but could develop into a top six forward for the Predators. McCann scored 62 points (27+35) in 64 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this year.
8.) Anaheim Ducks (FROM THE OTTAWA SENATORS)
LW - Brendan Perlini - Niagara (OHL)
Perlini is a smooth sailing, keep-it-simple power forward that knows how to finish a play. Perlini has a good wrist shot, and the Ducks will be lucky to draft a talented kid like him at eight. Perlini would definitely benefit from another year or two in the OHL with the Ice Dogs. Perlini scored 34 goals and added 37 assists in 58 games this year with Niagara.
9.) Winnipeg Jets (37-35-10, 84 points)
LW - Nick Ritchie - Peterborough (OHL)
One word: Size. Standing at 6' 3" and weighing 229-pounds, Ritchie can bring size to any team, especially the Winnipeg Jets. Ritchie scored 74 points (39+35) and accounted for 136 penalty minutes for the Petes this year. Ritchie will need time to further develop his game, but give it a couple years and he could be a pest to opposing teams.
10.) Vancouver Canucks (37-32-13, 87 points)
LW - Nikolaj Ehlers - Halifax (QMJHL)
With the way Nikolaj Ehlers' first season with Halifax has been, it would not surprise me if Ehlers is taken earlier in the draft. Ehlers broke out in the QMJHL as the league's fourth top scorer with 104 points (49+55) in 63 games played. Ehlers will probably play another year or two in Halifax before making the jump to the pros. However, with his explosive speed and slick hands, Ehlers could become a threat at the professional level.
11.) Toronto Maple Leafs (40-34-8, 88 points, 30 ROW)
RW - Kasperi Kapanen - KalPa (SM-liiga)
The son of former Flyers' forward Sami Kapanen is going to need some time to develop, but Kapanen's speed and hands could make him a dynamic threat in the future for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
12.) Detroit Red Wings (36-30-16, 88 points, 31 ROW)
C / LW - Ivan Barbashev - Mocton (QMJHL)
The skilled Russian forward could benefit from learning under a player like Pavel Datsyuk. Barbashev is a fast and slick kid who registered 68 points (25+43) in only 48 games played with Mocton. Barbashev will probably take another year in the QMJHL, but will benefit greatly from playing in Mocton again.
13.) Phoenix Coyotes (39-29-14, 92 points, 31 ROW)
C - William Nylander - Modo (SHL)
Nylander, the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, is going to need some time to develop his game. Playing in the Swedish Hockey League against his dad will help him do so. Nylander is known for his play along the boards and his speed when crashing the net.
14.) Dallas Stars (40-30-12, 92 points, 36 ROW)
D - Haydn Fleury - Red Deer (WHL)
As I mentioned, Fleury could be taken by the Hurricanes with the sixth pick, but Dallas could use some help on defense. Fleury is a good set up defenseman, and can play both sides of the play very well. Fleury could use another year in Red Deer to improve his game, but could be a decent 3-6 defenseman in the NHL.
Dallas is the second wild card team in the West, loses to St. Louis in the Western Conference Quarterfinals
15.) Washington Capitals (40-29-13, 93 points, 29 ROW)
RW - Alex Tuch - U-18 USDT (USHL)
Tuch is a big kid who will take a couple years to develop into an NHL player.
Washington is the second wild card team in the East, loses to Boston in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
16.) Minnesota Wild (40-29-13, 93 points, 32 ROW)
C - Robert Fabbri - Guelph (OHL)
Fabbri is a small forward, but he never stops going. Fabbri is a goal scorer, but his size is the only asset that hurts his draft stock. Fabbri scored 45 goals and had 42 assists in 58 games with Guelph, and helped lead his team to the top record in the OHL this season. Fabbri will take a couple more years to develop in Guelph.
Minnesota is the first wild card team in the West, loses to Anaheim in the Western Conference Quarterfinals
17.) Philadelphia Flyers (44-30-8, 96 points)
D - Roland McKeown - Kingston (OHL)
McKeown seems to be a perfect fit in Philadelphia. The 6' 1" McKeown makes himself a big defenseman by playing very physical. McKeown has a good shot, and is surprisingly fast for a defenseman. When he is ready for the NHL, McKeown could be a good defenseman in the league.
Philadelphia is the sixth seed in the East, loses to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
18.) New York Rangers (46-31-5, 97 points)
LW - Adrian Kempe - Modo Jr. (Swe-JR)
Swedish forward will need some time to develop his game.
The Rangers are the fifth seed in the East, loses to Montréal in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
19.) Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7, 109 points)
C - Nick Schmaltz - Green Bay (USHL)
Schmaltz could be a steal for the Penguins at 19. He is small, but could develop into a really good all around forward. His speed and great footwork could help his game improve over the next couple of years.
Pittsburgh is the second seed in the East, loses to Columbus in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
20.) Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8, 112 points)
RW - David Pastrnak - Sodertalje (Sweden-2)
Small forward, and is going to need another year or two to develop before playing in the professionals.
Colorado is the fourth seed in the West, loses to Chicago in the Western Conference Quarterfinals
21. San Jose Sharks (52-19-11, 115 points)
RW - Nikolay Goldobin - Sarnia (OHL)
Goldobin has a strong set of hand, but is not the best of a skater. Goldobin did register 94 points (38+56) in 67 games played with Sarnia, and could use another year to develop with the Sting.
San Jose is the third seed in the West, loses to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals
22.) Columbus Blue Jackets (42-31-9, 93 points)
D - Anthony DeAngelo - Sarnia (OHL)
Even though DeAngelo is a small defenseman, his offensive game is why he is a first-round caliber player. DeAngelo had 71 points (15+56) in 51 games with the Sting, and saw plenty of time on the Sting powerplay. Even with his size, DeAngelo could become a decent offensive-defenseman in the professionals.
Columbus is the seventh seed in the East, loses to Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals
23.) Tampa Bay Lightning (45-26-11, 101 points)
LW - Sonny Milano - USDT (USHL)
The small winger has good speed and also good hands. Milano will need time to enhance his game before making the jump to the professionals
Tampa Bay is the third seed in the East, loses to Montréal in the Eastern Conference Semifinals
24.) Los Angeles Kings (49-26-7, 105 points)
RW - Joshua Ho-Sang - Windsor (OHL)
Quick, crafty, elusive. For only being 5' 11", Ho-Sang has got a ton of potential to become a very dangerous offensive threat. Ho-Sang would add even more offensive fire power to the Kings if drafted. Another year in Windsor will help Ho-Sang, and he could possibly be a top scoring forward in the OHL next season.
Los Angeles is the sixth seed in the West, loses to St. Louis in the Western Conference Semifinals
25.) Anaheim Ducks (54-19-9, 117 points)
D - Julius Honka - Swift Current (WHL)
Good two-way defenseman with a good stick. Could use all the time he could get in Swift Current, but would be a good fit with Anaheim.
Anaheim is the second seed in the West, loses to Chicago in the Western Conference Semifinals
26.) Montréal Canadiens (46-28-8, 100 points)
LW - Dylan Larkin - USDT (USHL)
Another young kid on the U.S. Development Team that could become a decent NHL forward. Will take some time to come into his own.
Montréal is the fourth seed in the East, loses to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals
27.) Chicago Blackhawks (47-18-17, 111 points)
C - Connor Bleackley - Red Deer (WHL)
Bleackley may be smaller, but he knows how to crash the net and finish on loose pucks. Will take another year in Red Deer to develop his game further.
Chicago is the fifth seed in the West, loses to St. Louis in the Western Conference Finals
28.) Boston Bruins (56-18-8, 120 points)
D - Brycen Martin - Swift Current (WHL)
Boston needs defense, and Brycen Martin could be a possible option. The 6' 2" Martin is a good puck moving defenseman and a strong kid in front of his own net. Martin will most likely stay in Swift Current with his defensive partner Julius Honka for another year.
Boston is the first seed in the East, loses to St. Louis in the Stanley Cup Finals
29.) Buffalo Sabres (FROM THE ST. LOUIS BLUES)
RW - Jakub Vrana - Linkoping (SHL)
Buffalo will load up on offense in the first round of the NHL Draft. Vrana is a speedy forward with a good shot. The Czech forward will play another couple years in Sweden but could turn to the pros in North America and be an offensive weapon in the future.
Buffalo is awarded the pick from St. Louis as a conditional pick from the Ryan Miller deal. St. Louis wins the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship
30.) New Jersey Devils (35-30-17, 87 points)
RW - Nikita Scherbak - Saskatoon (WHL)
Scherbak is another skilled Russian forward with good skating ability and good stick work. He registered 78 points (28+50) in his first season with the Blades. Scherbak will most likely take another year in Saskatoon before making the jump to the professionals.
New Jersey is placed with the 30th pick in the NHL Draft as a penalty for Ilya Kovalchuk's contract
So here is what I think the playoffs will look like based on my projections from March 28 (to make things less confusing):
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
1 - Boston Bruins vs. 8 - Washington Capitals (Bruins win 4-1)
2 - Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 7 - Columbus Blue Jackets (Blue Jackets win 4-2)
3 - Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 6 - Philadelphia Flyers (Lightning win 4-3)
4 - Montréal Canadiens vs. 5 - New York Rangers (Canadiens win 4-3)
West Conference Quarterfinals:
1 - St. Louis Blues vs. 8 - Dallas Stars (Blues win 4-0)
2 - Anaheim Ducks vs. 7 - Minnesota Wild (Ducks win 4-1)
3 - San Jose Sharks vs. 6 - Los Angeles Kings (Kings win 4-2)
4 - Colorado Avalanche vs. 5 - Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks win 4-3)
Eastern Conference Semifinals:
1 - Boston Bruins vs. 7 - Columbus Blue Jackets (Bruins win 4-0)
3 - Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 4 - Montréal Canadiens (Canadiens win 4-2)
Western Conference Semifinals:
1 - St. Louis Blues vs. 6 - Los Angeles Kings (Blues win 4-3)
2 - Anaheim Ducks vs. 5 - Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks win 4-2)
Eastern Conference Finals:
1 - Boston Bruins vs. 4 - Montréal Canadiens (Bruins win 4-2)
Western Conference Finals:
1 - St. Louis Blues vs. 5 - Chicago Blackhawks (Blues win 4-3)
STANLEY CUP FINALS:
1 - St. Louis Blues vs. 1 - Boston Bruins (Blues win 4-3)
What do you think? Let me know on Twitter @BJWilsonSHC
As always, thanks for reading!