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No 'high-end players' available at this weekend's NHL Draft

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Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters moves the puck against Eric Diodati of the Windsor Spitfires on March 13, 2014 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014, 9:35 p.m.
 

Some NHL Entry Drafts forever flip the fortunes of several franchises. The upcoming one probably is not going to deliver an Alex Ovechkin and an Evgeni Malkin.

“Talented imperfections is a good way to describe this draft,” said Phil Myre of International Scouting Service.

“It's a deep draft. You're going to get some good players in the first couple of rounds, but there's no high-end players.”

Pity the Florida Panthers, who won a lottery to gain the first overall pick at the 2014 draft, which opens with Round 1 on Friday night at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center.

A year ago, Colorado had to choose between a projected franchise center (Nathan MacKinnon), winger (Jonathan Drouin) and defenseman (Seth Jones) with the first overall pick. MacKinnon went No. 1, his Avalanche won their division, and he was selected as the NHL's top rookie.

The prospects available to Florida at No. 1 this year do not match the potential of center Aleksander Barkov, whom the Panthers selected second overall last season, said Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report.

“It's a good top-four grouping, but it's not great,” Woodlief said. “I don't see a superstar on the horizon.”

There is no consensus top prospect, either — leaving Florida in no better position than Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary with the respective Nos. 2-4 picks. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad is an attractive option for Panthers, but their reported willingness to trade the pick is a strong indication Ekblad is not evaluated as a franchise-flipping choice.

Red Line Report has tabbed center Sam Bennett as its No. 1 prospect. International Scouting Service has distinguished center Sam Reinhart as its top choice. Bennett and Reinhart rated second and third behind Ekblad, the best prospect as projected by Jesse Marshall, co-founder of the website Faceoff Factor.

Almost every draft guru believes a franchise player is coming to the NHL from the junior circuit. That player, though, is center Connor McDavid — the presumptive No. 1 overall pick for the 2015 draft.

“I can't see any way this guy falls off,” Woodlief said. “McDavid is No. 1 and will be No. 1 next June. It's a very good draft year, and guys right behind him would be No. 1 overall candidates this year.

“But McDavid is the best player to come out of the draft since (Sidney) Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin.”

Ovechkin and Malkin went first and second overall in the 2004 draft. Crosby was the top pick a year later.

Almost a decade later, the draft class consists of “fair balance between forwards and defensemen,” said Randy Sexton, the Penguins co-director of amateur scouting.

“It's a tad light on goaltending,” Sexton said. “Without giving away any state secrets, there are some good centers, and there are also some good wingers in the top 35.”

Still, the 2014 draft lacks the buzz of the ones that produced so many stars over the past decade. This draft is not about a “Next One,” but rather it is viewed as just another one.

Florida may trade its top pick. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford might move his at No. 22.

“I'd like to be on the draft floor; there's going to be some great conversations,” Myre said. “This is one of those drafts where it's going to be in the eye of the beholder.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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