(Reuters) - The only consensus regarding the highly-anticipated first pick in Friday’s 2014 NHL Draft is that there is no clear-cut choice for a team to pin their hopes on.
Four players are considered worthy of the coveted first overall spot, a far cry from recent years where Sidney Crosby (2005), Steven Stamkos (2008) and John Tavares (2009) were considered slam dunks to go first overall.
The top pick this year will likely come from one of four players -- Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart and Prince Albert Raiders center Leon Draisaitl.
“I think there’s more guys that are similar to each other than a lot of years,” Tampa Bay Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray told NHL.com. “It’s a little bit difficult. It tends to come down to team preferences.”
Barring a trade, the Florida Panthers select first in this year’s draft at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, while the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders round out the top five of 30 first-round picks.
The Panthers need depth on the wings but could take Ekblad, considered a solid defenseman with on-ice maturity who can log big minutes and play in all situations.
“I am always hesitant to label as a sure thing any young athlete as they have enough pressure on them as it is, but I would describe Ekblad as one of the most solid NHL prospects you will find in this year’s draft class,” NHL Director of Central Scouting Dave Marr told NHL.com.
“He is the best defenseman available and would be projected to vie for an NHL job a lot sooner than most.”
Buffalo used their two first-round picks last year getting bigger on defense and are looking to add depth at forward this time around.
Edmonton have done well building a foundation of defensive prospects and will likely be seeking a power forward capable of playing center.
The Calgary Flames and New York Islanders are both expected to be in the market for a first-line forward.
Bennett, who finished ninth in the Ontario Hockey League with 91 points and led his team in goals (36), assists (55) plus/minus rating (plus-34) and power-play goals (10), was trying not to put too much focus on going first.
“It would be pretty special (but) at the end of the day it is just a number and everyone will be in the same spot come training camp trying to make the team,” Bennett said in a report on the league’s website.
“Obviously it’s every kid’s dream to go as high as they can into the NHL and (getting picked No. 1) would be pretty special.”
Reinhart is considered to have great on-ice intelligence and knows how to get the best out of situations while Draisaitl is respected for having an ability to spot plays that few others possess.
Barring an unforeseen drop, Draisaitl should become the highest drafted German-born player, which would help him in his desire to be an ambassador for German hockey.
“To be considered as maybe the highest drafted German player ever would be a huge honor,” said Draisaitl.
“I want to be a guy that maybe makes younger guys in Germany play hockey. I‘m proud to be German and I want to make the country proud and make as many kids play hockey as possible.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes