Draft Day Arrives, All Eyes on Florida

By Bill Whitehead

PHILADELPHIA – It’s the morning of the 2014 NHL Draft, and there really is a calm before what should be a storm inside the Wells Fargo Center tonight at 7 p.m. It won’t have the ferocity of a Rangers-Flyers’ playoff tussle – imagine that ornery orange-and-blue parking lot full of boozy tailgaters before a game – but the managerial action should be intense tonight.

The looming question, of course, is, “What’s going to happen at No. 1?” During his meeting with the media yesterday at the team hotel, Florida GM Dale Tallon claimed he was 70 percent certain he would make the first overall selection but also said he had received two “intriguing” offers, one “above and beyond” what the organization expected.

In percentages, there’s probably also a 50-50 chance this is just gamesmanship and posturing on Tallon’s part. Maybe a lucrative offer involving a top-pairing defenseman or skilled sniper is out there, maybe not. That’s part of the serve-and-volley that takes place between NHL GMs. Anything less would simply be a GM not doing his part. And a team builder like Tallon, sitting there with the top pick and with the best chance of improving his club, would be remiss not to stir the pot about the most attractive asset in Philadelphia that isn’t the Liberty Bell or a cheesesteak.

Tallon emphasized one point: He knows who he’s taking at No. 1 if he walks up to the podium tonight and uses that pick. It would be foolish of anyone to think there isn’t some consensus within the organization and he’ll go up there in front of a national audience and decide on the spur of the moment. Did he know right after the lottery took place?

“It was not clear cut, but we know who we’re taking,” Tallon said.

Some in the organization obviously liked the Sams – Reinhart and Bennett — while others probably were high on defenseman Aaron Ekblad. There may have been no unanimous choice, but the organization has reached an agreement

This is my third time covering the draft, having attended the Jonathan Huberdeau-producing one in Minnesota and the event two years ago in Pittsburgh when Florida chose Michael Matheson in the latter half of the first round. The former one had plenty of intrigue, the latter not so much. This year’s has the lion’s share of the offseason.

Two reports surfaced last night from credible sources, and it appears – as of this writing around breakfast – that Vancouver, Edmonton and perhaps Winnipeg are interested parties in what Tallon is peddling. The Canucks would love to have a homegrown talent like Reinhart, and it’s rumored that the Canucks have offered 19-year-old offensive-minded winger Hunter Shinkaruk, a roster play and its No. 6 pick for No. 1. That player could be physical defenseman Chris Tanev, a need in front of Roberto Luongo. It also would allow Tallon to make a selection in the range to get a dynamic player like Nikolaj Ehlers or William Nylander, both flashy skaters who have exceptional stickhandling and shooting skills and who can torch blueliners.

“(Nylander’s) really skilled. I saw him in Europe in the under 18s and he was dominant. He had 10 points in two games,” Tallon said. “He’s versatile and can play any forward position and has great speed and skill and eyes. He passes the puck accurately and can score. He’s just an all-around offensive weapon.

“Ehlers has dynamic speed, maybe the fastest guy in the draft with really electrifying skill. It’s another good player in the draft. Everyone said maybe this draft wasn’t that strong, but I disagree.”

So as hard as it is to read Tallon – he plays it very close to the vest – it’s time for some options/predictions, and like Dale, it wasn’t clear-cut for me either. If Florida makes the first pick, I feel they’ll go with Ekblad because it’s a safe, solid pick that most would do and be fine with. It’s the conservative approach.

But let’s face it, Dale Tallon’s not conservative (see 2010 draft), and he’s in a unique situation with the top pick. Therefore, I feel he trades it and descends in the top 10 but not too far.

The first option could be sliding to 3 because, well, Edmonton has to have the No. 1 pick, it’s their recent manifest destiny, right? Or Florida could go to 6 because if nothing else, we know the Cats trade with the Canucks. It’s just what they do. If Florida does the first and moves to 3, they grab Bennett, who had a meeting with the Panthers last night. If the Vancouver deal is struck, expect one of Nylander or Ehlers, depending on which dazzling player Tallon covets more.

You’re in for a treat. Enjoy the show, folks!

Follow Bill Whitehead on Twitter @BillWhiteheadFL and in Scripps newspapers online at TCPalm.com



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