Hockey

Panthers have plenty of options with No. 1 pick

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The NHL may as well put out a casting call for a movie set in Philadelphia.

The league sent its top draft prospects to all the tourist areas for photos and interviews, from the Rocky statue, to the baseball stadium, and, yes, the obligatory cheesesteak stand. But much like the fictional fighter who conquered the odds, only one standout can stand tall as the No. 1 overall pick.

And with the first pick of the 2014 draft, the Florida Panthers select ... Well, unlike some of the recent drafts, this one remained a mystery heading into Friday night's draft at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center.

There is no consensus No. 1 pick and the Panthers have plenty of options to help try and turn the franchise into a consistent playoff team. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, however, hasn't been shy about his willingness to trade the No. 1 pick for the right price. Florida has been stockpiling prospects since Tallon became general manager in May 2010, and the GM wants his young team to grow together.

The top candidates for No. 1 include: Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart and Prince Albert Raiders center Leon Draisaitl.

Ekblad, Bennett, Reinhart, Draisaitl, Oshawa left wing Michael Dal Colle, and Sarnia defenseman Michael DeAngelo all were invited to tour Philadelphia this week and check out the sights. They'd all rather check out a No. 1 jersey with a name on the back Friday night.

If the Panthers don't trade the pick, Ekblad just might be the one. The Sabres have the second pick, and Edmonton; Calgary; N.Y. Islanders; Vancouver; Carolina; Toronto; Winnipeg; and Anaheim complete the top 10.

"I believe that Ekblad is going to go 1," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "Then we pick who we have left, the next guy on our list. If he doesn't go 1, I'd be surprised, I guess. And I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Here are five things to know about the NHL draft: TRADE TIME: Never heard of any of the prospects expected to get drafted? No problem. The big names on the market are more than enough to interest NHL fans heading into the draft. Philadelphia's Vincent Lecavalier, San Jose's Joe Thornton, Pittsburgh's James Neal, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, and Ottawa's Jason Spezza are all up for grabs this summer, and what better way to make a splash on draft weekend than with a huge deal. All have some sort of issues, from age to big contracts, but there's always a team willing to make the one move it feels can put them into the thick of Stanley Cup contention.

YO, PHILLY!: The Flyers haven't celebrated a Stanley Cup championship since 1975, but the orange-and-black faithful always make themselves heard. The Wells Fargo Center was expected to be packed this weekend for the draft, yet another highlight for the hockey-mad city. Philadelphia has been the site of the Stanley Cup finals, a Winter Classic and a Frozen Four, all since 2010. The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation provides free skating programs, ice hockey instruction, equipment and academic services to inner-city children. "With the hockey enthusiasm here, and the ability to hold major events in Philadelphia, we thought it was a natural fit," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We know that the city can host big events."

STACKING UP: The Los Angeles Kings won two of the past three Stanley Cups and seemed poised to build a hockey dynasty in an unlikely place. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi will likely only make small tweaks to his championship roster. Of the 24 players on the Kings' 2012 championship roster, 17 are still with the organization. He can draft — and he has plenty of chances this week to build the roster from within. The Kings are one of five teams that have a whopping nine picks this weekend, along with Dallas, the New York Islanders, St. Louis and Washington.

FATHER-SON: Like father, like son? There are several offspring of former NHL players available in the draft. Brendan Lemieux (son of Claude), William Nylander (Michael), Kasperi Kapanen (Sami), Ryan MacInnis (Al), are likely draft picks this weekend.

NEXT YEAR: Like any draft, the names are barely called when teams are already looking toward 2015. The NHL announced the 2015 draft will be held June 26-27 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.

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