PHILADELPHIA – As the hours ticked toward the start of the NHL Draft, the parents of top prospect Sam Bennett were getting antsy. They’re going to be new fans of some team tonight, and they really wanted to know which one.
So they asked Bennett which team he thought would pick him.
“Honestly,” Bennett told them, “I have no idea.”
It was a common answer Thursday as the prospects gathered in Philadelphia. The draft order remains a mystery, even to those in it.
While most people expect defenseman Aaron Ekblad to go first overall, he wouldn’t be shocked if Bennett, Sam Reinhart or someone else makes the initial walk to the stage in Wells Fargo Center.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” Ekblad said. “That’s perfectly possible. It’s almost expected in some cases.
“Anyone who thinks they’re going to predict what happens is crazy because no one’s been told. No one knows what’s going on. I’m just as lost as everyone else is.”
The reason for the uncertainty is twofold:
• The prospects are evenly ranked, with no breakout star. Some teams may prefer the grit of Bennett, the hockey IQ of Reinhart, the all-around game of Ekblad or the Jaromir Jagr-like potential of Leon Draisaitl.
“There’s been a lot more intrigue,” Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, said in National Constitution Center. “There’s going to be the mystery and the drama. That’s the fun with this year’s draft because every fan thinks they know what their team needs to bring into the organization.
“I think the order is going to be all over the place.”
• The order of prospects is unknown because the order of teams is in flux. Florida selects first and has two good offers for the pick. General Manager Dale Tallon said he’s 70 percent sure the Panthers will keep it, and he knows who he wants if he does.
If Florida or a new team passes on Ekblad, that changes the outlook for Buffalo. The Sabres have been ready to take the best forward available with the No. 2 pick, but Ekblad might be too good to pass up - for them or a team desperate to trade into the spot.
Sabres GM Tim Murray was not available to comment.
A pair of top prospects are convinced Ekblad won’t slip past No. 1. Michael Dal Colle, ranked fifth by Central Scouting, and Jake Virtanen, who’s No. 6, said they would select the defenseman first overall.
“He’s a guy that you can really rely on in all situations,” Virtanen said. “He’s a great player, and I think he’ll make a big impact.”
Arturs Irbe remains the front-runner to become the Sabres’ next goaltending coach, a source with ties to the goalie guild tells The Buffalo News.
Irbe has been mentioned as a potential Sabres assistant ever since it became clear Ted Nolan would clean house and hire his own people. That hasn’t changed, and it’s being assumed in hockey circles that Irbe is a given for the job.
Irbe was one of Nolan’s assistants on the Latvian Olympic team. The former NHL goalie, who played 568 games for San Jose, Dallas, Vancouver and Carolina, was Washington’s goalie coach from 2009 to 2011 but went back to his homeland after failing to get a promotion to regular assistant coach.
There is no timetable for Nolan to announce his coaching staff. He released assistants Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen and Jerry Forton, plus goalie coach Jim Corsi, at the end of the season.
Nolan inherited the staff from previous coach Ron Rolston.