ANAHEIM - The Chicago Blue Demons, currently without a GM and being run by the league, surprised nobody by grabbing D Aaron Ekblad first overall in last night's 2014 XHL Entry Draft. And that was the end of the unexpected portion of the evening's festivities.
The XHL Draft last night was a festive, eventful and surprising evening that saw many teams go off the board while highly touted players dropped down the rankings a bit. And it started almost immediately with the second pick in the draft.
For the Detroit Cougars, the draft is usually a non-event as they have traded away most of their picks in their recent history. But this year, with a determination to build through youth, they held onto four of their picks. Many expected either of the Sams - Sam Bennett or Sam Reinhart - to head to the Motor City, but the Cougars threw a curve ball and went with defense instead.
Detroit chose D Haydn Fleury, the consensus second-best defenseman in the draft, in a move to sure up their defense for the future.
New England rounded out the top three with their pick of center Sam Reinhart, a player they hope will help lead them back to greatness after their first non-playoff year. But that wouldn't be the only Sam they would acquire.
The hometown Anaheim Ducks were next, and with many of their fans expecting Bennett, the Ducks pulled a surprise by taking winger Nikolaj Ehlers, a raw talent with a ton of potential. This allowed New England to snap up Bennett quickly at the fifth pick to give them a dynamic 1-2 punch at center for the future.
Brooklyn Red Bulls H.C., who at one point owned 19 picks last night, saw fortune smile upon them next as they snapped up center Leon Draisaitl, expected by nobody to still be around at six, with the sixth overall pick. That was followed by their in-city rivals, the New York Empire, who snapped up a pair of versitile forwards at seven and eight with Michael Dal Colle and William Nylander.
The St. Louis Smugglers, in the rare position of owning a top ten pick, chose winger Jake Virtanen at nine, and the Los Angeles Speed Kings rounded out the top ten by taking winger Nick Ritchie at ten, followed at 11 by forward Kevin Fiala.
The next few picks had a New York flare as the Empire and Red Bulls H.C. sandwiched the Winnipeg Jets with two picks each. New York opted for defense with Travis Sanheim at 12, followed a pick later by Brooklyn at 13, who chose Long Island-raised winger Sonny Milano. Winnipeg took winger Brendan Perlini at 14 followed by the Empire selecting center Dylan Larkin at 15 with Brooklyn selecting center Conner Bleackley at 16.
The rest of the first round saw a slew of other teams select for the first time on the night. Vancouver took winger Jakub Vrana at 17, followed at 18 by New Orleans taking defenseman Julius Honka. Edmonton snatched winger Alex Tuch at 19 before Toronto took defenseman Anthony DeAngelo at 20.
Anaheim made their second pick of round one at 21 as they grabbed another winger in Nikita Scherbak. Ottawa then stepped up for the first time on the night by taking center Robby Fabbri at 22. The defending Western Conference champion Oakland Seals then pulled a huge shock at 23 as they took the first goalie of the draft, Hugo Fagerblom, before the XHL Cup champion Greensboro Swordsmen closed out the first round with center Kasperi Kapanen at 24.
Of course it wouldn't be a draft without trades, and while there wasn't a huge number, several days were completed, most involving Brooklyn.
After Greensboro selected Kapanen, they traded the remainder of their draft class to Brooklyn for prospects Phillip Di Giuseppe, Ty Rattie and center Joakim Andersson, recently acquired from Dallas. Brooklyn also acquired winger Chris Kunitz from New York for the 61st pick, as well as Damon Severson from Ottawa for Matt Donovan and the 79th overall pick. Ottawa also acquired a 2nd rounder from Greensboro for Austin Levi.
Things are only expected to get more interesting this offseason as free agency will follow the draft shortly, so stay tuned to the XHL website and Twitter feed for updates.
2014 XHL FREE AGENCY
Date TBD - All times Eastern