PHILADELPHIA -- Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon kept everyone guessing right up to his announcement to open Fridays NHL draft. Colorado Avalanche Pro Shop . "We proudly select, with the first pick overall of the 2014 NHL draft from the Ontario Hockey League," Tallon told a feisty full house at Wells Fargo Arena. And then he paused for dramatic effect. "Aaron Ekblad," Tallon finally pronounced. "I did not know. I was freaking out there for a second when he stopped," said Ekblad, a normally unflappable 18-year-old defenceman from Belle River, Ont., seen as perhaps the most NHL-ready player in the draft pool. "It was breath-taking to say the least." Said a straight-faced Tallon: "I thought we were in show-business. This is entertainment isnt it?" "I made Ekblad sweat a little," he added. With Kingston Frontenacs forward Sam Bennett ranked No. 1 ahead of Ekblad among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, there was Ontario competition for the top pick. Bennett eventually went fourth to the Calgary Flames. Kootenay Ice centre Sam Reinhart went second to the Buffalo Sabres and Prince Albert Raiders forward Leon Draisaitl was selected third by the Edmonton Oilers. Draisaitl becomes the highest-drafted German-born player in NHL history. Previously that honour was held by Marcel Goc, taken 20th overall by San Jose in 2001. Tallon had two "really substantial" offers for his pick, but elected to stick with the big Barrie Colts blue-liner. "We decided at noon we were going to go this way," he said. Ekblad, who spent three seasons with the Colts, is seen as a potential franchise defenceman who is ahead of many of his fellow juniors in terms of size, strength and maturity. The teenager with Hollywood good looks feels he can help the Panthers in the fall. "Ive said that from the very beginning that I believe in myself and Im confident," he said. "I think if you dont believe in yourself and youre not confident, youre putting yourself behind the eight-ball right off the bat. I believe that if I work hard this summer, I can really step into the NHL next year. Obviously Im going to need a lot of help and its going to be a learning curve, but again Im confident in myself." The six-foot-three 216-pound Ekblad, granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada to enter the OHL at just 15, had 23 goals, 30 assists and 91 penalty minutes in 58 games last season. Ekblad says he plays "strong responsible defence" while trying to contribute on offence. He is the 13th defenceman to go first overall in the draft and the first since 2006 when St. Louis took Erik Johnson. The Panthers (29-45-8) won the draft lottery ahead of Buffalo (21-51-10) to kick off the draft for the first time since 1994 when they selected defenceman Ed Jovanovski, now 38 and on his second stint in south Florida. Florida also won the draft lottery in 2002 and 2003, but traded away the pick both years. There was a run on blue-liners in the 90s with Roman Hamrlik (1992, Tampa Bay), Jovanovski (1994, Florida), Bryan Berard (1995, Ottawa) and Chris Phillips (1996, Ottawa) all going first overall. The Panthers will be hoping to repeat the success of Colorado last year with the first pick. Centre Nathan MacKinnon jumped directly to the NHL from the Halifax Mooseheads, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as top rookie along the way. After Bennett, Oshawa Generals winger Michael Dal Colle went to the New York Islanders and Calgary Hitmen winger Jake Virtanen became a Vancouver Canuck. Red Deer defenceman Haydn Fleury was chosen seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes, ahead of Modo forward William Nylander (Toronto), Halifax winger Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg) and Peterborough winger Nick Ritchie (Anaheim in a pick obtained earlier from Ottawa). Ehlers becomes the second-highest drafted Danish-born player in NHL history after Mikkel Boedker, picked eighth overall by Phoenix in 2008. The Canucks selected Sault Ste. Marie centre Jared McCann with the 24th overall pick and the Montreal Canadiens took Russian winger Nikita Scherbak of the Saskatoon Blades with the 26th selection. Ottawa did not have a first-round pick, having traded it to Anaheim in the Bobby Ryan deal. After Fridays first round, there will be six more rounds Saturday. Apart from Tallons cheeky delay at the mic, there were few other surprises. The top names all went high. Ekblad was ranked second among draft prospects by the International Scouting Services, which had Reinhart No. 1. Reinhart, an 18-year-old from North Vancouver, is seen as an elite playmaker with good skating and puck skills. The six-foot-one 185-pounder, named WHL player of the year in 2013-14, has true hockey bloodlines. Brother Max was selected by the Calgary Flames in the third round (63rd overall) in the 2010 draft, while brother Griffin was chosen fourth overall by the Islanders in 2012. Father Paul, a 12th-round draft pick of the Atlanta Flames in 1979, played 11 NHL seasons with the Flames and Canucks. The crowd at Wells Fargo Center started a "Lets Go Flyers" chant before the opening roll call of teams. Every other team was greeted with the word "Sucks" as their name was announced -- with the exception of Pittsburgh and Boston, who drew deafening boos. Comcast president Dave Scott, head of the company that owns the Flyers, congratulated the Los Angeles Kings on winning the Stanley Cup -- and defeating the rival Rangers in the final. The feisty crowd loved the kicker. Commissioner Gary Bettman was booed long and loud when he took the stage. "I love your passion," said the unflappable commissioner. The crowd kept booing and Bettman kept up the one-liners as the evening wore on. The Canucks stole much of the pre-draft thunder earlier Friday, sending centre Ryan Kesler to Anaheim and defenceman Jason Garrison to Tampa Bay while acquiring forward Derek Dorsett from the Rangers. For Ekblad, it was "by far the longest day of my entire life." But it ended well. He is the sixth OHL player drafted No. 1 overall in the last eight years, following in the footsteps of Patrick Kane, Steve Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov. NOTES: The 30 players selected in the first round were born in 10 different countries: Canada (14), United States (five), Czech Republic (two), Finland (two), Russia (two), Denmark (one), England (one), Germany (one), Sweden (one) and Switzerland (one) ... Eight of the first 10 overall picks, including all of the first seven, came from the Ontario Hockey League or Western Hockey League. Ehlers (ninth overall) was the only one from the QMJHL. Fake Avalanche Jerseys . Williams withdrawal came less than 24 hours after losing in the final Auckland WTA tournament final. "I dont believe she has an injury," Hobart tournament director Mark Handley said. Stitched Avalanche Jerseys . -- Its been 21 years since Joe Gibbs Racing celebrated its only Daytona 500 victory.EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are not only back in the playoff hunt with a four-game winning streak, theyre calling the plays that get them those wins. Thats exactly what Jason Pierre-Paul did against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. With the Giants clinging to a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter and the Packers about to start a series at their 30, Pierre-Paul said in the huddle he was going to pick a pass and score. Pierre-Paul hadnt seen the Packers formation and he hadnt been listening to coach Mike McCarthy talk to Scott Tolzien on the sideline. He just knew, and he was right. Pierre-Paul scored on a spectacular, leaping 24-yard fourth-quarter interception return and the resurgent Giants won 27-13 over the slumping and injured-riddled Packers (5-5). "I have never seen anything like it before in my life," fellow defensive end Justin Tuck said. "We were literally in a TV timeout and he said, Im going to pick this." Tuck said Pierre-Paul made the call before the Giants had even called a defence. "If you look at my reaction to him picking it, I was in awe because he had just called it before it happened," Tuck said. "He called it before seeing the formation, so I dont know if it was Voodoo. I dont know." Pierre-Paul, questionable because of a shoulder injury against Oakland that limited him to one day of practice, said he had a feeling. "I knew I could deliver that play, that significant play, and I did," Pierre-Paul said. "It changed the game." Tolzien, starting his first NFL game, took the blame. "Thats on me giving their team a freebie," said Tolzien, who finished 24 of 34 for 339 yards and three interceptions. "We had a chance at that point. That kills ya. It was a game-changer. You see the arms up in the air and you cant throw it." Eli Manning threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle, and Brandon Jacobs added a 1-yard run as the Giants handed the Packers their third straight loss, their longest skid since a five-game losing streak near the end of 2008. "Its not good," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. " Its definitely new territory. Its tough, because you go 10-5, 10-6, 15-1. You lose three, it doesnt feel good. But right now were just not playing very good ball. Were 5-5 rightt now, so weve just got to move forward with the guys we have and play better. Avalanche Jerseys 2021. " Two of the three losses have come with 2011 NFL MVP Rodgers sidelined with a broken left collarbone. The Giants are heading the other way. Their winning streak follows a 0-6 start and it improbably has moved them within 1 1/2 games of first-place Philadelphia (6-5) in the weak NFC East. They are a game behind second-place and idle Dallas (5-5), which will play here next Sunday. "Weve kept the dream alive and got to the game next week," centre Jim Cordle said. "But there is still a long way to go." The Packers, who got a 1-yard TD run by Eddie Lacy and two field goals by Mason Crosby, including a 57-yarder, fell a game behind Chicago and Detroit in the NFC North. The Giants never trailed, but they never put the Packers away until the interception by Pierre-Paul. New York had the better of the play in the first half, holding the ball for almost 20 minutes. The Giants jumped to a 10-0 lead on Mannings 26-yard touchdown pass to Randle and Josh Browns 40-yard field goal. The touchdown reception was Randles sixth in the last six games, and he set it up with a 32-yard punt return. Manning finished 25 of 35 for 279 yards and an interception. A 30-yard pass to Victor Cruz, who had eight catches for 110 yards, and a 5-yard run by Jacobs on a fourth-and-1 at the Packers 36 set up the field goal. Tolzien threw passes of 25 yards to Jordy Nelson and 45 to James Jones on consecutive plays to set up a 24-yard field goal by Crosby on the next series. Taking over at the Green Bay 37 with no timeouts, Tolzien hit on two passes, setting up Crosby for a 57-yard field goal on the final play. It was a yard shy of his Packers record and it was the longest against the Giants. NOTES: Brett Conway of Washington kicked a 55-yard against New York in 2001. ... Nelson finished with eight catches for 117 yards. ... Packers DT Johnny Jolly (groin) and CB James Nixon (knee) left the game with injuries. ... LB Jon Beason and S Antrel Rolle had the Giants other interceptions. ...Linebacker Brad Jones led the Packers with 13 tackles and a sack. ... CB Terrell Thomas, Beason and LB Jacquian Williams all had eight tackles for the Giants. ... Green Bay outgained New York 394-334, but the Giants had the ball 35:14. ' ' '
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