Ekblad, Reinhart, Draisaitl and Bennett were drafted together. They'll now play for the Cup together

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — This seems so fitting. It was 10 years ago this month when Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Bennett were clearly the top four players entering the 2014 NHL Draft, though nobody knew what the order of their selection was going to be.

They all went through the draft process together. Posed for photos together, some in Philadelphia Phillies jerseys — the draft was in Philly that year — and some in suits. They even dined together a few times.

And now, they're going to the Stanley Cup Final together. Game 1 is in Florida on Saturday night.

For the first time in NHL history, the top four picks from one draft will all be on the ice in the same championship series. Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett play for the Florida Panthers, Draisaitl plays for the Edmonton Oilers, and 10 years after starting their quests for the Cup together they're all playing for hockey's biggest prize.

“It's cool,” Reinhart said. “We've got a couple of us in this room and Leon, I played a lot against him in junior. He's obviously transitioned into one of the most dangerous players in the game. It presents a great opportunity for us and a great challenge for us.”

If nothing else, this final might provide a moment to offer much respect to the people who scouted that 2014 draft. They pretty much got it right. Ekblad went No. 1 to Florida, Reinhart No. 2 to Buffalo, Draisaitl No. 3 to Edmonton and Bennett No. 4 to Calgary.

Draisaitl, Reinhart and Ekblad rank 1-2-3 in terms of games played from that draft class; Bennett is sixth, with David Pastrnak and Dylan Larkin holding down the No. 4 and No. 5 spots from that list. Draisaitl is a past MVP, Reinhart got more goals this season — including playoffs — than anyone in Florida history, Ekblad has been atop the Panthers' blueline charts for a decade and Bennett has found, by far, his best game since joining the Panthers in 2021.

They were expected to be great when they got picked. They've delivered. And in his first news conference after getting selected No. 1 overall in that draft, Ekblad lauded the three other players that he's always going to be linked to because of that night.

“It’s a great experience,” Ekblad said at that draft. “I’ve got to thank the guys here that were drafted, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Draisaitl ... but they’re all my great friends and I’m very proud of those guys, as well.”

Obviously, they're not all rooting for each other over the next couple weeks. None of them have ever hoisted the Stanley Cup. Florida is in the Cup final for the second straight year after waiting a quarter-century for another shot at the title; Edmonton is playing for the Cup for the first time since 2006, long before Draisaitl arrived in Alberta.

“Lot of painful years that we've gone through,” Draisaitl said of the Oilers. “Lots of learning along the way.”

Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett all made the Cup final last year. Draisaitl is obviously in the final for the first time. They've come a long way from cheesesteaks and cheesy photos at that Philadelphia draft 10 years ago; a championship is now on the line.

“It's pretty freaking cool,” Ekblad said of the Panthers becoming a perennial contender. “It was a long time coming. It wasn't easy those first few years. There was a lot of learning and growing. ... The fact that we're at this point now, where the expectation is to challenge for a championship, it's a really cool thing. It's a cool feeling and it's really fun to be a part of.”


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