(Reuters) - Center Leon Draisaitl became the highest German player chosen in the National Hockey League draft when he was selected at number three by the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.
Canadian Aaron Ekblad, of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), was taken number one by the Florida Panthers in a draft in Philadelphia largely devoid of surprises. Draisaitl said he looked forward to following in the wake of some of the greats who have played for the Oilers.
"Wearing the same jersey as (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mark) Messier and all those stars is a huge honour," the 18-year-old from Cologne told TSN television. "It's a great organisation (with) a lot of young talented guys and I can't wait until training camp. I think I'm a good fit." Edmonton general manager Craig MacTavish said Draisitl's size at 6'1" (1.85m) and 204 pounds (92kgs) had been key to why the franchise chose him from the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League (WHL). "We all know how difficult big centers are to obtain," MacTavish said. "Leon fits that bill for us. There will be a line-up of wingers ready to play with Leon."
The Oilers are coming off a poor season in which they finished last in the Western Conference. The top seven draft picks all came from the OHL and WHL on a night when Ekblad became the first defenseman in eight years to be taken number one. "I believe in myself and I'm confident I can step into the league next year. I think that's what the Florida Panthers see in me," Ekblad said.
"I feel that this is where I can facilitate my development and help the team win a Stanley Cup in a few years." Florida general manger Dale Tallon said Ekblad would be one of the cornerstones of the franchise.
Vancouver-born Sam Reinhart of Kootenay in the WHL was taken second by the Buffalo Sabres. "I'm ecstatic. This is the best moment of my life," said Reinhart, whose father Paul played 11 seasons in the NHL. Draisaitl was the only non-Canadian among the top six draft picks, while Canadian-born Swede William Nylander was taken seventh by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nylander's father Michael played 920 games over 15 seasons in the NHL.
Nylander was one of three players among the top 13 draft picks who played in Sweden last season, along with Swiss Kevin Fiala (taken 11th by the Nashville Predators) and Czech Jakub Vrana (13th, Washington Capitals). Left wing Nikolaj Ehlers, of Denmark, was chosen ninth by the Winnipeg Jets, while Dylan Larkin was the first American, picked 15th by the Detroit Red Wings.
(This story was corrected to fix Ehlers' draft position in final paragraph)
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Gene Cherry/Greg Stutchbury)