Florida at the Center of the Action
On the eve of the draft, FloridaPanthers.com takes a look at the options
In the two and a half months since the Florida Panthers won the NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto, the suspense surrounding the number one pick has ramped up considerably. With the draft just around the corner, that suspense will soon be lifted, and no matter what happens in Philadelphia on Friday, the first round of the draft is sure to be thrilling for the Florida Panthers and their fans. With that in mind, let’s do some last minute speculating and look at some of the ways Friday evening might play out for the Cats.
The biggest question heading into the draft is, will the Panthers trade the number one pick? Secondary to that is, if they do trade the pick, which team will they trade with and who will they get in return? If they do not trade the pick, who will they choose with the first overall selection? Finally, will the team be involved in any other trades that do not involve the first pick?
If the Panthers do not find a suitable trade partner for the first pick, they will likely select from the trio of prospects at the top of Central Scouting’s rankings of North American skaters. These prospects include defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart. Ekblad has the potential to start right away on the blue line and has the potential to develop into a top-pair defenseman while Bennett and Reinhart both possess game breaking offensive abilities. Unlike some drafts in recent memory, this year’s draft features no consensus number one pick. This does not mean there is not exciting talent to be had at the top of the draft, it just means that no one player has separated himself from the pack. Ekblad, Bennett and Reinhart are joined by forwards Leon Draisaitl and Michael Dal Colle as the five players that could all conceivably be taken at number one.
If the Panthers decide to go the trade route, they could strike a deal that keeps them selecting in the top-third of the first round. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has made it clear that if they do trade the pick, they expect their trade partner’s first round pick in return, along with additional assets. The most likely trade scenario for the number one pick would involve the Panthers receiving a first rounder in the top-eight, and some combination of established NHL players and prospects. A pick, a player and a prospect is the classic package for any high picks and it will likely take an enticing version of the above to convince the Panthers to part with the first overall selection.
Sticking to just the teams possessing picks in the draft’s first eight slots, the Panthers’ potential trade partners include: Buffalo, Edmonton, Calgary, NY Islanders, Vancouver, Carolina and Toronto. If the Panthers do deal the first overall pick, the team on the other end will probably be one of these seven, but the beauty of the draft is, anything can happen. That is what makes things so exciting. The Panthers could receive a can’t-pass-up trade offer from a team lower in the first round, or maybe there is a three team trade that takes place? Who knows?
Another thing to keep an eye on is the potential for trades taking place that do not involve the number one overall pick. The draft is a rare instance when all the GMs, scouts and top player personnel from every team get together in the same room (or arena in this case). With all the major players together, deals are bound to be made and the shape of the NHL landscape is bound to be shifted. Even if the Panthers do decide to use the top pick, the team could be involved in deals for picks in later rounds or in deals that do not involve draft picks at all.
"We are going to have a sleepless night tonight," said Tallon. "The staff is all going to sit on it, ponder it and think about it, and if we take the pick, we are excited about that as well."
For example, in 2000, the Panthers made a blockbuster draft day deal with the Islanders, acquiring Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen in exchange for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. The deal did not involve any draft picks but it was a monumental exchange for each franchise and it stands today as a prime example of the kinds of trades that could potentially take place on draft night.
There will be a lot to keep track of at the 2014 NHL Draft with plenty of, quite literally, moving pieces. With the number one pick in the draft, the Cats will be firmly at the center of the action and whether they trade the pick or not, once the dust settles, there will certainly be some new, exciting faces heading to South Florida.
"Everyone said that this draft wasn't that strong," said Tallon, "But I disagree, I think it's a very good draft."