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Gallant believes Panthers' fortunes can turn quickly

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- In his two seasons as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens, Gerard Gallant saw the team go from having the third pick in the 2012 NHL?Draft to reaching the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

He sees the same kind of possibilities with the Florida Panthers, who introduced him Monday as their new coach.

"When the opportunity came up that they were looking for a head coach, you look at their roster and you look at their core players, I?think it's a great opportunity,"?Gallant said. "I was in Montreal two years ago when I first started and that team was in 27th place. The League is so close, the teams are so close together now, you can turn things around in a hurry here and that's what I see with the Florida team."

Gallant became the 13th coach in franchise history, and sixth in the past 10 years, when he officially was hired Saturday.

General manager Dale Tallon said he interviewed about a dozen candidates, with the process starting at the IIHF World Championship in Russia in early May.

"It's very important to get the right guy with the type of players and the type of team we have in place,"???Tallon said. "It was very important to get a good guy who was a good teacher and who commanded respect from the veteran players."

When he fired interim coach Peter Horachek shortly after the end of the regular season, Tallon indicated he was looking for a coach with NHL experience.

Gallant has that, with a stint as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons (2003-04, 2005-07).

Before his two seasons with Montreal, Gallant was coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for three seasons, winning two QMJHL???titles and one Memorial Cup.

Among the top players on those Saint John teams was current Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau, the 2013 Calder Trophy winner.

"He's current,"???Tallon said of Gallant. "The last two years he's seen a lot of the East. The fact that he coached in Columbus as a head coach, he learned a lot from that experience. The fact that he coached juniors for three years and he won championships, he's current and he's contemporary with the young guys that we have, so he'll know both sides of it. So we think it's a great fit. He's got enough experience from the NHL???level and enough experience with the young players that he coached in junior."

Gallant described himself as an offensive coach.

"I???like to score goals,"???he said. "I'd like to see our team score some goals, be an offensive hockey club. But we all know you have to play good defense. You look around the NHL, most of the teams play the same style of hockey. It's about execution; it's about working hard and competing."

The Panthers finished the 2013-14 season 29th in the League standings, but landed the first pick in the 2014 NHL???Draft by winning the draft lottery in April.

Tallon said he had gotten "eight to 10"???calls, some more serious than others, regarding the possibility of a trade for the No. 1 pick, and he anticipates that number growing throughout the week leading up to the first round Friday at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

Tallon also is hoping to add veterans to the team's talented core of young players, a group that includes Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Erik Gudbranson, once free agency begins July 1.

"Friday is a big day for us,"???Tallon said. "If we take the first pick, then that's another piece of the puzzle that makes us even deeper. And I'll say one thing -- all the coaches that we interviewed wanted to come to Florida because they know what our depth chart is. They didn't want to come here just because of the sun. They were coming here because they know there's a great future here. Some other teams might be at the end of their rope and that's why it was easy for us to get candidates to interview for this job."

Gallant said, "The organization, the owner, they're trying to build things up. They're trying to make it a better hockey club. Last year was disappointing and we want to be better. There's a good core of players here and we're going to hope they're going to take off at the right time."

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