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Panthers seek help on wings in first round of draft

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said he embraces his reputation as someone not afraid to make bold moves. As he said Thursday, "I?like to think outside the box."

Although Tallon said he's excited that the Panthers are hosting the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center, he said it doesn't mean he'll be looking to make a headline-grabbing move at the draft.

The first round of the draft is June 26 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports); rounds 2-7 are June 27 (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports).


Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was one of the many watching when the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons.

While Tallon said he was happy for his former Chicago Blackhawks players and co-workers, there was something else he took from that development, something perhaps more important.

"It says that we're headed in the right direction,"???said Tallon, who was Chicago's general manager from 2005-09. "I still have relationships with the coach [Joel Quenneville] and a lot of those players. Really close relationships with them. I've grown up with them and they've grown up with me. We still stay in touch. I'm happy for them. It's great for hockey. It tells us we're confident in the direction we're headed. When I started there I didn't know what I was doing. We tried. We experimented. Things that didn't work, we went in a different direction. We knew what we weren't going to do. Now that it worked, I'm confident in my abilities to do it again. That's a positive. I'm happy for them. That's the benchmark. We want to get to there."

-- Alain Poupart

"I don't think anything changes,"???Tallon said. "Our goal is to draft nine guys this year that'll play in the NHL???for us. That's the goal regardless of where we're drafting, Florida or Philly or wherever we are. Let's get the best players and make sure that we do our homework and get the character and the size, the speed, the skill, all those things, all those assets that we really enjoy having. We're not going to do something silly just because we're in Florida."

The Panthers have the 11th pick in the first round. This comes after they had picked in the top two at the 2013 and 2014 drafts. They selected center Aleksander Barkov with the second pick of the 2013 draft and defenseman Aaron Ekblad at No. 1 last year.

The Panthers' biggest need remains on the wing, and Tallon said it wasn't likely he'd stray from that this year without a top-five pick.

"If you're picking one through five or whatever, you might take the best player,"???Tallon said. "We took the best player last year, but we might look at what our needs are. Our depth chart is deep up the middle. And when you look at our future as far as the back end is concerned, it's terrific. There are a lot of different, good, young players in this draft that fit our needs, so we'll see what happens. If something shakes up and there's a startling pick in the first 10, that opens up more possibilities for us. But we're willing to do anything to make our team better. And right now if you look at our depth chart, speed and scoring are two things that we really would like to have."

Tallon said he was open to the possibility of trading the 11th pick for an established scorer if the right deal came along and that conversations with other teams have begun to pick up.

The Panthers' 198 non-shootout goals this season were the sixth fewest in the NHL. Tallon said having veteran Jaromir Jagr for a full season can help in that department. The 43-year-old had six goals in 20 games after being acquired from the New Jersey Devils before the NHL Trade Deadline.

The Jagr trade cost the Panthers their 2015 second-round pick. It leaves them with one pick in the first round, two in the third, one in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh. Tallon said he would explore the possibility of getting back into the second round.

Along with help on the wing, Tallon said goaltending is another area of need at the draft. Veteran Roberto Luongo earned an All-Star Game invitation this season, but he's 36 and one area the Panthers lack prospects depth is in goal.

The Panthers have a strong nucleus of drafted players on their roster, led by Ekblad, Barkov, center Nick Bjugstad and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, and more could be on the way next season.

"We're very close,"?????????Tallon said. "I?????????like the direction we're headed. Our players are excited about it as well. We're not far off. Really excited about our future. I?????????think our core is going to be really solid. A lot of things have to come into play, but I?????????like the direction we're headed in and I feel we could be a very competitive team next year. We want to be with those two teams represented in the [Stanley Cup] Final. We want to play that type of hockey and we want to play with that high degree of skill and pace. That's our goal, and I think we're getting there."

During his first draft as Panthers GM five years ago, Tallon acquired two additional first-round picks, including one in a deal made during the first round.

"I?????????like to think outside the box, so you never know what we're going to do,"?????????Tallon said. "It's a fun part of the job, draft day, the things that can and will go on that you might not have control over. But I?????????like to think outside the box and I?????????like to take some risk, so it'll be interesting to see what happens. I like to be active at that table if we have to make deals or not. That's the fun part for me. The draft is an exciting time."

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