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Panthers' Tallon has busy first round of draft

by Shawn P. Roarke
LOS ANGELES -- Dale Tallon has certainly hit the ground running as the new GM of the Florida Panthers.

Friday night, on the first day of the 2010 Entry Draft, Tallon grabbed the spotlight with a pair of aggressive moves, highlighted by the trading of star defenseman Keith Ballard to the Vancouver Canucks.

Tallon, named to the GM post on May 17, turned one of his most coveted assets into several pieces that will help with the aggressive rebuild he has in store for the Panthers. Tallon sent Ballard and prospect Victor Oreskovich to Vancouver in exchange for young forward Steve Bernier, speedy forward Michael Grabner, a first-round pick in his own right, and the No. 25 pick.

The pick from Vancouver gave Tallon three selections in Friday's first round. At No. 3, he selected a potential franchise defenseman in Erik Gudbranson. Originally scheduled to pick at No. 15, Tallon traded that pick to Los Angeles for the No. 19 pick, as well as a second-round pick, then selected American center Nick Bjugstad with that pick, then finished his busy night by selecting Canadian center Quinton Howden with Vancouver's pick at No. 25.

Not a bad night's work on a day that was virtually bereft of big-time trades involving rostered NHL players.

"I feel great," Tallon said when it was over. "I think it's a big turning point in our franchise. Very successful day at the draft. We got some good players to fill some needs. They're still young, but still good players. I'm very elated with what happened today. It was a wonderful day."

There have been several wonderful days since Tallon walked into the Florida front office, entrusted to build the Panthers into a Stanley Cup champion, a task he was well on his way to completing in Chicago before being phased out this past season.

Yet he believes there is an even brighter future in store for his new franchise; one that will only come through hard work and, perhaps, a liberal dose of good luck. After all, that is the blueprint he followed in Chicago where his ability to land franchise players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith in the draft accelerated Chicago's rebuilding process. Not surprisingly, those four players were the foundation of Chicago's Stanley Cup triumph just two weeks ago. 

"I can't be satisfied," Tallon said. "How can you be satisfied? We have to turn the corner and get playoff ready and start challenging and make it difficult for teams to play in Florida."

Gudbranson will certainly make it tough for opponents to come into Florida once he arrives on the scene. The big (6-foot-4, 195 pounds), intimidating defenseman from Kingston in the OHL has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Scott Stevens, who willed the New Jersey Devils to three championships with a combination of skill and snarl.

"He's got good speed, good size," Tallon said of Gudbranson. "He really has a lot of character and will make us a tougher team to play against."

Speed and size are attributes that Tallon has always craved. He got both attributes in spades Friday night.

Bernier has the size to be an effective power forward, a role envisioned for him when he was drafted by San Jose in the first round in 2003. Bjugstad, who will play at the University of Minnesota next season, is 6-4. Howden, taken at No. 25, is 6-2 and is still adding bulk to his frame. 

Grabner, a first-round pick by Vancouver, is among the speediest players in the NHL. With some refinement, Tallon believes that Grabner can become a 20-goal scorer down the road.

Tallon has nine more picks left in the draft -- including four in the second round -- which concludes Saturday. He says he won't sleep much tonight as he thinks about how to best use those assets to get the Panthers over the hump.

He knows exactly what he is looking for as he plans for Saturday.

"We want people who really care, (who) are passionate and will compete hard every night and have our fans be happy with the effort every night," Tallon said. "I think we addressed that today. We're going to continue to add that character, the size the skill and passion so we can be successful."

So far, Tallon has provided little reason to doubt his ability to pull off that lofty mission statement.

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