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2018 NHL Draft Check-In: Panthers Found Talent in Early, Late Rounds

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

The Florida Panthers left no stone unturned at the 2018 NHL Draft.

After selecting high-octane winger Grigori Denisenko with the 15th overall pick in the first round, the Panthers went on to pick up five other high-upside players from around the globe later in the draft, re-stocking the organization's burgeoning prospect pool despite owning just six selections.

"It's been an exciting two days for our organization," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said after the draft. "We've added great skill, speed, size and character to our system. We are thrilled to have these young men join the rest of our prospects."

Following the selection of Denisenko on Day 1, the second day of the draft was highlighted by the additions of forwards Serron Noel (34th overall), Logan Hutsko (89th overall) and Justin Schütz (170th overall), as well as defensemen Cole Krygier (201st overall) and Santtu Kinnunen (207th overall).

Of Florida's six selections, five different countries and six different leagues were represented.

"It says that everybody has a voice in the room," Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Jason Bukala said. "It's not just one or two guys that are dominating conversation for certain territories. We go through every region in the world and treat them equally…Everybody had a piece of the pie this year. That's rewarding and motivating. Kudos to everybody for working hard."

While Denisenko and Noel have understandably garnered the most praise in their first post-draft season, every player from that 2018 class is coming off a year worth looking back on. With that in mind, here's an update on how that group fared during their respective 2018-19 campaigns.

Grigori Denisenko (1st round, 15th overall)

Position: Left Wing

DOB: June 24, 2000

Height: 5'11''

Weight: 176 lbs.

Shoots: Right

18-19 Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

Denisenko burst onto the scene at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. With an assist during Russia's 5-2 win over Switzerland in the bronze-medal game, the 18-year-old finished the tournament tied with fellow Panthers prospect Aleksi Heponiemi (40th overall, 2017) for the scoring title at the event with nine points (four goals, five assists) in seven games.

Tweet from @PeteBlackburn: Not a bad shot by Denisenko, I guess

Named to the World Junior's All-Star team, Denisenko's performance at the annual international tournament helped him land the second-overall spot on TSN hockey analyst's Craig Button's list of the top-50 NHL-affiliated prospects back in January - one of four Panthers among the top-40.

"Everybody knows about him now," Bukala said in January. "There's definitely no secrets. For me, he was definitely the best player [at the World Juniors] … Not just because he's ours, but I think collectively there's a lot of people in our industry that would have said the same. He was dynamic. He controlled the play, controlled the puck. Something happened every time he was on the ice."

Still getting his feet wet against professionals in the KHL, he posted four goals and two assists in 25 regular-season games and three assists in six playoff games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He wasn't typically featured in a prominent role, but that's not uncommon for youngsters in the KHL.

But when he was put up against his own age group, like at the World Juniors, Denisenko was in a league of his own, registering 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 13 international contests.

In his rankings, Button said Denisenko "has qualities that are reminiscent" of Nikita Kucherov.

Serron Noel (2nd round, 34th overall)

Position: Right Wing

DOB: Aug. 8, 2000

Height: 6'5''

Weight: 205 lbs.

Shoots: Right

18-19 Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Noel continues to prove that he's far more than just a big body.

Still learning to use his hulking frame, the 18-year-old grew his overall game by leaps and bounds this past season. He was named the Oshawa Generals top forward, finishing with career-highs in goals (34), assists (47) and points (81), while also ranking 22nd in OHL scoring.

"I was just working on earning the coach's trust and trying to bring that level of consistency," Noel said in March. "I just wanted to be a factor or have an impact on the game every single time that I was on the ice. That's something I've been really trying to focus and dial in on."

Tweet from @OHLHockey: Power forward with soft hands 💪@FlaPanthers prospect @serron_noel ties the game for @Oshawa_Generals with his 4������🚨 of the post-season.#OHLPlayoffs | #OTTvsOSH

In the OHL playoffs, Noel helped Oshawa reach the semifinals with four goals and seven assists in 14 games. On March 8, he put pen to paper on a three-year, entry-level contract with Florida, saying excitedly after the ink had dried that he hoped to "one day bring a championship to our team."

Noel, who was ranked 20th on Button's prospect list, will have a chance to take another big step next season while attempting to earn a spot on Canada's 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship roster.

"Serron's a big, strong guy," Bukala said in January. "We were excited to add him [at the draft]. He's a big, strong, scoring power-forward with presence. He's having a great year. He's doing it all [in the OHL]. He's playing in all situations. Another guy that's probably going to push for a job sooner rather than later."

Logan Hutsko (3rd round, 89th overall)

Position: Center / Right Wing

DOB: Feb. 11, 1999

Height: 5'10''

Weight: 172 lbs.

Shoots: Right

18-19 Team: Boston College (NCAA)

Hutsko followed up his breakout freshman season with a late sophomore surge.

Leading Boston College in points during his first collegiate campaign, the 20-year-old finished second on the team in scoring this past season, notching 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 36 games, including an impressive seven-game point streak that lasted from Nov. 2 until Nov. 30.

Despite a down season overall for the Eagles, Hutsko helped his team make a lot of noise in the Hockey East Tournament. Registering two goals and five assists over his final four games of the season, he netted a pair game-winners in the playoffs, including an overtime goal in Game 3 of BC's quarterfinal matchup against Providence. That same game, he also chipped in two assists.

Tweet from @BCHockey: Another view of the Hutsko winner last night#WeAreBC 🦅

Unfortunately, he was unable to carry the Eagles all the way to an NCAA tournament berth, as he was knocked out of the championship game against Northeastern after falling awkwardly into the boards. Only a few years removed from a broken neck, he thankfully escaped unscathed.

Now "100 percent recovered from the injury," Hutsko says he's eager to return to school for his junior season and help the Eagles build off their strong finish as they pursue a championship.

"As a team, we really didn't totally figure how to be successful until the near the end of the season, but were really dangerous once we came together,"Hutsko told in May. "I don't think anybody would have wanted to play us if we had beaten Northeastern and made the NCAA Tournament."

Justin Schutz (6th round, 170th overall)

Position: Left Wing

DOB: June 24, 2000

Height: 5'10''

Weight: 172 lbs.

Shoots: Left

18-19 Team: EC Salzburg II (AlpsHL)

Schutz is finally expected to get his moment in the spotlight next season.

With two goals and five assists, the 18-year-old winger helped Germany capture the U20 D1A World Championship, earning the nation a spot at next year's World Junior Championship. His seven points were tied for second at the tournament, just one behind teammate Dominik Bokk, who was selected by the St. Louis Blues with the 25th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Tweet from @justinschuetz10: Aufsteiger! 🇩������ #DEB #U20 #WJC #Seeya🇨

"He's a really relentless competitor," Bukala said after Schutz's was drafted. "He's mid-size, but has speed and plays in all situations. He's a leader and a captain on his team. He's either going to be playing pro over there or come to North America to continue his development."

Staying overseas this past season, Schutz spent most of his time with EC Salzburg II in AlpsHL, a pro league in Europe made up of teams from Austria, Italy and Slovenia. Producing at better than a point-per-game clip, he tallied 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 25 games. He also had one goal in five playoff games, helping Salzburg battle all the way to the league's quarterfinals.

Cole Krygier (7th round, 201st overall)

Position: Defense

DOB: May 5, 2000

Height: 6'3''

Weight: 192 lbs.

Shoots: Left

18-19 Team: Michigan State (NCAA)

Krygier showed off his hockey-playing pedigree this past season.

The son of former NHL defenseman Todd Krygier, who played 543 career games split between for the Hartford, Washington and Anaheim, Cole began his collegiate career at Michigan State this season, recording a goal, five assists and 16 penalty minutes in 26 games as a freshman.

Tweet from @MSU_Hockey: Adam Goodsir's 2nd career goal puts MSU up 4-1 in the 2nd period! Assists to Cole Krygier and Kamer

A native of Orlando, Fla., Krygier plays at MSU with his twin brother Christian, who was taken five picks earlier in the seventh round by the New York Islanders. Prior to joining the Spartans, Cole notched three goals and 17 points in 58 games with the USHL's Lincoln Stars in 2017-18.

"He's a big, strong, competitive player that can skate," Bukala said after Krygier was drafted. "He doesn't shy away from the physical stuff. He's probably going to need a full three years there, but we're looking forward to monitoring his development."

Krygier will continue to develop as a sophomore at MSU in 2019-20.

Santtu Kinnunen (7th round, 207th overall)

Position: Defense

DOB: March 25, 1999

Height: 6'2''

Weight: 161 lbs.

Shoots: Right

18-19 Team: Pelicans (Liiga)

Kinnunen put his skills to the test against grown men this past season.

Making his debut in Liiga - Finland's top professional men's circuit - the 20-year-old blueliner went on to post one goal, six assists and a plus-12 rating in 27 games with Pelicans. He also spent 21 games in Mestis, a tier below Liiga, registering 13 points and 35 penalty minutes.

Tweet from @JokkeNevalainen: #FlaPanthers prospect Santtu Kinnunen (#5) with his first career goal in the #Liiga.

"He's a late bloomer," Bukala said after Kinnunen was drafted. "He grew tall, so he's still light and needs to add weight. He's a transitional, two-way type of a player. He's on the World Junior summer roster for Finland, so he's just developing a little bit later. He's just light right now. He retrieves pucks and moves up the ice great. He's a nice fit for us."

In October, Pelicans coach Ville Nieminen "we'll be hearing a lot" Kinnunen in the future.

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