MONTREAL – The Panthers took another giant step forward here Saturday at the NHL Entry Draft. They resolved the dilemma of Jay Bouwmeester while continuing to stock their system with fast, gritty blue-chip prospects.
The Panthers, who have a history of swinging major deals at the Draft, made noise right from the beginning Saturday morning when they announced they had traded Bouwmeester’s negotiating rights to Calgary for unrestricted free agent defenseman Jordan Leopold and the Flames third-round pick (67th overall).
Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton called it a “critical day,” ending with the Panthers also drafting six players (all forwards), including 6-2 center Drew Shore
in the second round (44th overall), the speedy Josh Birkholz
in the third round (through the Bouwmeester deal) and Corban Knight
in round five. They join defenseman and first-round pick Dmitry Kulikov
The Panthers came to the Draft with four picks and left with seven prospects and the riddle of Bouwmeester solved.
"We looked at the Draft this year and really wanted to address our forward depth,” said Scott Luce, the Panthers director of amateur scouting. “Taking Dmitry in the first round really gave us an opportunity to focus on forwards on the second day. I think now we’ve addressed our forward depth, especially up the middle very well. We got a couple guys going away to college who are four, five year prospects. Our last pick, Scotty Timmins, could be a guy who could step in and turn pro this year, so we add a center in the pipeline this year as well as the future.”
Said Sexton: “We got bigger, we got grittier, we got faster. Speed is the name of the game. Guys like Knight, Birkholz and Kulikov…those guys can absolutely, flat-out fly.”
Before the Panthers selected another prospect, however, they made the Bouwmeester deal. Sexton said he shook hands on it with Calgary’s GM Darryl Sutter at approximately 9:30 a.m.
Sexton said the Panthers had “worked very hard over the last two weeks to put together a deal and things were moving quite well. Sexton said he was working with three teams Friday before the Flyers acquired Chris Pronger from Anaheim.
“When the Flyers did the deal for Pronger, it knocked them out of the box,” he said. “We went back last night (to the hotel), regrouped, and put together another game plan. We wanted something of value because of the quality of player (Bouwmeester) is, so we tried hard to get a second-round pick, but no one was willing to pony up. We settled on a third. An unconditional third round is the best to my knowledge anybody ever got for somebody going UFA.”
And the rights to Leopold, a 28-year-old defenseman who started last season in Colorado before being acquired by Calgary at the trade deadline. He played in 83 games and had seven goals and 17 assists. He played only 15 games in 2006-07 due to hernia surgery and a groin injury. He also missed time in 2007-08 with a lacerated leg, hip problem and pneumonia
Leopold is 6-1, 200 pounds, and the 2002 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner as the top U.S., collegiate player. He’s a former teammate of Panther defenseman Keith Ballard at the University of Minnesota and said Saturday afternoon he had played golf Wednesday with Ballard in Minnesota.
“We were kind of laughing if things were to work out, whatever may happen…but, of course, it was joking at the time,” Leopold said. “Now it’s more realistic, but you never know.”
Leopold, who could become an unrestricted free agent by July 1, said the trade caught him off guard. But he also added; “I have open ears. It’s a new opportunity for me. I’ve never been a free agent before and to be traded right before it…that’s new for me as well.”
Sexton said he was hoping to speak to Leopold’s agent as early as Saturday evening.
“We like Leopold,” he said. “We’re going to try and sign him. I don’t know if we will or not, but we’re going to try. We think he’s a mobile, puck-moving guy who we think is a fine replacement for Jay.
“Jay is a terrific player. We would have loved to sign him. But for anyone who followed our team and Jay Bouwmeester it’s been fairly apparent for at least a season or two what his long-term intentions were. Try as we might, we weren’t able to get something done. We did what we thought was in the best intentions of our franchise.”As far as the Draft picks:
Shore is a 6-2, 200-pound center who made a name for himself on the United States National Team Development Program with his drive and determination.
"He’s a big right handed centerman off to Denver University next season,” Luce said. “He’s starting to come into his own as a prospect. He had a good under-18 tourney this past April. He needs to work on strength and his battle down low. But he’s a driven guy and wants to be a hockey player. He’s going to a great program in Denver…more than likely he’ll turn pro before he graduates.”
Ranked 28th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Shore admitted he was a bit disappointed Friday evening when he wasn’t selected in the first round.
“It’s definitely a tough situation,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter where you’re picked, but what you do after that. It motivates me to work harder.”
Birkholz, a 6-1, right winger from Fargo of the United States Hockey League, is a “speed forward who can flat-out fly,” Luce said.
“He’s probably one of the top five skaters in the Draft from a speed point of view,” Luce added. “He’s going to the University of Minnesota. He might slide in on the top two lines because of his speed on that big rig in the University of Minnesota. He’s a speed winger who can forecheck and has a good shot.”
Birkholz is currently working out at 7:30 a.m., each day at the University of Minnesota with a group of players including Panther defenseman and Minnesota alumni Keith Ballard.Garrett Wilson
, the Panthers fourth-round selection (107th), is a 6-2 left winger who had 35 points in 53 games with Owen Sound. After starting the year with a bang, Wilson was suspended 15 games by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for slew-footing Kitchener’s Dan Kelly. Although OHL in its ruling was “persuaded” that Wilson was not deliberately attempting to injure Kelly, the play in question resulted in Kelly breaking his ankle.
“I started off the year pretty good, so missing 15 games early was tough to take,” Wilson said. “But I think I came back from it pretty good.”
Wilson’s area of improvement? His skating.
“He brings a lot of grit to the table,” Luce said.
In the fifth-round the Panthers selected Corban Knight
(135th), a 6-1 center who led all rookies last year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) with 72 points (34 goals). He finished eighth overall in scoring in the AJHL and tied for third in playoff goals (10). Knight will attend the University of North Dakota.
Unranked by NHL Central Scouting at the midseason report, Knight shot to 64 in the final rankings. He comes from an Alberta league that has produced Mark Messier, Lanny McDonald and the six Sutter brothers.
The Panthers also got Wade Megan
in the fifth round (138th). Megan grew up outside Lake Placid, N.Y., and was interviewed Friday morning by the Panthers. He graduated this spring from South Kent, a boarding school in western Connecticut, and will attend Boston University in the fall. His father, Ron, played hockey at Bowling Green.
“We got a couple guys in the fifth round I really like,” Luce said.
The Panthers ended the day with 19-year-old Scott Timmins
in the sixth round (165th). Called a “cerebral player and a good skater,” by Luce, Timmins played for Panther coach Peter DeBoer at Kitchener in 2007-08 before being sent to Windsor last season.Note:
It was a great day for interim GM Randy Sexton in the sense that his son, Ben, was drafted in the 7th-round (206th overall) by the Boston Bruins. He played the last two seasons for Nepean of the Canadien Junior Hockey League.