The past two years it was a pretty easy guess to whom the Panthers would select with their first pick in the draft.
Holding the third overall selection in each of those drafts, the Panthers went with the third highest North American skater as they selected defenseman Erik Gudbranson and forward Jonathan Huberdeau in succession.
Winning the Southeast Division has its perks but when it comes to drafting, that’s not one of them; at least in trying to predict whom Florida would select.
Just over three hours into Friday night’s first round in Pittsburgh the Panthers made their pick. Selecting 23rd overall, the Panthers used their first-round selection on defenseman Michael Matheson.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said the Cats top choice shortly after being picked. “It’s pretty hard to describe to be honest. There are so many people to thank in the Florida organization.”
Deciding to keep the selection and not move like some of the other teams did, both Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Director of Player Development Brian Skrudland were stoked that Matheson fell to him.
“We had a lot of action but it was quiet,” said Tallon on the trade front. “We tried. I like the action. I like working the phone and trying to make some deals but it didn’t just come to fruition. But we did get a really good young player.”
“We selected a guy that we wanted and needed,” continued Tallon. “We really like this young guy. He can really skate and I love defensemen that can really skate. (He’s) arguably the best skater in the draft.”
“When you get somebody of his capability in the 23rd spot, he was probably supposed to go much higher. We’re tickled pink. He fits a hole for us” said Skrudland. “His biggest asset would be his skating. His skating ability is incredible.”
What might make the pick that much better is that Matheson idles one of the Panthers current blueliners. That man did just win a Lady Byng on Tuesday for playing the game the right way by using his speed, skill and high hockey IQ.
“Obviously looking at guys like Brian Campbell, a really good defenseman that I try to model my game after,” said Matheson, the 30th ranked North American Skater by Central Scouting heading into the draft. “I’ll probably start taking even closer attention to him.”
It’s the fourth time in the last six drafts that Florida used their top pick on a defenseman.
The silky-smooth skater actually left his home in Quebec to hone his hockey skills in Dubuque, Iowa as he skated in the United States Hockey League. In his first year with the club, he led his squad’s defensemen in scoring as he posted 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 53 games.
“I thought I would be able to develop better in the USHL and in college,” said Matheson. “Deciding to go to Dubuque I think brought me a lot of success.”
One of the main reason’s why he left home? To further his education.
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|2012 NHL ENTRY DRAFT |
Lesson Learned For Matheson Arpon Basu - NHL.com Correspondent
Michael Matheson had never known what it was like to be anything less than a dominant hockey player, but now that he's been challenged on the ice the young defenseman headed to Boston College in the fall is right back on the path of dominance he's traveled his entire life.
READ MORE ›
The six-foot-two blueliner could have went the junior route but felt that college was the right way to go and will be suiting up for Boston College in the fall. That’s the same Boston College that just won their fifth NCAA title this past April in Tampa Bay.
“I’m really excited to go to be coached by Coach (Jerry) York and coach (Greg) Brown and coach (Mike) Cavanaugh,” said Matheson.
Furthering his education is something that Panthers management values highly on. That’s because he’ll go work on his game even more.
“A great program,” said Tallon. “He’s a great kid and a great student. He’s got impeccable character and can really, really skate. He’s going to be a fun player to watch develop.”
“We’re about developing,” said Skrudland. “(He) made a commitment (to Boston College) and we love people that make commitments and stick with them. His commitment to BC is great. It’s a great hockey program there so we’re really excited about that.”
Matheson joins an extremely talented group of prospects along the blueline. 2010 third overall selection Erik Gudbranson has already transitioned to the Panthers, playing in his first season with the club in 2011-12. Other defensemen in the system include Colby Robak, Alex Petrovic, Rasmus Bengtsson and Jonathan Racine. And when you think of the future along the blueline, that doesn’t even include 21-year old Dmitry Kulikov and 23-year old Keaton Ellerby, both former first-round selections.
“We’re getting more depth in that position,” said Tallon. “We’ve got a lot of good young forwards coming on our prospects list. The speed aspect of it is important. I really like speed on the back side.
“If you look at my history, I like guys that can really dangle from the back end, get the puck out of trouble.”
“In every organization they have defensemen coming up and they’ve drafted in the past years,” said Matheson. “I think it will be up to me to come in and do what I can do and perform.”
The Cats’ newest blueliner will get his first taste of South Florida during the first week of July as he’ll be a part of the club’s Development Camp.
“I’m just really excited to get down there and start working,” said Matheson.