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Anything Can Happen

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
The Panthers tried to draft forward Alex Ovechkin in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, hoping their point of leap years was valid enough. It wasn't and Ovechkin went #1 overall in 2004 to the Washington Capitals.

By Dave Joseph for

The Panthers have never been a team to go quietly into the NHL Entry Draft. And they’ve seldom left that way, either.

Go figure the Panthers, who seem to create a stir and make headlines every summer at the NHL Draft. They don’t walk to the draft, they run kicking and screaming. They’re crash and bang for two solid days.

Consider the past. The Panthers don’t just swap draft picks, they open up entire team’s rosters and go about picking and choosing. Including their own.

Anything is possible. Nothing is out of the question.

And in the words of GM Jacques Martin, no one is untouchable come this weekend’s Draft in Ottawa on a team that selects 31st overall and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2000.

According to Martin, the league’s GM’s have been talking to each for other for weeks leading up to Friday evening’s first round. And, let’s be honest, the Panthers sure aren’t afraid of making deals.

We’re talking about a team that traded for Roberto Luongo in 2000 and then traded him away in 2006 during the draft for a package that included Todd Bertuzzi. They’re a team that traded for Tomas Vokoun last year and traded away Rob Niedermayer at the 2001 Draft. 

They even tried to draft an underage Alex Ovechkin in 2003, trying to make a point he was draft eligible if you counted the four leap years in Ovechkin’s life.

Like we said, the Panthers aren’t coming or going quietly.

Martin says the Draft is “”really scouts day.” But it’s also a day when, quite frankly, anything can happen.

“There’s a fair amount of discussion,” said Martin concerning the weeks leading up to the draft. “There’s really a build-up at the draft. It probably starts two weeks, three weeks prior to the draft.

“It’s customary for GM’s to speak. I’ll call other GM’s and they’ll call me about what they’re looking to do, how they’re looking to improve their team and who’d they’d move, and vice versa. There’s a lot of conversation between GM’s, and a lot of those trades are the result of the two, three weeks prior to the draft.”

In the weekend of prior Drafts, the Panthers have acquired the likes of Olli Jokinen, Luongo, Bryan Allen, Trevor Kidd, Kenndal McArdle, Bertuzzi, Val Bure, Mikael Samuelsson and Vokoun. They’ve also traded away Mark Parrish, Oleg Kvasha, Niedermayer, Luongo and Gord Murphy.

Because of the acquisition of Vokoun last year from Nashville, the Panthers will have fewer draft picks. It also means this draft takes on added significance for a team desperately wanting to make the playoffs.

“For the organization, it’s a crucial day because its one way of acquiring assets,” Martin said. “In this day and age, to me, assets are very important. Once you acquire assets, you have to develop them. We don’t have as many draft picks as we’d like this year. That’s one of the reasons we signed two college kids (Andrew Sweetland Jason Garrison), to make up for the draft picks we’re missing.
“Hopefully, we can pick up another (draft pick).”

Martin reiterated the Panthers of landing a puck-moving defenseman before the 2008-09 season. The question is how to go about that.

“We’ve identified we’re looking for a top four defenseman,” Martin said. “We feel that’s an area we need to improve on. One way of doing that is through trades. Another way is through the draft. Obviously, through the draft, it would have to be a fairly high pick so the kid can step in and play. If it’s not a high pick, you’re looking at time, at being patient, before that kid can step into your team. The other way is through free agency, although the quality of player (in free agency) seems to be reducing from year to year. Other organizations are realizing the players they like, they’re going to have to get them under contract.”

So what will the Panthers do at this year’s draft?

Stay tuned.
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