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Draft: Noel projected to be a big - literally - piece of Panthers future

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

DALLAS - For Serron Noel, the frustration evaporated quickly.

A projected first-round talent -- the 10th-best North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting -- Noel spent Friday night at the American Airlines Center waiting eagerly to hear his name called, but it simply never came. After 31 picks, he headed home disappointed, but not discouraged. His dream wasn't over by any means, but it would have to wait another day.

On Saturday, he barely had enough time to find his seat.

With the 34th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers didn't let much time run off the clock before announcing their selection of Noel, the team jumping at the opportunity to add the hulking, 6-foot-5, 205-pound power forward to their burgeoning prospect pool.

"I'm so excited," said Noel, overjoyed that he'd landed somewhere warm. "It's hard to really put the words together. I came into today having no idea where I was going at all, but I'm so happy it's the Florida Panthers."

After posting 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) during his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League, Noel really broke out this past season with the Oshawa Generals, notching 53 points (28 goals, 25 assists) in 62 games. At 17, he also younger than most of his draft counterparts.

"As long as I keep to my schedule and my routine and my training this summer, I think in the next 2-3 years I'll be a dominant player in the NHL." Noel said.

Noel said he only had one pre-draft meeting with Florida.

"I met with them at the combine," he said. "I think it was really good. I think I got to express myself and let the scouting staff really know who I am off the ice. I really, really enjoyed speaking to them. It was a really good meeting."

With a unique blend of size, speed and skill, Noel likens his game to Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler.

"We're both tall, we're fast and we have skill," he said. "I think I'm a little more aggressive in front of the net and on the forecheck as well. He's someone I'd definitely like to model my game after."

As his skill continues to catch up to his size - a growth spurt that he traces back to eight grade -- one of Noel's weaknesses has quickly become one of his biggest strengths. While his long legs already gave him an exceptional stride, a dedication to improving his overall mobility on the ice has helped turn the Ottawa native into a much better skater.

Noel credits his improvement to skating coach Shelley Kettles, a former figure skater.

"She's really helped me a lot," he said. "I think it's come a long way, but there's definitely still a lot of room for improvement. I think to be able to make the jump to the next level it's something I'm really going to have to work on, for sure."

The son of a former Canadian Football League running back, Noel's father, Dean, never really pushed him towards football. Instead, Noel said his passion for pucks quickly developed while playing street hockey with friends, adding that "it's always been the right sport for me."

His father did, however, teach him how to be a professional.

"His lectures and speeches were never really about the hockey aspect, but more about the effort and how you hold yourself and being a professional," Noel said.

In the end, a bright future is already starting to outshine Noel's draft-day frustration.

"It's just a number, really," he said. "I've got a great opportunity in Florida to prove myself.'

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