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Going For Speed

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
Fourth round pick Alexander Delnov meets Panthers GM Dale Tallon after being selected 114th overall. (Getty Images)

On what was a relatively calm draft weekend for the Panthers, Florida added five new players to their system following the close of the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh.

“I love the action but there wasn’t any,” said Panthers GM Dale Tallon following the close of the seventh round concerning the trade front. “Sometimes you’re hitting the drives and sometimes you’re being hit. This year it was just one of those years.

“We have got a lot of prospects. We’ve had a lot of prospects the last couple of years and we made the best. We had some good picks.”

Heading into the draft, Florida decided that speed would be one of the biggest assets they looked for as they tried to improve their already impressive stable of prospects. They succeeded very well in that category as all five players (two defensemen, three forwards) exude that quality.

“Dale really likes speed and in today’s game speed kills,” said Panthers Director of Scouting Scott Luce. “If you can combine that with size, even better, and if you can combine that with skill, that’s going to be where you can get better as an organization.”

Entering Day 2, the Panthers held four picks.

That dropped down one selection before the second round even kicked off as Florida decided to complete their trade with Philadelphia that brought in Kris Versteeg last July 1st. The Panthers had the option to give the Flyers their 2012 or 2013 second round pick. With no third round pick next year (traded to NY Rangers for Wojtek Wolski), Florida decided they would keep their 2013 second rounder.

“I didn’t want to go into next year’s draft with no second and no third,” said Tallon. “We felt this draft was a draft we could afford not to have a second in. Next year’s draft looks strong so we felt we wanted to have a full complement of picks next year.”

When the Panthers finally came on the clock in the third round, they reached out to the Western Hockey League to select center Steven Hodges of the Victoria Royals with the 84th overall selection. The recently turned 18-year old (May 5) finished seventh on his team in scoring as he posted 46 points (21-25-46) in 72 games and the Royals finished seventh in the WHL’s Western Conference.

The Yellowknife, NT native vastly improved from his first full year in the WHL to his second across the board.

“Steven is a player that comes to play,” said Luce who compares Hodge’s shiftiness in play to last year’s third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau. “Every shift he competes. He’s a mid-size guy that has skill both with the puck and without the puck…We like his cerebral play.”

Hodges does come with some high hopes. He was the first round pick of the Chilliwack Bruins (who moved to Victoria for the 2011-12 season) back in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, going ninth overall.

“(He’s) is a talented kid. He’s a guy that might not had a lot of exposure across but this was his range (to take him in the NHL Draft).”

With their second selection of Day 2, Florida went to the Russian ranks in drafting Alexander Delnov 114th overall.

A bit of an unknown as he was unranked by Central Scouting, Delnov played for the Mytischi 2 team in the Russia-Jr league where the Panthers had tabs on him all season long. Where he made his impression to the rest of the league came at the Under-18 Tournament where he posted three points in six games this past April.

Former NHL scout and now ESPN insider Grant Sonier had this to say about Delnov following the Tournament: “Delnov has explosive skating, a solid work ethic with high-end skills He was a virtual unknown for me until watching this event.”

“This was one of the top-five, top-10 forwards at the Under-18 tournament this past April,” said Luce. “We know this kid inside out. He wants to come to North America and play and he’s a guy that we value.”

Delnov, who was in attendance and was extremely happy to be drafted by Florida, posted 22 points (11-11-22) in 47 games for Mytischi 2 of the Russia-Jr league this season.

“(I’m) really excited to be here,” said Delnov through the translation of Panthers scout Vadim Podrezov. “I’m very happy to be drafted by Florida. It’s a good young team.”

With their third pick of the day, Florida jumped to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to nab Francis Beauvillier with their sixth round pick, 174th overall. A forward who posted 23 goals in 67 games, the Sorel-Tracy, QC native brings a lot of speed to the equation.

Beauvillier was excited to be going to Florida to join recent QMJHL draft pick, the Saint John Sea Dogs captain.

“It’s a great place to go,” said Beauvillier. “(Jonathan) Huberdeau said that it was a great place to play.”

Florida would bump up their draft pick total to four for the day once again as they acquired Dallas’ seventh round pick (194th overall) for their own seventh rounder in the 2013 draft. There they took Jonatan Nielsen, a defenseman playing for Linkoping JR of the Swedish Jr League.

Ranked 83rd overall among European Skaters, Nielsen posted nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 38 games for the team.

“We still have the same plan in place that we had to this season,” said Tallon when asked about being targeted by other teams with the season the Panthers had. “We’ve got long term goals and we have a blueprint in place that we’re going to stick with.

“Basically developing young players, adding young players to our strong core that we have now and let us get better as we move forward.”

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