For the first time in 12 years, the Florida Panthers will enter the NHL draft coming off a playoff appearance.
The past two years, General Manager Dale Tallon has had the third overall pick in the draft. Tallon has built a strong foundation for the Cats through both the draft and free agency during his tenure and the hard work has finally paid dividends. Due to the success of this past season, the Panthers have the 23rd overall pick in the first round.
"It feels great," Tallon told NHL.com recently. "That's the goal, to stay back there. It's out of necessity you stay in the front row. To be good, you have to be bad. You've got to make the best of the opportunities when you're there. Hopefully the result is a back-row position for a long time."
In total, the Panthers will have five picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Along with the 23rd overall pick, the Panthers also have picks in the second round (53rd overall), third round (84th overall), fourth round (114th overall) and the sixth round (174th overall).
Despite not having a top pick, Panther fans should have a lot to look forward to come draft day. There have been some solid players selected at number 23 in the past. In 2003, the Vancouver Canucks selected center Ryan Kesler, who has recorded 153 goals and 184 assists in his career. Some other notable players who have been picked 23rd are Todd Bertuzzi in 1993 and Ray Whitney in 1991.
A good pick for the Panthers at No. 23 could be defenseman Brady Skjei, who put up solid numbers in the USHL this past season. Prognosticated by several mock drafts to end up in Florida, he has good size at 6’2, 205 pounds and is a two way player who skates and handles the puck well. He plans to attend the University of Minnesota for the 2012-2013 season. He would be a good pick for the Panthers since they already have a good prospect pool from the last few drafts and would add to a stable of young defenders that includes Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic.
Tallon has had success in the draft as he hasn’t pigeon holed himself into focusing on a particular position at that selection and doesn’t look to change his strategy anytime soon.
"We'll take the best player that we can possibly get at 23 and go with our formula that's worked in the past and keep at it," Tallon explained.
Tallon will hope to keep at his formula for his next pick, which is No. 53. The 53rd overall pick should hold some weight for Panthers fans as fan favorite and former Cat David Booth was drafted by the Panthers at that selection in 2004. The left winger has recorded 196 points in six seasons in the NHL.
Another notable number 53 one might recognize is future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom who was drafted in 1989 and played 20 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings before retiring this off-season.
The 84th overall pick hasn’t historically produced top of the line players, but Tallon is looking to change that. The one player of note who was selected 84th overall was Adam Mair in 1997. He has tallied 114 points in 615 games.
With most of the top prospects off the board at 114, the Panthers will most likely look at developmental players and hope they pan out. The New York Rangers struck gold when they drafted center Darren Turcotte in 1986 with the 114th pick. He had 411 points in 12 seasons in the NHL, where he played for six different teams.
In the sixth round, teams are just looking for a player they can hopefully hit gold on and keep on the roster. In 1993, the Washington Capitals found someone at 174 who is still playing today. Andrew Brunette is currently a left winger for the Chicago Blackhawks and has 773 points in 1110 games.
All in all, no one really knows how prospects are going to pan out in the NHL. The NHL is unlike other sports like football and basketball where players are expected to come in and contribute right away. Instead it is more like baseball where you have to develop talent and groom them for the professional level.
No need to worry though. Tallon has been here before and the Panthers have one of the best pipeline systems in the NHL in just two years with him at the helm.