OTTAWA – In a room without a view, in the lower level of a hotel in the middle of this city, the Panthers’ scouting staff sat around a large conference table Thursday while going through their final preparation for this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
In the words of Scott Luce, the Panthers’ director of amateur scouting, it was a chance to “kick the tires one more time before the draft.”
In a city teeming with NHL rumors, including those on Evgeny Malkin and, yes, Olli Jokinen, Luce and the staff sat around a rectangular table, laptops in front of them, and spent the day interviewing draft prospects for the final time before the two-day event begins Friday at 7 p.m., at Scotiabank Place.
For the Panthers, the Entry Draft has been a major event in the team’s evolution. Under the direction of Luce, the Panthers have left the Draft with prospects David Booth, Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz, Michael Frolik and Michel Repik. And, for the past several years, the Panthers have also made huge deals at the Draft, including the acquisition last season of Tomas Vokoun.
The Panthers, who don’t have a pick this weekend until the second round (31st overall), are once again part of the rumors. Do they trade up? Trade down? Do they fill a need for a puck-moving defenseman here and now?
“I’ve talked with about a dozen general managers, but (about) nothing in particular,” said Panther GM Jacques Martin late Thursday afternoon. “There’s some interest, but nothing concrete. I think the key is being prepared for all kinds of scenarios.
“What I said from the beginning is if I can improve the hockey club, and our main focus has been trying to get a defenseman, I will. If we can’t, we have to look at free agency and the rest of the summer to achieve our goals. You hear a lot of teams are trying to make improvements, either moving up in the draft or using a pick to acquire a player. But I think sometimes those things happen either (Friday) or draft day (Saturday).”
And so it’s all part of the mix here in the capital city, where the Lightning are expected to kick off the proceedings Friday evening by making Steven Stamkos the first pick. After that? It’s anybody’s guess.
For Luce and his staff, it’s all about being ready whenever and wherever the Panthers select. On Thursday, from early morning to late in the day, a parade of prospects walked into the conference room to be questioned by Luce and members of his staff, including North American scouts Eric Ginnell, Paul Gallagher, Mike Yandle, Luke Williams and Craig Demetrick and European scouts Niklas Blomgren and Vadim Podrezov.
Players were asked a range of questions including where they need to improve, whether they were leaders on the ice, whether they had any problems off-ice, their summer training regiment, and how they could help the Florida Panthers.
Players were reminded of their performance at the NHL Combine. One player’s body fat percentage was too high. Another player talked being stronger mentally.
Finally, one player lacking a bit in size was asked his father’s height and weight. When asked if his father was in shape, the player responded, “No, he’s just fat.”
Friday’s first-round of the NHL Entry Draft can be seen Versus. Rounds two through seven can be seen on the NHL Network. FloridaPanthers.com will have news updates and video throughout Friday and Saturday.