In a conference room Thursday inside the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio, nearly two dozen members of the Panthers’ coaching, scouting and hockey operations staff watched film, traded notes and interviewed players eligible for this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
It was a long day, but one the Panthers hope will reap rewards this evening when the draft begins at 7 p.m. This year’s draft will stretch over two days, with the first round tonight and rounds two through seven Saturday. The Panthers, who hold the No. 10 pick in the first round, will begin Saturday morning with three picks in the second round.
While there is no consensus No. 1 pick come the weekend – no Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin jumping off the page and ready to make a splash in the NHL as early as the 2007-08 season – most experts believe the draft will yield a large number of NHL players over the coming years.
“There’s not a No. 1 guy everyone can agree on, but there’s a lot of depth guys,” said Luce, who’s entering his sixth season with the Panthers. “There’s a lot of character guys, a lot of third line guys.”
Center Kyle Turris of the Burnaby Express of the British Columbia Hockey League is ranked the No. 1 North American skater by Central Scouting Service. But Turris is only one of several players who could be chosen No. 1 by the Blackhawks. Right wingers Patrick Kane and Jakub Voracek, left winger James van Riemsdyk, defenseman Karl Alzner and center Sam Gagner could all be drafted within the first half dozen picks.
There are also several wild cards in this year’s draft, including Russia’s Alexei Cherepanov and Akim Aliu, born in Nigeria, raised in Kiev, Ukraine and who played last season for Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Panthers prepared for the weekend by pulling together staff from North America and Europe. Those in attendance included Luce, GM and coach Jacques Martin, assistant general manager Randy Sexton, director of player development Duane Sutter and special consultant Joe Nieuwendyk.
First round picks by the Panthers have included Stephen Weiss
(2001), Jay Bouwmeester (2002), Nathan Horton (2003) and Rostislav Olesz (2004).
When asked by the media how the team would draft, Martin said; “We’ll be looking at the best player available. We’ll identify forwards and defensemen we’re comfortable with.”
With four picks in the first two rounds, the Panthers have several options. They could keep all four picks, move up late in the first round or move down in the second round.
Because many believe the draft is wide open after the first six or seven picks, there is a feeling there could be a lot of movement this weekend. With seven teams having no selection in the first round, teams could have needs they wish to fill this weekend.