VANCOUVER - The Florida Panthers will have plenty of options this weekend.
Heading into the opening round of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday night in Vancouver, B.C., the Panthers are currently in possession of nine total picks, including the 13th overall selection. In addition to their first-round pick, they have at least one pick in each of the draft's seven.
At last year's draft in Dallas, the team scoured the globe to add six skaters -- each one hailing from a different league -- to their solid stable of prospects, including scooping up a great pair of potentially elite-level forwards in Grigori Denisenko (15th overall) and Serron Noel (34th overall).
Picking 13th for the first time in franchise history, Panthers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Dale Tallon couldn't hide his excitement when talking about this year's event. After all, it was only 49 years ago he was selected 2nd overall by the Canucks at the 1970 draft.
"Fond memories," Tallon said, cracking a joke about his outfit that day. "It was a great."
In looking at this year's draft, Tallon believes the action will really start to heat up after forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the presumptive top-two picks, come off the board. After that, it seems that any consensus surrounding picks starts to fall to the wayside, giving the Panthers a chance to possibly grab player they consider a top-five talent despite having a mid-round pick.
"I think at 13 we're going to get a player that could be third, fourth, fifth in the draft," Tallon said. "Everyone knows who the first two, it's just a matter of the order. After that, we feel confident at 13 that we're going to get a very good player. We finished up our meetings this week and we've got our list in order. We're still massaging it every day, but I like the position that we're in."
Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Jason Bukala said he expects a "volatile draft."
"The top-two guys are pretty obvious, but after that I think anything's possible," Bukala said. "You have to be ready. I think, to the credit of this group of players in this draft, they give all the teams in the league a lot of really positives options throughout. Where we're sitting, we feel confident."
In the later rounds, Panthers Director of European Amateur Scouting Jari Kekalainen said the team hopes to find some gems with their eight picks in Rounds 2-7, including three in the fourth. Last season, Florida had five players that the club selected in the fourth round or later play at least one game, including Josh Brown (6th round, 2013) and Denis Malgin (4th-round, 2015).
"It's really interesting," Kekalainen said. "Three fourth-round picks, we'll get good ones there, too. We like that there's lots of picks."
Although he's never parted with his first-round pick since joining the Panthers in 2010, Tallon said could also be persuaded to move up or down in this year's draft - either in the first or later rounds -- if the right opportunity just happens to present itself on the busy Rogers Arena floor.
This is one of Tallon's favorite times of the year, and he's holding a lot of the cards.
"I love the draft," Tallon said. "I love the excitement of it. I love the fact that you can move up or move back. It makes it fun. We have a line in the sand. At 13, if all those players are gone, then obviously we've already talked to teams about who's willing to move up, who's willing to move back, and what the get is and what the cost is. That's part of the fun of it on the floor."
In terms of potential players that could end up wearing a Panthers sweater on Day 1 of the draft, there's a chance the team continues their successful trend of simply taking the best player that's on the board when they're finally on the clock. Perusing mock drafts from some of the league's top outlets, however, it appears outside media projects the team will fortify its defensive corps.
Names like Moritz Seider, Philip Broberg, Thomas Harley, Victor Soderstrom and Cam York have all popped up in various mocks as potential blueliners that could wind up in South Florida, while Spencer Knight, the top-ranked goaltender in this year's class, has also garnered buzz.
That being said, it's really anyone's best guess at this point, but that's why the draft's so fun.
Well, fun for us.
For Panthers scouts, the draft represents the end of an incredible year of hard work.
"It's the best time of the year," Kekalainen said. "All the scouts working hard all year, traveling a lot, and now it's finally time to put all the work together, all the information together and be ready tomorrow."
Added Bukala: "It means everything. It's our Super Bowl. You can feel it when you get to this stage. You're 24 hours away from the first round and 48 hours away from the end of this season. Then, soon enough, the next one's going to begin. You can tell everyone is really enthusiastic and excited to get going."
2019 NHL DRAFT INFORMATION
When: Round 1, Friday, 7 p.m.; Rounds 2-7, Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
TV: Friday, NBC Sports Network (8 p.m. ET); Saturday, NHL Network (1 p.m. ET).
Radio: 560 WQAM (Friday, 8-11 p.m. ET; Saturday 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. ET)
PANTHERS DRAFT SELECTIONS
• 1st round- 13th overall
• 2nd round [via Pittsburgh] - 52nd overall
• 3rd round [via Edmonton] - 69th overall
• 4th round [via Minnesota-Arizona-Pittsburgh-Dallas-Pittsburgh] - 104th overall
• 4th round - 106th overall
• 4th round [via Pittsburgh] - 114th overall
• 5th round - 137th overall
• 6th round - 168th overall
• 7th round - 199th overall
For news, articles and notes on this year's draft, please visit FloridaPanthers.com/DraftCentral.