CHICAGO - With the 10th overall selection in their back pocket, the Florida Panthers will hit the floor of the United Center in Chicago on Friday night faced with a wide variety of options as they look to add even more players to an already talented pool of prospects that includes former high draft picks Ian McCoshen, Jayce Hawryluk and Henrik Borgstrom.
"We're going to look at every scenario possible," Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon via conference call on Thursday. "Moving up, moving back, taking [the pick]. Whatever's best for the Florida Panthers, we'll do that tomorrow."
In 2016, the Panthers used their first-round pick, the draft's 23rd overall selection, to take Borgstrom, who went on to lead all NCAA freshman in goals (22) while also finishing third in points (43) in 37 games at the University of Denver. The 19-year-old center also tallied a goal and four assists in four tournament games to help lead the Pioneers to their eighth national championship.
So can fans expect another surprise at this year's draft? Well, maybe.
While there are plenty of good defenseman up for grabs, the 2017 NHL Draft is clearly one that belongs to forwards. Of NHL Central Scouting's top-50 North American skaters eligible for this year's draft, 36 are forwards, including Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, who most experts believe will go 1-2 on Friday.
After the first two picks, however, things start to get interesting.
From Owen Tippett to Elias Petersson, the first round is littered with plenty of top-tier offensive talent, a clear need for the Panthers after finishing with the league's 23rd ranked offense in 2016-17. The disparity between these players, at least on the surface, is also razor thin, as a top-5 pick in one mock draft might be taken in the late teens in another.
A few names to keep an eye on, other than Tippett and Petersson, would be Lias Andersson, Martin Necas, Michael Rasmussen and Casey Mittelstadt, who spoke to FloridaPanthers.com during the NHL's pre-draft ball hockey clinic on Thursday afternoon.
"It's exciting, waiting to find out where you're going to go," said Mittelstadt, who, like current Panthers Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, won Minnesota's distinguished Mr. Hockey award as the best player in the state. "I really don't think there's a bad spot. Wherever you go, it's going to be something new. That's really exciting, I think. Just hearing your name called is something special."
Still, we can't forget that Tallon does love his blue liners.
Since arriving to South Florida in 2010, Tallon has taken a rearguard in the first round on three separate occasions, using those picks to select Erik Gudbranson (third overall, 2010), Michael Matheson (23rd overall, 2012) and Aaron Ekblad (first overall, 2014).
"You win championships with defense first," Tallon said.
There were nine defensemen selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, and with talented blue liners like Timothy Liljegren, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Juuso Valimaki highlighting this year's crop of blue liners, the Panthers could be tempted to continue shoring up their burgeoning backend.
For now, this is all speculation.
On Friday, it's real.
No matter what, the Panthers will bringing home a talented player to Sunrise.
Panthers Selections at the 2017 NHL Draft
Round 1 - 10th overall
Round 2 - 40th overall
Round 3 - 66th overall
Round 5 - 133rd overall
Round 6 - 184th overall
Panthers Pre-Draft Content
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- My Draft Day: Michael Matheson
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- 5 North American Skaters to Know
- Draft Party
- Panthers Draft Central