SUNRISE, Fla. - After shoring up their present, the Florida Panthers now look to the future.
Having already addressed one of their most-glaring immediate needs by acquiring speedy 28-year-old winger Mike Hoffman from the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, the Panthers will head into the 2018 NHL Draft with five total selections, including two in the first 34 picks.
"It's kind of like a rebirth," Panthers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Dale Tallon said of his mindset heading into this weekend's draft in Dallas. "You get another chance to bring in some new blood and new life into your organization."
After finishing with 96 points - the third-most in franchise history - the Panthers enter this year's draft as the top team to not qualify for the playoffs. As a result, Florida holds the 15th overall pick and will select outside of the top-10 for the third time in four years - a sign of steady progress.
Led by projected top pick Rasmus Dahlin, this year's draft is believed to be littered with high-end defensive talent. In fact, according to NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, three of the top-six North American skaters and three of the top-five Europeans are defensemen.
So, what does that mean for Florida?
Well, after using their first-round pick on a forward each of the last three years, there's no better time than now for the Panthers to replenish the shallowing defensive end of their prospect pool. With past draft picks like Aaron Ekblad, Mike Matheson, MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen all currently manning Florida's blue line, a first-round D-man could spark the next generation.
A few defensemen to keep an eye on that could be available to the Panthers at 15 are Bode Wilde (US Under-18), Ty Smith (Spokane, WHL) and Jared McIsaac (Halifax, QMJHL). If they decide to go with a forward, however, Rasmus Kupari (Karpat, Liiga), Joel Farabee (US Under-18), Akil Thomas (Niagara, OHL) and Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL) could all be good fits.
Still, with the 34th overall pick also in hand, Florida could leave the draft with first-round talents at both forward and defense.
"We look at our needs," Tallon said. "We look at what's available and we try to match and make sure that our depth chart is balanced. We look at a lot of different variables, but our philosophy hasn't changed that much. It's pretty standard in what we've been doing over the past few years. We've had success with it, so why change it?"
After selecting in the first and second round, the Panthers will then play the waiting game. With three mid-round picks heading to San Jose in the Hoffman deal - a 2019 second-round pick, a 2018 fourth-round pick and a 2018 fifth-round pick - they will not pick again until the sixth round.
That being said, don't expect Tallon and the Panthers to sit on their hands during this downtime.
"There's a lot of talk about trying to get another pick or about trying to gauge teams' tendencies, what they're looking for and what they want and what they're willing to do," Tallon said when asked about Florida's mid-round slowdown. "It'll be fruitful. It's three rounds, so we'll have lots of time to get prepared for other things."
When they're finally back on the clock -- barring any unforeseen trades - the Panthers will close out the draft with one pick in the sixth round and two in the seventh. In recent years, Tallon has had quite a bit of success finding late-round gems, including Weegar (206th overall, 2013) and Maxim Mamin (175th overall, 2016), both of whom appear to be important pieces in the future.
In the end, it's safe to assume that the Panthers will bring home a difference maker from this year's draft, as the team currently boast at least one player on the current roster from each of the eight drafts Tallon has overseen since his arrival to South Florida in 2010.
"You just want the best players you can possibly get, that's our motto," Tallon said.
2018 NHL DRAFT INFORMATION
When: Round 1, Friday, 7 p.m.; Rounds 2-7, Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
TV: Friday, NBC Sports Network; Saturday, NHL Network.
Radio: 560 WQAM (Friday 7-9 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Round 1: No. 15
Round 2: No. 34 [From Arizona]
Round 6: No. 170
Round 7: No. 201
Round 7: No. 207 [From San Jose]
For news, articles and notes on this year's draft, please visit FloridaPanthers.com/DraftCentral.