What the Florida Panthers Should Do with the 1st Pick in 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Ryan SzporerContributor IIIApril 20, 2014

Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon.
Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon.J Pat Carter

Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has been blessed with the first overall pick before, so he should in theory know what to do with it come the 2014 NHL entry draft.

The last time was in 2007, when he was at the helm of the Chicago Blackhawks and the team had just come off its fourth straight season without a playoff appearance. He ended up picking Patrick Kane, with Chicago winning the Stanley Cup three seasons later.

That isn’t to insinuate Florida is on the cusp of winning a championship, but this pick being used wisely certainly won’t hurt its chances.

That means not trading it away. Thankfully, Tallon never once traded away a first-round pick with Chicago or during his first four seasons with Floridaat least not without getting one back in exchange. So, chances are good he doesn’t break from the trend here.

After all, to squander what will be a by-all-accounts home run for an easy fix would clearly be a mistakeespecially seeing as Florida is beyond easy fixes at this point in time.

However, it would nonetheless be quasi-justifiable to move down just one or two picks and add an asset or two all the while. That’s because there are no fewer than three can’t-miss prospects to be had at this year’s draft: Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Kingston Frontenacs left winger Sam Bennett.

In its April rankings, the International Scouting Services (ISS) placed Reinhart first, Eklbad second and Bennett fourth, behind Oshawa Generals forward Michael Dal Colle. Meanwhile, NHL Central Scouting’s final list had Bennett first, Ekblad second and Reinhart third. Dal Colle is fifth on that list.

It should be noted that these final rankings mean very little in the way of the order the players will eventually get picked. Different teams deploy different strategies as far as the draft is concerned.

Assuming Tallon doesn’t trade away his selection and the Panthers do indeed get the pick of the litter, this shouldn’t be a matter of choosing the best player available, but rather addressing a specific need.

Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart.
Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart.Artur Lebedev

If it were the former, one can make a good case that the Panthers should take Reinhart, who is projected as a sure-fire franchise center and has consistently made his way atop scouting lists.

However, Florida already has two emerging top-six centers in Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad. Three if you count Brandon Pirri, whom Tallon slyly acquired from the Blackhawks. He went on to put up a decent 14 points in 21 games with the Panthers this season. Four if you count Scott Gomez, but...you really shouldn’t.

Meanwhile, Bennett should be discounted as a possible pick because the Panthers already have a top-line left winger in the making in Calder Memorial Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau.

Furthermore, the discrepancy between where ISS and Central Scouting ranked Bennett should at the very least be a cause for concern. There’s little doubt at this point Bennett will be a game-breaker, but there should at least be some that he’s on the same level as Reinhart or Ekblad.

That brings us to Ekblad, an 18-year-old defenseman who is already 6’4” and 216 pounds. Defensemen traditionally take longer to develop than forwards, but at least in terms of size, he’s NHL-ready.

It may take time for him to become an actual top-pairing defenseman, but the Panthers have time on their hands before they’re ready to legitimately compete for even a playoff spot—one of the few benefits of posting a sub-70-point season, complete with points awarded for losing in overtime no less.

While Florida admittedly could use help on offense, having just finished second-last in goals scored (188), it also finished second-last in goals against (262). It’s defense that ultimately wins championships, or so goes the popular saying.

That should be the priority, especially with a potential superstar like Ekblad available.

Obviously, the Panthers already have a defensive corps rife with young talent made up of the likes of Erik Gudbranson (22 years old), Dmitry Kulikov (23), Dylan Olsen (23), Alex Petrovic (22) and Colby Robak (23). They are complemented nicely by veterans Brian Campbell (35) and captain Ed Jovanovski (38).

However, of those, only Gudbranson and Petrovic shoot right. Current Panther Tom Gilbert does as well, but he’s a pending unrestricted free agent and, at 31, does not realistically figure into the team’s long-term plans.

Seeing as Petrovic projects more as a depth defenseman, the Panthers could definitely use another blue-chip righty.

That’s where Ekblad comes in...or at least should if Tallon does the right thing and picks him this summer.

There’s a common misconception that Tallon has an excellent drafting record. However, for every first-round pick used on a Kane or Jonathan Toews, there’s been a bust.

For example, Jack Skille was taken seventh overall in 2005, when Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal and Tuukka Rask were still available. In 2008, he took Kyle Beach 11th overall when Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson and Jordan Eberle were still up for grabs.

The jury is still out regarding his most recent picks at the helm of the Panthers, and it’s important to realize this particular one is far from a slam dunk.

That doesn’t mean that whomever Tallon ultimately chooses will be a bad pick—first overall picks are very hard to completely screw up.

Make no mistake, though. There is a best pick out there: Ekblad.


    Florida Panthers Select Grigori Denisenko with the 15th Pick

    Florida Panthers logo
    Florida Panthers

    Florida Panthers Select Grigori Denisenko with the 15th Pick

    The Rat Trick
    via The Rat Trick

    Photos: 2018 Florida Panthers first-round pick Grigori Denisenko

    Florida Panthers logo
    Florida Panthers

    Photos: 2018 Florida Panthers first-round pick Grigori Denisenko

    via Sun-Sentinel.com

    Panthers take Grigori Denisenko with 15th pick in NHL draft

    Florida Panthers logo
    Florida Panthers

    Panthers take Grigori Denisenko with 15th pick in NHL draft

    Craig Davis
    via Sun-Sentinel.com

    Svechnikov Picked 2nd by Hurricanes

    NHL logo

    Svechnikov Picked 2nd by Hurricanes

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report