PHILADELPHIA — With the best player of the NHL draft in hand, the Florida Panthers focused on filling voids through depth.
A day after selecting defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick, Panthers GM Dale Tallon used four of his next five selections to draft versatile forwards.
”We tried to balance our depth chart,” Tallon said. ”We did that with center and defense, and now we added the wings to our mix.”
Second-round pick Jayce Hawryluk and third-round selection Juho Lammiko are capable of playing most if not all forward positions. Later-round picks Joe Wegwerth and Miguel Fidler bolster the Cats’ depth chart at wing.
Jayce Hawryluk, C/RW, Brandon (WHL): Florida told the forward they would select him if he was available, and they followed through. Although the NHL has him listed as a center, Hawryluk said he’s actually a winger who can take draws. In his second year with the Wheat Kings, Hawryluk led his team with 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists). He describes his style of play as tenacious and says his work ethic is his greatest asset. ”It’s something we don’t have a lot of in our system — high energy, speed, toughness and some skill at the same time,” Tallon said. ”He gets at you and competes hard. Tremendous energy.”
Juho Lammikko, RW, Assat Jr. (Finland Jr.): The Finn’s play grew on scouts during the season. He split time between Assat’s senior and junior club, posting 17 goals and 25 assists in 37 contests with the latter. Like Hawryluk, the third-rounder is versatile and able to play any forward position. At 6-foot-2, 189 pounds, he uses his size well and possesses solid playmaking skills. Tallon really liked his abilities, as well as his play for Team Finland during the U-18 World Junior Championship. ”He was one of their better players,” Tallon said. ”He’s hard to play against.” The Panthers haven’t figured out where he’ll play next season, but there is a chance he could end up in North America.
Joe Wegwerth, RW, USA U-18 (USHL): Florida’s fourth-round pick (92nd overall) describes himself as a two-way forward who likes the physical game and is a team guy. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger isn’t much of an offensive threat, but it’s an area he’d like to develop when he joins Green Bay (USHL) next season. After 2014-15, he will attend Notre Dame. It might be a while before the Panthers bring Wegwerth into the fold and he’s more than fine with that plan.
Miguel Fidler, LW, Edina (H.S.-Minnesota): The high school senior climbed 47 spots between the NHL’s mid-term and final release of its prospect rankings, thanks in part to a surge that resulted in 41 points in 25 games. Selected in the fifth round (143rd overall), Fidler has committed to play for Ohio State.
Hugo Fagerblom, G, Frolunda Jr. (Sweden Jr.): Needing to stock up on goaltending depth, the Panthers used their seventh-round selection (182nd overall) to take the unranked Swede. His goals-against average and save percentage were no worse than 2.24 and .916, respectively. Tallon projects he’ll remain in Sweden and play for Frolunda’s Elitserien-level club next season.
POSSIBLE STEAL: Hawryluk. The winger doesn’t exactly fit Florida’s mold in terms of size, but his his tenacity and nastiness really endeared him to Tallon. ”He really wants to be a Panther,” Tallon said. ”He’s got an unbelievable personality. He’s just infectious. He’ll be great in the locker room and throughout our team. He’ll be a hard guy to play against. He gets in your face. It’s like perpetual motion.” Hawryluk displayed incredible physical strength for his size, ranking in the top 10 in several fitness testing events during the combine. He’s already found success on a Brandon team that is projected to contend in the WHL next season, and that could make his development skyrocket.
BIGGEST PROJECT: Fidler. He’s a scrappy, aggressive player who really came into his own during his senior season, but prior to that Fidler never topped the 11-point plateau. Committing to college will give the winger plenty of time to develop, but it may also reveal that his dominant season was a one-hit wonder.