Any takers? Panthers mulling options with No. 1 pick in NHL Draft

NHL prospects from left, Michael Dal Colle, Leon Draisaitl, Samuel Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, and Anthony DeAngelo, imitate the character Rocky Balboa.

Matt Rourke/AP

PHILADELPHIA — Dale Tallon is on the clock, but he is checking his phone more than his watch.

The Florida Panthers general manager enters the NHL Draft this weekend in an envious position. In addition to having the No. 1 overall pick, Tallon has at least $30 million in cap space and the OK from ownership to spend.

Tallon has also indicated he is willing to part ways with some of the young talent he’s amassed in his four years in Florida.

Now, he just has to find a trading partner.

Florida’s needs are clear. Finding scoring is a top priority, possibly through an upgrade at wing. The franchise could also use a booming shot from the point to revive a non-existent power play.

Where the Panthers are deep — at least positionally — is at center and defense. And this year’s crop of top prospects are exactly that: pivots and blueliners.

Among the top-ranked skaters available: Samuel Bennett, who brings intense energy and excels in all situations; Aaron Ekblad, a solid, all-around defenseman with a scoring touch; Sam Reinhart, a 100-point scorer who is also responsible in his own end; and Leon Draisaitl, a strong pivot whose quick shot led to 38 goals at the junior level last season.

The mix of a general manager willing to deal and no clear-cut No. 1 prospect has turned the days leading to this year’s event frenetic. One-third of the NHL’s general managers have called Tallon in pursuit of the pick.

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"Some made legitimate offers, some have just been kicking tires," he said. "I’m sure that’s going to escalate as this week progresses."

What the Panthers are seeking in return for the top selection is clear:

"We’ve had discussions in the last couple weeks about possibly doing [a package deal], but no takers," Tallon said. "We’re going to be patient. We’re not going to panic."

Otherwise, he’s been making calls every day, gauging the demand. The Panthers general manager said Monday there was a 60-to-70 percent chance of keeping the pick.

"The hard part about this is, what’s the cost of moving up or moving back?" Tallon said. "I know what it is to go from three to five, or five to seven. It’s a second-round or third-round pick, based on history.

"But what’s the cost to move from five to one, eight to one or 10 to one or three to one? That’s what everyone is trying to figure out."


Tallon trades the pick for young, NHL-ready players with upside and retains a selection in the top 5.

The ultimate scenario is for Florida to strike a deal with Edmonton. The Oilers could use a defenseman like Ekblad, while also standing to part with one of their top forwards. If Florida ends up with even one of Edmonton’s top scoring wingers and the third overall pick, it will have been a successful draft for the Panthers.


Pick a scorer, any scorer. Only Brad Boyes hit the 20-goal mark last season, and the Panthers had just four others on the current roster who hit double digits. Florida’s goals-per-game average (2.29) was 29th in the league, and it finished last on the power play, having converted just 10 percent of is chances.

"You’ve got to develop your own scorers," Tallon said. "Scorers are hard to get. They’ve already got their seven, eight-year deals [with other teams]. So we’ve got to develop our own."

The Panthers, who are considering shifting other centers to wing, could go with Bennett and Reinhart with plans to move them to the outside. Draisaitl is another option, because he fills two of Florida’s needs as a scoring winger.

If the Panthers do move outside the top 5, Tallon may opt to select top-rated European prospect Kasperi Kapanen out of Finland.


The addition of Ekblad would give Florida an elite blueline — once all of its young defensemen mature — for years to come.

Scouts love everything about Ekblad — size, strength, skating, shot, hockey sense and versatility. He has the tools to become a top NHL defenseman. However, much of the same was said about Nashville’s Seth Jones, whom the Panthers passed on at No. 2 last year.

Tallon said in April he wants to bring in two veteran blueliners this offseason to help mentor the team’s young defense. That group includes Erik Gudbranson, Dylan Olsen and Alex Petrovic; Jonathan Racine and MacKenzie Weegar at the minor-league level; and Michael Matheson and Ian McCoshen, currently plying their trade at Boston College.

But the reality is the Panthers are starved for offense up front and there’s a directive from ownership to win sooner than later. Adding Ekblad — as good as he may be — doesn’t solve either.

You can follow Erin Brown on Twitter @rinkside or email her at erinbrownfla@general