Panthers general manager Dale Tallon took a cloverleaf up to the Toronto area on Monday, hoping his franchise got lucky and kept its top standing in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Despite finishing last in the NHL, the Panthers lost the draft lottery to Colorado. The good news for the Panthers is they couldn’t fall any further than second overall. Florida holds the second pick with Tampa Bay choosing third,
The NHL Draft will be a one-day affair this season and will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on June 30.
As Tallon said at the Panthers’ season-ending media session Sunday afternoon, the team figured to score no matter where the Ping-Pong balls landed on Monday. The 2013 draft is considered to be talent-heavy on the top end with at least three players projected to be NHL-ready now or in the near future.
“We’re going to get a really good player within the first two picks,” Tallon said Sunday. “We’re going to get a hell of a player.”
The top-rated North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting, is defenseman Seth Jones, a native of Arlington, Texas, who is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones.
Seth Jones played for Portland of the Western Hockey League and led all rookie defensemen in the WHL with 14 goals and 42 assists. Jones also was the youngest member of Team USA’s gold-medal squad at the world juniors.
Center Nathan MacKinnon and winger Jonathan Drouin — who both played for Halifax of the Quebec junior league — are also in the running to be the top overall pick.
Drouin led the Mooseheads with 41 goals and 105 points to earn league MVP honors; MacKinnon had 32 goals and 75 points for Halifax.
“We’re really on course. We’re in good shape,” Tallon said. “... I’ve been watching the top three and have a good feel for who they are.”
The Panthers have been lucky in the draft lottery before, securing the top spot in both the 2002 and 2003 drafts.
Florida, however, never used those top picks and instead traded them away.
In 2002, the Panthers didn’t need a goaltender, so they traded the top pick to Pittsburgh, who took Marc-Andre Fleury. Florida slid down to No. 3 and took the player it wanted in defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Two years later, Florida decided it wanted Nathan Horton. Columbus wanted Rick Nash and dealt with the Panthers to move into the top slot. Both teams got the players they wanted with Nash becoming an All-Star selection for the Blue Jackets — and a player they ultimately traded to New York last summer.
Both Bouwmeester and Horton asked for trades and were later dealt. Bouwmeester will make his postseason debut with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday against the defending champion Kings; Horton won the 2011 Stanley Cup championship with the Bruins.
Since 2001, the Panthers have had eight top-10 picks.
Of those, all but Rostislav Olesz were in the league last season but just three remain with the organization.
Florida had all five of its top selections from 2008-11 in the lineup at some point this season — including No. 3 picks Erik Gudbranson (2010) and Jonathan Huberdeau (2011).
Whoever is taken on June 30 could be in the lineup in October, although the Panthers made both Gudbranson and Huberdeau wait a year before coming up to the big club.
“You see it coming, but I want to win now, and I don’t want to wait for years to pass,” defenseman Brian Campbell said of Florida’s youth.
“Look at a guy like Huberdeau who solidified his spot here and is a top six forward in this league. We expect great things from him next year. He had a good year. Now he should want to have a great year.”