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Late pick in NHL Draft is just what Florida Panthers want

Dale Tallon has had one of the best views in the house at the past two NHL Drafts, the Florida Panthers team table set up right near the stage.

When you have high picks, you sit near the action.

The Panthers will be in the back of the room when the draft starts Friday night — and Tallon, the general manager, couldn’t be happier. For having a lower pick means you did something right during the season.

Florida finished last in its division the previous two seasons and had the third overall pick each time. This past season, the Panthers went from worst to first and claimed the franchise’s first divisional title. Instead of picking in the top five, the Panthers pick 23rd.

“Going from three to 23 is huge. It’s a big jump,” Tallon said Thursday afternoon after a full day of traveling east from the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. “That’s where you want to be. You have to pay a price to pick one, two, three, four or five. Hopefully to get to where you’re in the last row for a long time.”

The 2012 draft will be held at the Penguins’ Consol Center starting with the first round Friday at 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Network). The second round will start Saturday morning. Florida has a total of five picks — unless Tallon swings some deals. Tallon is expected to be busy as usual. Whether he has trading partners remains to be seen.

In the previous two drafts, the Panthers had a very good idea of whom they would pick. In 2010, defenseman Erik Gudbranson was a no-brainer. Last summer, they took slick scorer Jonathan Huberdeau.

This time around? Florida has a good idea of who will be available when its pick comes up. But there are a lot more intangibles this time around, meaning more homework for amateur scouting director Scott Luce and his crew.

“We have a range of players we’re talking to,” Luce said. “We spent a lot of time with a lot of players; the due diligence for us has almost tripled because we’re picking 23rd. We’re going to get a player who will play in the NHL.”

Florida feels it can get an impact player at 23. In 2010, the Panthers took winger Quinton Howden at 25. Top players taken with the 23rd selection include Travis Green (1989), Ray Whitney (1991), Todd Bertuzzi (1993), Tim Gleason (2001), Ryan Kesler (2003) and Andrej Meszaros (2004).

“Whether it’s the 23rd or the third, they are still important picks. You still have to do your homework,” Tallon said. “We have to make the best of this situation. We’re going to get the best possible player at 23 that fits our needs. We have a ballpark of guys. Last year we had three on the list. Right now it’s 50 or 60.”

Tallon also said no team has contacted him regarding trading for Garrison’s negotiating rights. Florida traded the rights to Jay Bouwmeester at the 2009 draft.

Florida will have a franchise-tying, seven-game homestand from Feb. 24 to March 10 and will go to the West Coast twice within a month — although it’s early. The Panthers travel to western Canada in November and to California and Arizona in December.

The Panthers will be home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas with the Rangers, Red Wings, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers coming to town from Nov. 21 to Dec. 1. Florida will also play host to Nashville, the Lightning and Montreal from Dec. 23-28, with the Rangers playing the New Year’s Eve game at 6 p.m.

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