Dale Tallon and the Panthers are sitting in a pretty sweet spot.
When the NHL’s annual draft opens Friday night, Tallon will either be headed to the podium with the first overall pick or he would have already traded it for some immediate help.
Tallon figures the Panthers will be in a better position whichever way he goes.
“It’s going to be a tough decision,’’ said Tallon, who said he has received two “concrete” offers for the first pick.
“We’ve had some offers that are intriguing. One really intriguing one. We’ll have a sleepless [Thursday] night as we as a staff are going to sit on it, ponder it. If we take the pick, we’re excited about that as well.’’
For the fourth time in 20 drafts, Florida holds the top pick after finishing 29th out of 30 teams and winning draft lottery.
“I like having the first pick but I don’t ever want it again,” Tallon said. “But it’s nice to have it this year so we can have some fun with it and shop it around. We’ll see what people are willing to pay for it.’’
Only one time — when the Panthers took current captain Ed Jovanovski first in 1994 — has Florida actually kept the top selection.
In 2002, the Panthers traded the first overall pick to Columbus, with the Blue Jackets taking Rick Nash first and Florida sliding to third to grab Jay Bouwmeester.
The following year, GM Rick Dudley again traded the top selection — this time to Pittsburgh. The Penguins went with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Florida took Nathan Horton.
Tallon could make this a third top-pick trade for the Panthers on Friday.
A number of teams are thought to be serious contenders to move all the way up — although Tallon says Florida could simply sit pat.
“Seventy percent we keep the pick,’’ he said.
The Panthers need help throughout the organization, although they have stockpiled talent the past few seasons.
That’s why Florida figures this year’s draft pick could be expendable.
The Panthers are looking for established forwards and defensemen while getting a first-round pick in return. Tallon said earlier in the week that he didn’t want to drop out of the top 10.
“[The offers] are over and above what we thought we would get,” Tallon said, although he wouldn’t disclose names nor teams. “We have another offer close to it. We’ll see what happens in the next 24 hours.”
Aaron Ekblad, projected to be a top-end defenseman for years to come, is thought to be Florida’s choice if it holds onto the top selection.
The Panthers, after all, bypassed defenseman Seth Jones last year when it took center Aleksander Barkov with the second overall pick.
“If you get the opportunity here, you have to prove yourself,’’ Ekblad said. “Obviously you’re not in control of this situation at all. I have no idea what’s going to happen or where I’m going to go. The cards of my life are up in the air right now.’’
If the Panthers stand pat, Tallon said the decision on whose name he will call out on the big stage has already been made — and has been for some time.
“I know who I’m taking but you don’t,” Tallon joked to the large media contingent covering his impromptu news conference. “It’s not clear-cut, but we know who we’re taking.”
Thursday was one last chance for the top prospects to try and impress their prospective employers.
Tallon, who met with a number of prospects at the NHL Combine in Toronto earlier this month, said he likes what he has seen.
Although this draft is called weaker than in the past, Tallon says he sees strength in its numbers.
“I disagree,” he said. “It’s a very good draft.’’
With everyone knowing Tallon is receptive to a deal, it didn’t seem like the top candidates to go No. 1 were buying Panthers gear just yet.
Ekblad is considered the favorite to go first with forwards Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl to go soon afterward.
Yet no one knows what’s going to happen, especially if Trader Tallon strikes again at the draft. On Thursday, Tallon said he “loved this time of year.’’
“Everyone is weighing the possibilities,’’ Reinhart said. “They’re all trying to get to know us and you want to talk to everyone. It’s pretty unpredictable right now. I’m trying not to think about it honestly. I’m just trying to stay as relaxed as I can.’’