Florida Panthers

In NHL Draft, Panthers look to add talent to already impressive group of prospects

Florida Panthers Owen Tippett (74) chases the puck in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 20, 2017.
Florida Panthers Owen Tippett (74) chases the puck in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 20, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

After the 2018 NHL Draft, The Sporting News ranked the Florida Panthers’ farm system the eighth-best in the league. With nine picks allotted to them this weekend, it’s possible that rating could soon be on the rise.

With center Henrik Borgstrom having graduated from a prospect to an NHL player with 54 games of experience, the Panthers’ top prospects are forwards Grigori Denisenko (Russia), Aleksi Heponiemi (Finland), Owen Tippett (Canada), and Serron Noel (Canada).

Of those four players, only Tippett has NHL experience, scoring one goal in seven games in the league in 2017-2018.

Tippett, 20, was the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Heponiemi, 20, was Florida’s second-rounder in 2017. Denisenko was the 15th overall pick in 2018, and Noel, 18, was the 34th overall pick in 2018.

In January, TSN hockey analyst Craig Button ranked Denisenko the No. 2 prospect in the NHL. Heponiemi was ranked 15th, Noel 20th and Tippett 40th. Only the Los Angeles Kings were able to match the Panthers with four top-40 prospects.

“I like them all,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said of his top four prospects. “They all have different attributes.

“Denisenko is a high-energy guy with a lot of skill. He competes hard. Noel is big and strong [6-5, 210 pounds]. He’s a power forward. Tippett has a cannon for a shot. Heponiemi sets the table because he sees the ice so well and is a very intelligent player. He’s a great passer and playmaker.

“They are all coming along great.”

Of those four prospects, Tippett is the most likely to make an impact this coming season. He has an NHL-caliber shot, but he needs to improve his play away from the puck. Heponiemi, who profiles as a power-play catalyst, might be one year away.

Noel, who is at his best when he is driving hard to the net, is likely two years away. Denisenko, who needs a bit more discipline to go with his excellent skating ability and stick skills, is on a similar timetable as Noel.

Button compared Denisenko to Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Nikita Kucherov. Denisenko has been playing in Russia’s top pro league, much in the same way Heponiemi is doing in Finland.

THIS AND THAT

Panthers backup goalie James Reimer is No. 15 on TSN’s Trade Bait List. Panthers winger Mike Hoffman is No. 21. The Panthers are urgently trying to dump Reimer’s salary. Hoffman has been terrific, but his contract expires after this coming season.

The Panthers’ 2019 exhibition schedule starts with a doubleheader on Sept. 16 against the Nashville Predators and includes just two home games: Sept. 24 and Sept. 26 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The exhibition schedule ends Sept. 28 at the Lightning.

Former Panthers coach Bob Boughner, fired after this past season ended, has been rehired as a San Jose Sharks assistant. Boughner will likely return to the role he had in San Jose: as an assistant in charge of the Sharks’ defense and penalty-kill. Jack Capuano, who was Boughner’s associate coach, has been hired for the same title with the Ottawa Senators. Boughner assistant coach Tony McFarland now has the same title with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are trying to trade impending free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and/or Artemi Panarin for a second-round pick, and no team has taken the bait. Acquiring either of those players would give the Panthers exclusive negotiating rights with them until July 1, when they become free agents.

In addition, the Panthers (or any team that acquires an impending free agent) could offer the player an eight-year contract while everyone else could only offer seven.

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