Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ options for this year’s NHL Draft have an international flavor

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon talks playoffs

Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon talks about his team as playoff week kicked off Monday, April 11, 2016.
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Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon talks about his team as playoff week kicked off Monday, April 11, 2016.

Players from Russia, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Germany and the United States are expected to be selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, which begins Friday and boasts more international flavor than its counterpart drafts from the NFL, NBA and MLB.

The Panthers pick 13th in a draft that features two projected superstars: American center Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the Miami Herald last week that he believes the talent is “wide open” after those first two talents. Tallon will go with the best player available in the first round and then start to look a bit more at team needs in his successive turns.

The Panthers have hit on most of their first-round picks since taking Jonathan Huberdeau in 2011, a list that also includes Mike Matheson (2012), Aleksander Barkov (2013) and Aaron Ekblad (2014). The Panthers traded 2015 first-rounder Lawton Crouse, who had 11 goals and 14 assists this past season with the Arizona Coyotes.

The jury is still out on the Panthers’ past three first-rounders — Henrik Borgstrom (2016), Owen Tippett (2017) and Grigori Denisenko (2018) — but there are positive signs.

Four consecutive forwards selected in the first round have left Panthers fans clamoring for a defenseman or even a goalie (Spencer Knight, perhaps). That is especially true given how only two teams allowed more goals than the Panthers this past season.

But whether that happens depends on who is on the board at 13, so … let’s take a look at how the draft may unfold, attempting to form a consensus from various mock drafts:

1. Devils — Hughes, a 5-10, 170-pounder, is blazing fast with a rare ability to read the ice. The Orlando native is a special talent — he could be hockey’s version of Stephen Curry — despite his lack of ideal size.

2. Rangers — Kakko (6-2, 195) has the size and skill to play right away in the NHL after making a splash in Finland’s top pro league. He could be better than Hughes right away, although perhaps that won’t be the case in the long-term. In most years, he would be the No. 1 pick.

3. Blackhawks — Canadian Bowen Byram (6-1, 195) figures to be the first defenseman picked after posting 23 points in 19 Western Hockey League playoff games.

4. Avalanche — Canadian center Kirby Dach (6-4, 185) scored 25 goals in 62 WHL games. He has room on his frame to add muscle.

5. Kings — Canadian two-way center Dylan Cozens (6-3, 180) is a Wisconsin recruit. Speed is his best asset.

6. Red Wings — American winger Cole Caulfield (5-7, 160) was the MVP of the World Juniors with an impressive 14 goals.

7. Sabres — American center Alex Turcotte (5-11, 195) plays a 200-foot game at a high tempo. He has committed to play for Wisconsin.

8. Oilers — American center Trevor Zegras (6-0, 165) has commited to Boston University. He plays with an edge, frustrating opponents.

9. Ducks — Philip Broberg (6-3, 200) has the size and mobility to develop into the next great Swedish defenseman.

10. Canucks — Canadian winger Peyton Krebs (5-11, 180) is overcoming a leg injury, but the puck follows him, and he’s a leader.

11: Flyers — American forward Matthew Boldy (6-2, 185) is a Boston College recruit who lacks elite speed but is solid or better at every skill.

12: Wild — Swedish defenseman Victor Soderstrom (5-11, 180), viewed as a finesse-type playmaker, is rising up the charts.

13: Panthers — Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin (6-1, 185) is a bulldog-type player who was once viewed as a top prospect. Since then, critics have questioned whether he has high-end skill. He was the captain of Russia’s World Juniors team in 2018 and is seen as fierce and disciplined.

Other Panthers options would include Canadian center Alex Newhook, American winger Arthur Kaliyev and defensemen Cam York (USA) and Moritz Seider (Germany).