Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ draft history says expect the unexpected

Panthers GM Dale Tallon: ‘We’re not going to do something silly just because we’re in Florida.’
Panthers GM Dale Tallon: ‘We’re not going to do something silly just because we’re in Florida.’ AP

Each time a team hosts the NHL Draft, as the Panthers will Friday and Saturday, forecasters idly wonder if the team will do something to make a big splash in front of its home fans. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon fielded that question last week.

“Our goal is to draft nine guys this year that’ll play in the NHL for us. That’s the goal regardless of where we’re drafting, Florida or Philly or wherever we are,” Tallon said. “We’re not going to do something silly just because we’re in Florida.”

Besides, the Panthers never need a reason to make the draft arena do a collective, “Say what?” If the Panthers have a thing, this is it. At the NHL Draft, the Panthers might as well be an HBO series’ season finale — you’re surprised when something massive doesn’t happen.

The Panthers used the No.1 overall pick (1994, 2014) or traded the No.1 overall pick (2002, 2003); they traded for goalie Roberto Luongo (2000) or traded away Luongo (2006).

Or maybe the Panthers will try to draft a sure future superstar ruled ineligible until the following year’s draft because of age like they did in 2003. They tried to open a loophole by arguing if leap years are factored in, he was actually eligible that year. That probably won’t happen because it didn’t work the first time they tried to do it.

The player in 2003? Alexander Ovechkin, already projected as 2004’s lock No.1 overall. Sound ridiculous? The NHL thought so each of the first three times the Panthers tried it that year.

Then-Panthers GM Rick Dudley stormed out of the arena when ownership had the Panthers try a fourth time.

This year, look for the Panthers trading the No.11 overall pick for an established scorer.

“If we feel trading the 11th pick to get a scorer or a player that fits into what our depth chart is and what our goals are long term, then we’ll think about it,” Tallon said. “But there’s an opportunity to move up, there’s an opportunity to move back and pick up another asset or two, we’ll do whatever it takes.”

Tallon said he believes after center Connor McDavid at No.1 and center Jack Eichel at No.2, the next tier runs until about No.15. Other analysts put the next tier dropping off at No.10, right before the Panthers’ pick.

“Our depth chart is deep up the middle, and we’re very strong, when you look at our future as far as the back end is concerned, it’s terrific,” Tallon said. “There are a lot of different good young players in this draft that fit our needs, so we’ll see what happens. If something shakes up and there’s a startling pick in the first 10, that opens up more possibilities for us.”

Tallon’s rarely hesitant to trade. The last time the Panthers hosted the NHL Draft, in 2001, they traded center Rob Niedermayer, the franchise’s first pick, to Calgary for Val Bure, brother of Panthers goal-scoring machine Pavel Bure. The deal drew more discussion than whether Atlanta should have taken Ilya Kovalchuk No.1 overall ahead of Jason Spezza.

As far as Panthers news, it overshadowed who the Panthers took with their two first-round picks, Nos.4 and 24 overall. How often does that happen? Well, about as often as a team trades out of the No.1 overall spot. That’s happened twice in NHL Draft history — when the Panthers did it in 2002 and 2003, each time with the first of two first-round picks.

The Panthers’ first general manager, Bob Clarke, unwittingly established the pattern at the franchise’s first NHL Draft in 1993. San Jose at No.2 and Hartford at No.6 swapped first-round picks. Hartford wanted defenseman Chris Pronger, and San Jose wanted center Viktor Kozlov. San Jose made the deal with the provision they would get Hartford’s 1994 first-round pick if Kozlov wasn’t there at No.6.

Clarke threatened to draft Kozlov and trade his rights to Edmonton. Hartford responded by tossing the Panthers a second-round pick in 1994.

NHL Draft

Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise.

Friday’s schedule: Parking lots open, 1 p.m.; FanFest Pantherland opens, 2 p.m.; Arena doors open, 5 p.m.; First round begins, 7 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, 7 p.m.

Panthers open at home Oct. 10

The Panthers unveiled their schedule for the 2015-16 season on Thursday, the 22nd in franchise history.

Florida will open at home on Oct.10 against Philadelphia and finish in Sunrise on April9 against Carolina.

The Panthers will play the maximum five games against divisional foes Tampa Bay (two at home, three on the road road) and Ottawa (three home/two road).

Florida’s annual holiday homestand gets a boost this year as Los Angeles and the Islanders visit at Thanksgiving and Montreal and the Rangers come to Sunrise around the New Year.

The Panthers will host both the the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and Eastern Conference champion Lightning on consecutive nights on Jan. 22-23.

Florida will have a pair of six-game homestands and has one six-game road trip in early January.

GEORGE RICHARDS

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