On the surface, the 2016 NHL Draft kicks off Friday night in Buffalo and doesn’t look all too exciting for the Panthers.
After setting franchise records with 47 wins and 103 points, Florida — unlike past years — will be picking toward the bottom of the pack with the 23rd overall pick.
Yet this offseason has been anything but boring for a Florida franchise that has changed up its management structure, key pieces of its lineup and even the logo and uniforms.
Who knows what the Panthers have planned next.
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If the Panthers keep their top picks, they will pick 23rd on Friday’s opening night and then return Saturday morning with the third pick of the second round acquired from Vancouver in the Erik Gudbranson deal.
Florida got Vancouver’s second-round pick as well as young forward Jared McCann in a surprising move made last month.
“We think we’ll get two pretty good players at 23 and 33,” said Dale Tallon, who now holds the title of president of hockey operations for the Panthers. “But you never know. If you see someone you really like, maybe you can move up by using the two picks, or even move back and acquire more picks.
“It depends on what happens. I think this could end up being a volatile draft after you get past pick four or five.”
Although Tallon will still be at the head of the Florida draft table as he has since joining the team in 2010, many of the faces around him are different.
Longtime head of amateur scouting Scott Luce was let go as was top scout Erin Ginnell and director of hockey operations Mike Dixon.
Tom Rowe was part of Florida’s draft party the past two years but as the Panthers’ AHL coach, he wouldn’t have much say in the proceedings. Rowe was promoted to general manager after the season, so, he has a big role now.
“It has been a blast, obviously, working with Dale and Peter Luukko to the very top of our ownership,” Rowe said. “We have unbelievable direction from them and we have great support.”
Tallon and Rowe will be relying heavily on Florida’s new scouting team led by Jason Bukala — who was promoted — and newcomers Toby O’Brien, Fred Bandel and Bill Ryan.
Florida also promoted Eric Joyce and Steve Werier to assistant general manager and they will have a voice at the draft table as well.
“We have a great staff, a great group of people,’’ Rowe said. “We do this as group, no one does this by themselves. We all talk and make group decisions.’’
Said Tallon: “We have good chemistry in the room and have had good, hearty discussions. It’s all coming together.”
The Panthers like having two of the top 33 picks although they have been in trade mode lately.
Florida made a deal to get the rights to defenseman Keith Yandle earlier in the week then inked him to a seven-year deal early Thursday morning.
On Thursday afternoon, Florida sent Rocco Grimaldi to Colorado for backup goalie Reto Berra.
Knowing the Panthers, the trades probably aren’t done.
“We’re going to look at every option,’’ Tallon said.
Although the Panthers won’t be picking until later in the first round, a former member of the Jr. Panthers could go within the top 10 picks.
Jakob Chychrun, a defenseman from Boca Raton, grew up a diehard fan of the Panthers and learned the game in South Florida before moving north.
“He’s a big kid, very mobile and is a great kid,” Tallon said. “He’s going to have a long pro career. He has a lot of energy, great personality. He’s a man already. He’s a physical force and will be a great player for a long time.”
Chychrun, the son of former NHL player Jeff, could go to the host Sabres at No. 8.
Not only does Buffalo need defensive help, but Chychrun went to school and became friends with the children of Buffalo owner Terry Pagula while they were in Florida.
Defenseman Andrew Peeke of Parkland, a former teammate of Chychrun’s in Coral Springs, is also expected to be selected this weekend. Peeke could end up playing collegiately at Notre Dame.
“Hey, if they need a defenseman, I’d be more than willing to do anything I could to help the team,” Chychrun told the Buffalo News while at the NHL combine earlier this month. “It’s a great city, great hockey town, great ownership. It’d be a great destination.”
When/where: Friday-Saturday; First Niagara Center, Buffalo.
Schedule: First round, 7 p.m. Friday (NBCSN); Second-seventh rounds, 10 a.m. Saturday (NHLNet)