The eyes of the hockey world will be upon the BB&T Center in Sunrise as the Florida Panthers host the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. This marks the second time that the team has hosted the draft, the first of them in 2001 when they acquired Valeri Bure to play alongside of his brother Pavel. While you shouldn’t expect any blockbuster moves from the hosts, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that this is still an important draft for General Manager Dale Tallon, who is in his fifth year at the helm.
Florida’s cupboards aren’t exactly overflowing with high-end prospects, but there are a few players who have contributed to the NHL team already, while others are on the cusp of doing so. The Panthers currently have nine picks in the draft, and face a situation where the team needs to draft for quality over quantity.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Mike Matheson, D
2. Ian McCoshen, D
3. Rocco Grimaldi, C
4. Alex Petrovic, D
5. Jayce Hawryluk, C
6. Zach Hyman, RW
7. Quinton Howden, LW
8. Kyle Rau, C
9. Juho Lammikko, LW
10. MacKenzie Weegar, D
Picking at 11th overall, the Panthers are assured of getting a future impact player out of one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. From there, the Panthers need an injection of skill throughout their group. Among the biggest needs is for top-six wingers, roles that are currently being filled with the flavor of the week by Head Coach Gerard Gallant.
At forward, there are quite a few players who appear ready to play for the Panthers as early as next year, but the problem with that picture is that none of them project as an impact player. Florida could really use a skilled forward, someone who perhaps is a bit risky, but offers a higher offensive ceiling. The club is deepest on defense, where Aaron Ekblad recently locked down a job, with a handful of defensemen on the verge of a full-time NHL job. Most of that group is of a defensive ilk, so a puck-moving quarterback would greatly welcomed asset.
Among the team’s top prospects, Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, and Alex Petrovic all look like capable NHL defensemen. Florida recently locked up Matheson with an entry-level deal, while McCoshen finished his sophomore season with Boston College. The Panthers have already sampled Alex Petrovic, who though not offensively gifted, is expected to assume regular NHL duty next year. Behind those three, there are a few more who could develop into NHL players in time.
The other strength of the Panthers system is at center, where a number of pivots grace the team’s top ten list. Vince Trocheck recently graduated from the system after playing in his 65th NHL game, but Rocco Grimaldi, Jayce Hawryluk, and Kyle Rau all represent recent draft successes.
There is a very clear and concise weakness within the Panthers system, and that is depth at wing. If Zach Hyman decides to spurn the team in favor of free agency, one could make the argument that they don’t have any wingers with top-six potential. Quinton Howden was once considered to have a bright future ahead of him in Florida, but recent concerns over his health and regression has left the team without much hope of that happening.
With Roberto Luongo under contract until 2022 or until he decides to retire, there will only be one available roster spot for the unforeseeable future. With capable prospects like Michael Houser, Evan Cowley, and Sam Brittain under contract, there doesn’t appear to be one that stands above the rest as the future in net.
With four drafts under his belt, Tallon has a proven track record of drafting from the NCAA. This tendency allows Panthers prospects additional development time, as over one-third of Florida’s draft picks under Tallon have either been NCAA freshman or commits.
Despite a lack of depth in net, Tallon has often shied away from selecting goaltenders. Florida has only taken three goalies over the last four years, and none before the third round.
Among picks in the first three rounds, Tallon has stuck with North American talents for 18 of 21 selections during his tenure, the only three Europeans being Rasmus Bengtsson (2011), Alexander Barkov (2013), and Juho Lammikko (2014).
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
11. Timo Meier, C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Unlike any player currently in the system, Timo Meier offers a unique blend of size, skill, and smarts that make him a worthy first round pick. Among the heavier forwards available in the draft, Meier puts his 6’1”, 210 pound frame to good use, often finishing checks and engaging in physical battles in all three zones.
Meier’s true strength lies in his versatility, as he can either take faceoffs and handle the responsibilities of a center, or inject his offensive acumen on the wing. As half of a Mooseheads dynamic duo along with Nik Ehlers (WPG), the Swiss-native brings a North American style of hockey to the table, preferring to play a straight-line, north-south game.
Meier’s numbers from this season are a cause for joy, as he put up the best numbers of any draft-eligible forward in the QMJHL this season. His point-per-game pace of 1.46 led the league, which resulted in a 44 goal, 46 assist regular season—a 56 point increase from his rookie year.
Meier fills both an immediate and long-term need for the Panthers, and checks off a lot of boxes that the team generally looks for. Recent history suggests that Florida could turn to a college prospect in the first round, but passing on a versatile and complete player like Meier would be difficult if presented with such a choice.