Florida Panthers 2011 draft preview

By Brian Fogarty

Photo: In Hockey’s Future’s staff mock draft Gabriel Landeskog was selected third overall by the Florida Panthers. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Top 10 Prospects:

1) Jacob Markstrom
2) Erik Gudbranson
3) Nick Bjugstad
4) Colby Robak
5) Michal Repik
6) Quinton Howden
7) John McFarland
8) Alexander Petrovic
9) Evgeni Dadonov
10) A.J. Jenks

Team Needs

The Panthers have one overriding concern going into the 2011 draft: scoring talent in their forward ranks. Thanks in part to moves that GM Dale Tallon made leading up to and during last season’s trade deadline, Florida will have ten picks in the upcoming draft-including the third pick overall and seven in the first three rounds-to use towards procuring some potential goal scorers.

The Panthers limped to the finish line last season ranked a dismal 27th overall in goals scored. The team averaged just 2.33 goals scored per game, well below the league average of 2.73, despite matching the league average in shots per game. Stephen Weiss led the team in points at 49 (21 goals and 28 assists), but that relatively anemic total placed him squarely at 99th overall in the NHL. David Booth scored 23 goals, leading the Panthers in that category, but also finished deep down the NHL list (tied at 61st). Florida has a few players in their system that will help in the future (players like Quinton Howden, Garrett Wilson, and Nick Bjugstad have shown scoring ability in the junior and college levels), but no one that leaps out as the type of top-line scorer the team desperately needs.

The Panthers have a new coach in Kevin Dineen, and he has already stated that he will be looking for puck possession and work ethic in his players. The Panthers have been dreadful at holding the puck in the past, and will look to add solid players who can excel at both ends of the ice.

Organizational Strengths

Over the past couple of years, the Panthers have constructed a talented corps of young blueliners. The pairing of Mike Weaver and Jason Garrison proved to be a reliable duo in the defensive zone last season, playing against the highest quality of competition at even strength and on most nights they were the Panthers’ best players on the ice.

On a team that finished a collective minus-137 and had only four players finish the season in positive territory, rookie Dmitry Kulikov‘s minus-five rating over 72 games along with his 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) appears to be a harbinger of good things to come. Fellow rookie Keaton Ellerby may have had a bit of a bumpy ride at times, but the 22-year-old former first-rounder showed that he has what it takes to be an NHL player. Last year’s third overall draft pick Eric Gudbranson looks ready to join the team this fall once a contract is finalized. Of course, every team needs defensive depth, and the Panthers are no exception. They may look to add some of that depth with mid-to-late-round picks.

Among the forwards, the Panthers have more threats at the center position than along the wings. Mainstay Stephen Weiss has two years remaining on his current contract, and looks to be the top-line center going into the fall, barring free agent acquisitions. Behind him, Mike Santorelli proved a respectable NHL centerman in his first full season. There are also a couple of prospects at center that will have a chance to make the club in the next year or so, including Drew Shore from the University of Denver and Nick Bjugstad (who could stick with the team this fall).

The Panthers also have strength in net. Jacob Markstrom is considered by many to be the top goaltender prospect not playing in the NHL, and clearly is the heir apparent to the starting goaltender throne. Last year’s starter Tomas Vokoun is now an unrestricted free agent, but the Panthers will probably make a serious effort to re-sign him this summer to keep stability in the net until Markstrom is ready. The organization has some talent in the system with Marc Cheverie-who finished last season in the AHL-and University of Denver starter Sam Brittain.

Organizational Weaknesses

Simply stated, the Panthers need goal-scorers. Sixty players in the NHL finished with more goals scored than the Panthers’ best. Help does appear to be coming along on the right wing side, however. Rookie winger Evgeni Dadonov scored eight goals in 36 games with the Panthers last year. In the system, Jonathan Hazen scored 41 goals in 62 games in the QMJHL, but he will need to prove he can score in the minors before cracking the big-league roster. Florida can look to junior players Quinton Howden and Garrett Wilson for some scoring help in the future, but both are still a year or so away from the NHL, at best.

Draft Tendencies

After only one season at the helm of the Panthers, the new team management’s draft tendencies must be looked at as a two-part process, the first being last year’s draft, and the second a retrospective of Tallon’s tendencies in past drafts prior to joining the Panthers.

Last year, the Panthers had thirteen draft picks to work with, including six in the first two rounds. Tallon selected two defensemen, three centers, and a left winger. Other than drafting for best available talent, Tallon obviously went looking for size. Only three of the thirteen picks were shorter than 6’2 and only one of those smaller players, John McFarland, was taken before the fourth round. Several of the picks were bound for the NCAA too.

A better indication of draft tendency can be seen in Tallon’s previous work reconstructing the Chicago Blackhawks. In the years 2005 through 2009, Dale Tallon had direct oversight of the selection of 43 players. Tallon showed no distinct bias towards North American or European players and typically drafted along league-average breakdowns along those lines.

Tallon tends to wait until later rounds before drafting defensemen and goaltenders (Gudbranson was an exception). Only three defensemen were chosen in the first three rounds during Tallon’s tenure in Chicago.

As for the sources of the North American players Tallon has chosen with his draft picks, there seems to be no clear evidence of a bias toward any one league. However, of the 56 total players Tallon has selected since 2005 (both in Chicago and Florida), only two have come from the QMJHL. The NHL drafts about 11 percent of its players from the QMJHL, while Tallon has selected only three percent of his players from that league, a significantly smaller proportion.

The Panthers will likely take one of Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier, or Jonathan Huberdeau with the third pick. Tallon has said in interviews that he will be looking to add more picks in this draft, so it could be possible that the Panthers will trade down from the third spot to gain picks in the later half of the first round or early second round. However, if they do so, it would likely only be to drop down a few spots and still have the opportunity to choose an offensive-minded forward.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

3. Gabriel Landeskog, W

Landeskog gives the Panthers good size at 6’1, 205 pounds, solid two-way play, great leadership, and hockey sense all in a package that can hit the ice in the fall.