Panthers 2009 draft review

By Ian Bross

For the second year in a row, the Florida Panthers made a major trade at the NHL Entry Draft. After sending Olli Jokinen to Phoenix in 2008, the Panthers shipped the rights to defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to the Calgary Flames. In return, they received a third-round pick and the rights to defenseman Jordan Leopold. Florida also pulled off another swap, on a much smaller scale, when they received a fourth and fifth-round pick in 2009 in exchange for third-round pick in 2010.

The Panthers made a point of acquiring forwards, calling the names of six over the course of the two-day festivities in Montreal. Their first selection was the lone exception.

Dmitry Kulikov, D
1st Round, 14th Overall

Last year, the Panthers benefitted when goaltender Jacob Markstrom fell to them with the lead-off selection in round two. Again the Panthers got a little bit lucky, when a consensus top-ten prospect, Kulikov, became available in the 14th spot. Kulikov acknowledged that he was always on Florida’s radar.

“We talked with them in the meetings and they have been pretty interested in me,” he said. “I just didn’t know if I would have stayed until the 14th pick or they wouldn’t move up.”

The 6’1, 183-pound Russian defender is arguably the best puck mover in the draft. With Drummondville this past season, he recorded 12 goals and 50 assists in 57 games. Concern over a contractual obligation in his native Russia was likely a factor in his descent to the middle of the first round. However Scott Luce, Panthers’ Director of Amateur Scouting, said at the draft that he believes his decision to play in the QMJHL is indicative of a sincere commitment to North American hockey. Kulikov’s reasons for the move were many.

“Improve my game, learn a new style of game, learn a new routine, learn everything new about a new country, new style of play,” Kulikov explained. He has declared his hope to play in the NHL next season.

Drew Shore, C
2nd, 44th Overall

Shore, whose mother’s family is native to the Sunshine state, didn’t hide his enthusiasm in being selected by the Panthers.

“It was disappointing to sit there and watch every pick,” he said, “but to go to Florida, it couldn’t have been better.”

Shore had 17 goals and 32 assists last season for USNTDP. He has an appealing blend of hands and an ability control the puck. Fitting the power forward mold, he will need to get stronger, adding weight to his big 6’3” frame, though he already tips the scales at 190 pounds. His consistency is also somewhat lacking.  He can be gritty when he chooses to be.

Shore will attend the University of Denver where he will join two other Panthers prospects, defenseman John Lee and goaltender Marc Cheverie. Shore recalls growing up nearby when the Pioneers achieved national success in 2004 and 2005.  The Panthers believe him to have second-line upside once he finishes his development at DU.

Luce said of Shore, “His game is evolving each day.”

Josh Birkholz, RW
3rd, 67th Overall

The Panthers acquired this pick in the Bouwmeester trade. Birkholz produced a solid rookie campaign in the USHL with Fargo. He scored 21 goals and 15 assists through 55 games, helping the second-year franchise to a berth in the Clark Cup finals. He is a terrific skater, who displays good two-way game in his forechecking and backchecking responsibilities.  Birkholz is crticized for playing too much on the perimeter, and that is a valid concern.

Birkholz has made a verbal commitment to his homestate University of Minnesota. He is the first Panthers prospect to attend the University.  Ironically, Jordan Leopold, who the Panthers also received in the Bouwmeester deal is a former Golden Gopher. But Birkholz will have his work cut out for him, finding a place to fit in on a team with no shortage of seniors.

Garrett Wilson, LW
4th, 107th Overall

The Panthers took Wilson with the first of two picks received in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. After meeting with the Panthers at the NHL combine, he said he suspected Florida had an interest. But more importantly, he was excited inching closer to achieving his dream.

“Ever since I started playing hockey I just wanted a chance to get drafted into the NHL,” Wilson said. “It’s a good step in the right direction, and I’m really happy to be drafted by Florida.”

A member of the Owen Sound Attack, the 2008-09 season was Wilson’s first in the OHL, registering 17 goals and 18 assists. His competitiveness is evident in his style of play.  A self described north-south style winger with good two-way sensibility, Wilson likes to drive the net and is effective down low. He already possesses significant size, standing 6’2 and weighing 199 pounds. Wilson did acknowledge, though, there were areas of his game that needed improvement.

“The biggest thing is my skating. I have to work on my acceleration and my mobility,” he said. “I’ll be working hard this summer and we’ll see what happens next year.”

Corban Knight, C

5th Round, 135th Overall

The Panthers selected Knight with their first of two fifth-round picks. Knight spent the 2008-09 season as a member of the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL. He was one of six players from the league to be taken in 2009. With 34 goals and 38 assists, Knight led all league rookies in scoring by a considerable margin. League-wide, his 72 points were good enough to place him in a tie for eighth overall.

A late bloomer, Knight is a good skater who will have another year of play in the AJHL to work on his strength and polish his offensive skills further. He has signed a letter of intent with the University of North Dakota for the 2010-11 season.

Wade Megan, C
5th Round, 138th Overall

The Panthers took Megan with the second of two picks in the fifth round, received in the aforementioned trade with the Kings. Drafted out of high school, Megan’s playing style is that of a power forward. At 6’1 and 185 pounds, he is difficult to knock off the puck.  He had 27 goals and 36 assists in 32 games this season.

At the top of Megan’s list of areas to work on, like almost all his age, will be to strengthen up over the next couple years. This will be vital as he enters more physically intense competition. He will also need to improve his skating as well.

From Canton, New York, Megan was the third American born player taken by Florida in the draft, and the fourth who will make the move to the NCAA. He will enroll at Boston University next fall.

Scott Timmins, C

6th Round, 165th Overall

Without a pick in the seventh round, the Panthers used their final selection in 2009 to select Timmins. He finished the 2008-09 season with the Windsor Spitfires, with whom he was a valuable role player, and contributor to the team’s run to a Memorial Cup Championship. He was also a member of Peter DeBoer’s Kitchener Rangers, who were also victorious in the Memorial Cup a year earlier.

With both Kitchener and Windsor, Timmins registered a combined total of 35 goals and 38 assists. Not big, but built solidly at 5’11” and 191 pounds, Timmins was one of the top defensive players in the OHL. Born in September 1989, he was passed on in the 2008 draft. Described by Luce as a “cerebral” player, Timmins is also a very capable skater, who uses his speed effectively. He is strong in the faceoff circle, and overall, though not overwhelmingly talented, is very reliable.