The 2012 NHL Draft has come to a close, and although the Panthers didn't have what one would call an "exciting" draft, General Manager Dale Tallon, assistant GM Mike Santos and Director of Scouting Scott Luce did make the most of the situation. With a solid first-round selection in Micheal Matheson and some attempts to unearth gems such as Alexander Delnov, the Panthers both played it safe and swung for the fences. Matheson, although a bit of a project, has all the raw skills needed to become a difference-maker in the NHL some day in the future, and thanks to Tallon's safe handling of the Panthers upcoming youth, Matheson will be given plenty of time to hone those skills to ensure he has the best shot at making the team in a few years. Delnov wasn't even listed as draft-eligible before the Cats took a timeout to correct that, and many within the hockey community felt that it was a solid selection despite the name being a relative unknown.
Panthers GM Dale Tallon speaks to reporters at the 2012 NHL Draft.
Tallon continues to make his mark on this club, guiding the team's selections towards players that match the tenets he wishes to see within the organization he is now responsible for. Character, speed, size, determination... he knows what he likes, and so far, he's gotten just that. Knowing the assets that are coming, plus the current crop of players, the Panthers have a very bright future, and it will be up to the Cats GM to maintain the continued success of the franchise. This draft was a mild success, and that marks three straight seasons where the Panthers drafted well and continued to stock up the organization with bright young prospects who could become full-time NHL'ers in a few more years.
With all of that solid foundation in place, where does Tallon go from here to make sure the Panthers improve upon last season's success story?
The hot talk of the town right now is clearly the potential for acquiring scapegoat netminder Roberto Luongo from Vancouver. At the draft, Tallon stated to the media that he was not interested in sacrificing any of his prized prospects for the chance to bring in Luongo. Toronto GM Brian Burke has said the same, and both realize that mortgaging the future for a few seasons of a high-paid Luongo likely isn't a smart move. Luongo's numbers have declined since his days in a Panthers sweater, and this past season, Cats starter Jose Theodore nearly outplayed him, statistically speaking. With Jacob Markstrom waiting in the wings after one more full stint with San Antonio in the NHL, the Panthers will run into a situation where they have one of the best goalies not in the NHL waiting behind a goalie whose best years are behind him. Sure, you can approach it from the whole "mentoring" aspect, but the reality is that acquiring Luongo is simply not a smart move unless the asking price cheapens dramatically. The cap hit of his contract is a bit of an albatross as well, but that's an entirely different matter to debate.
Every Cats fan knows that scoring has been an issue seemingly forever, and although there were no draft deals that brought in additional scoring, the Cats are likely going to retain Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov, who are RFAs that will continue to shine offensively with more ice time in Florida. As for trades and free agency, we'll find out in the coming weeks. Tallon knows there's a big need for more offense, and that scoring is likely what kept this team from advancing much deeper into the last postseason. They likely will stay out of the Rick Nash sweepstakes, although I'm sure they'll kick the tires, and until Nash, Zach Parise or Bobby Ryan are dealt or sign elsewhere, the Panthers will likely stay relatively quiet on the trade front. The only exception would be possibly dealing the rights to Jason Garrison before July 1, but there's still hope coming from the Panthers camp that he will re-up with the team.
It's going to be an interesting summer for Tallon and his management staff, one that likely will be viewed as his most important. It's not overly challenging to go out and drop a ton of cash on a bunch of free agents and hope everything works out for the best, albeit with a rookie coach leading the hodgepodge group that was signed. It's something else to take that group, continue to have it gel, and add in youth and existing NHL talent to have an even better season than the last. After having a quiet yet successful draft, the onus is on Tallon to make the next few weeks positive ones for the club.