It won't be long until Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel hear their names called at the BB&T Center, as we have officially reached "Draft Week" and the countdown until June 26th is growing smaller and smaller. The spotlight won't be on the Panthers, as this draft features some incredible talent in the first five selections.
That doesn't mean that Dale Tallon doesn't have his work cut out for him, as the team's current general manager has given himself nine draft picks to work with over seven rounds.
Scott Luce and the rest of the scouting team will have a much more extensive list, but seeing as we don't have access to that, here's the next best thing: my own wish list for the Panthers headed into the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
The nine selections the team currently has are:
- Round 1: 11th overall
- Round 3: 77th overall, 88th overall
- Round 4: 102nd overall
- Round 5: 132nd overall, 147th overall
- Round 6: 162nd overall
- Round 7: 192nd overall, 206th overall
With the 11th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) RW Mikko Rantanen - It's taken a lot of inner debate and tons of research, but in the end, Rantanen is the guy I want the Cats to take at 11. Though there's no guarantee that he falls that low, if the young Finn is available, I hope that Tallon calls his name.
All of the comparisons to Aleksander Barkov are what make Rantanen such an intriguing prospect, as Barkov is a puck possession stud despite the fact that he is just turning 20. If the Cats can get a Barkov clone to put on the wing, then this draft will be considered a success. (For a more in depth breakdown of Rantanen's skills, here's our profile of him in our LBC Mock Draft.)
2) RW Timo Meier - Like I said before, there is no guarantee that Rantanen is still available at 11. If that's the case, then Timo Meier becomes the best guy for the Panthers, as the Swiss winger brings size, skill, and most importantly, goal scoring ability to the table.
We've covered Timo pretty extensively here at LBC, so we'll leave one of our previous posts to describe his talents:
Meier's goal-scoring skills are evident, as he averages almost five and a half shots per game and has 40 goals this year in the Q. He constantly puts himself in position to get a shot off, and he has an impressive arsenal of shots to unleash when he is in position.
It's highly unlikely that both Meier and Rantanen will be gone by the time the Panthers make their selection, so we'll move on to the next set of picks the Cats have.
With the 77th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) RW Nikita Korostelev - In the later rounds of the draft, it's always hard to guess who will be available and who won't. That being said, it's always good to target certain players with the hopes that they fall in the draft, and one such player is Nikita Korostelev. He's the 50th-ranked North American skater according to Central Scouting, so it's possible that he's still available when Dale Tallon takes the stand for the first time in the third round.
Korostelev is a goal scorer, plain and simple. He has an absolute rocket for a shot, and he loves to unleash it (even when he probably should be passing). He also has decent size, standing at 6'1" and weighing almost 200 pounds.
While in the offensive zone, the Russian winger uses his size to protect the puck well, and isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas. He could improve on his skating, as he doesn't have breakaway speed, and his play off of the puck is lacking. Overall, his offensive talents make up for his defensive flaws, and make him a great pick for the Cats if they can take him in the third round.
2a) LW Filip Ahl - Filip Ahl is a beast of a man, standing at 6'4 and weighing an astounding 214 pounds. The Swedish winger's size and skill led to him playing in Sweden's top league for a stretch of games, and will have him taken no later than the third round come draft day.
Though Ahl needs to work on his skating and lacks offensive creativity, he uses his size to control the puck both when entering the zone, and when cycling the puck down low in the offensive zone. He has a pro-caliber shot that can do some damage when it's unleashed. As a big winger with the ability to complement skilled forwards on a line, Ahl would be a solid pick up for the Cats with the 77th pick in the draft.
2b) RW Conor Garland - Here is where Tallon has a big decision to make. Conor Garland is an amazing talent, who put up incredible point totals this season and was fifth in expected NHL points (NHLe) out of ALL draft eligible skaters. According to the Projection Project, he has a 61% chance of becoming an NHL players, which is an incredibly high percentage for someone who is going to fall so late in the draft.
His comparables include notable names such as Kyle Rau, Derek Roy, Tyler Ennis, and Claude Giroux. Not taking this kid makes no sense, especially not when he's probably going to fall to the third round of the draft, due to his size and the fact that he's an overager.
That being said, if Garland is going to fall to the 88th pick, then it makes no sense for Tallon to use the 77th pick on him. Obviously there's no way for one general manager to know what the rest of the league is going to do, but being able to take a quality prospect and Garland in the third round would make the round a complete success for Tallon.
With the 88th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) LW Andrew Mangiapane - The search for goal scoring wingers continues, as Andrew Mangiapane makes it next on my Draft wish list. The overage, undersized forward put up 103 points in 67 games for the Barrie Colts this season, with 43 of those 103 points being goals.
Mangiapane is a forward who doesn't stop. He has solid positioning in all three zones and a blistering shot that can beat goalies from a distance. The only real question mark with his game is his size, and with the current trend of smaller players becoming more and more effective, that lone question mark is becoming less and less of a problem.
2) LW Erik Foley - One of this draft's most interesting prospects is Erik Foley, a 5'11, 185 pound winger from the USHL who describes himself as a power-forward. Foley played high school prep hockey last season, but joined the Cedar Rapid RoughRiders this season and led the team in scoring as a rookie.
Foley is a strong forward who has excellent strength and balance, especially with the puck along the wall. He also has deceptive speed, along with a pro-caliber shot and good offensive instincts. He does need some work defensively, like most prospects his age, but certainly shows a desire to get better in his own zone. The biggest question mark to the Massachusetts native's game is the fact that he doesn't have the high end skill of a player such as Jeremy Bracco or Conor Garland. Still, a gritty player who uses his talents to the fullest and gets results is a good pick up in the third round of the draft.
3) RW Sebastian Aho - There are two players with the name Sebastian Aho in this year's draft, as the Swedish defenseman wasn't drafted last season, while the Finnish forward is heading into the draft during his first year of eligibility.
The player I have on my wishlist, however, is the Finnish Aho. At 5'11, 176 pounds, Aho isn't one of the smallest guys on the ice, but definitely isn't one of the biggest. He flies around almost non stop, and is a relentless forechecker. His top speed isn't elite, so he doesn't necessarily blow by people while entering the zone, but he does have great acceleration and agility that he uses to his advantage in tight spaces. His play reminds me a lot of Sean Bergenheim, who would constantly hound the puck carrier and make life difficult for defenseman trying to break out of the zone. Getting a Bergenheim in any of the later rounds of the draft would be a steal, and Finnish forward Aho has the potential to be that type player when he gets to the NHL.
This is Aho scoring the Game 7 OT goal in Liiga championship series:
With the 102nd overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) C Anthony Richard - It's a bit of a stretch to see Richard fall to 102nd overall, but if the speedy winger does, the Cats shouldn't hesitate to make him their selection. The 5'9" French Canadian had 91 points in 66 games, and led the Val D'Or Foreurs in scoring. He also produced on the power play, as an astonishing 49 of his points came via special teams, and not 5 on 5 play.
Richard is an explosive forward who has great speed that he uses to break away from defenders, and pressure them while moving into the offensive zone. He also has great hands, and can maneuver the puck well despite operating at such high speeds. His shot doesn't have a lot of mustard on it, but he gets it off quickly and can catch goalies sleeping. He has questions surrounding his size, as he gets bodied off the puck easily, and he will need to work on his defensive positioning as well. Though Richard has the typical "smaller player" issues, the words of Al Arbour, who took Mike Bossy 15th overall for the New York Islanders back in 1977, sum up the issue best:
"Let's take the scorer, I can teach him to check. I can't teach the checker how to score."
2) C Aleksi Saarela - In the 2014 NHL Draft, the Panthers took Juho Lammikko, a winger who had played for Ässät in Finland's top professional league. A player on my wish list for the 2015 Draft is Aleksi Saarela, who also debuted for Ässät in his draft year.
Saarella has already filled into his body, as he weighs 198 pounds despite only standing at five feet, ten inches. He doesn't have any stand out qualities, as he is an above average skater with an above average shot that is complimented by above average hockey sense and above average play-making abilities. The young Finn also showcases above average defensive abilities, and he has the three-zone awareness that all talented Finns seem to have.
Like I said above, nothing about Saarella really separates him from the pack, but part of what makes him such an intriguing player is the fact that he doesn't really have any weaknesses. He could get better playing the puck along the boards, but besides that, there isn't too much in his game that could be an issue. That type of play in the NHL gets results, even if it isn't flashy.
This is Saarela's first career Liiga goal:
3) C Pius Suter - Pius Suter is a center, but at this late stage in the draft, finding any forward capable of contributing at the NHL level, regardless of position, is a plus. The Swiss import is entering his second year of draft eligibility, but had a great season playing in the OHL for the Guelph Storm, scoring 43 goals and adding 29 assists for a total of 72 points in 61 games. BSN Denver has a great breakdown of Suter's skills, so I'll let them take over on this one:
(Note: For the later round picks, I'm just going to treat the round as one pick. At this late stage of the draft, where player rankings vary so heavily, there's no need to separate the selections and make everyone reading this go through a number of unnecessary scouting reports.)
With the 132nd/147th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) C Dante Salituro - Dante Salituro is yet another smaller player who just oozes offensive skill, as he put up 78 points in 68 games while playing for an absolutely terrible Ottawa 67's team. Salituro, who stands at 5'8, and weighs 180 pounds, is also entering his second year of draft eligibility, which is why he's ranked so low despite having impressive point production.
Salituro has a bit of Rocco Grimaldi in his game, in that he is surprisingly strong along the boards with the puck, and in that he can create offense from seemingly nowhere. Though he'll sometimes be caught drifting in the defensive zone, the smaller forward is usually always moving his feet, and using his high-end speed to relentlessly pursue the puck, or blaze through the offensive zone and create chances for himself. He'll be a long-term prospect, but has NHL potential, something you don't usually see in the 5th round of the draft.
Salituro scores a hat trick in this video on the Ottawa 67's team website.
2) RW/C Dryden Hunt - Yet another re-entry to the draft is Dryden Hunt, who was skipped over in 2014 despite putting up 40 points in 62 games. Concussion problems hindered him earlier in his junior career, but he had a full year in 2014-2015, and made the most of it, splitting the season between the Regina Pats and Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. Between those two teams, Hunt played 71 games, and put up 83 points.
The British Colombia native stands six feet tall, and weighs almost 200 pounds. Though he could clean up his first couple of steps, and make those faster, he does have a good top speed and can handle the puck in traffic while moving at that speed. He also has an absolute bomb of a shot that is best used as a one-timer, making him a threat on the power play. Hunt uses his size to his advantage along the wall and in front of the net, and has good offensive awareness. In the defensive zone, he isn't a standout, but he plays his position and doesn't slack off when the puck isn't on his stick.
3) C Deven Sideroff - Deven Sideroff is similar to players who have already been mentioned, such as Sebastian Aho, Aleksi Saarela, and Pius Suter. Standing at 5'11", and weighing about 180 pounds, Sideroff is a smaller forward who uses his speed and hockey IQ to play bigger than his size.
Most of Sideroff's positioning on draft boards comes from his offensive abilities, the Kamloop's Blazers forward has blazing speed and good offensive intelligence that allow him to create scoring chances, both for himself and for his teammates. He's defensively responsible, and skates the puck through the neutral zone whenever given the chance to get the puck out of trouble. Overall, the Kamloops native is a smart hockey player with impressive speed, and noticeable determination to get better.
4) G Adin Hill - It's highly unlikely that the three forwards mentioned above are gone by both the 132nd and 147th picks, but if that does happen, then now will most likely be the chance for Tallon to pick up a goaltender. At this later stage of the draft, it's likely that other goalies are gone, leaving Adin Hill, the 4th rated North American goalie according to NHL CSS, for the Cats to scoop up.
Hill played for the Portland Winterhawks in 2014-2015, which was actually his rookie season with the club, despite the fact that this is his second year being eligible for the NHL Draft. The Calgary native plays a style similar to that of Scott Darling and James Reimer, as he uses his size to his advantage and still manages to be athletic when making saves. He led the Winterhawks to the 5th best save percentage in the entire CHL, as he himself posted a .921 SV% in 46 games. That save percentage is good for third among draft eligible goaltenders, and if you're going to be taking a risk on a goaltender late in the draft, it might as well be on a guy who has proven he can stop a good percentage of the shots he faces.
With the 162nd overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) RW/C Jake Jaremko - In the sixth round of the draft, we've essentially reached the "toss up" region; it is a total toss-up as to whether or not these guys make it to the NHL, as the truth is, most of them will never really come close.
Jake Jaremko does have some scoring ability, however, as he put up 62 points in 24 games while playing in Minnesota's high school hockey league. Jaremko also won Minnnesota's Mr. Hockey, an award previously won by our very own Nick Bjugstad.
The Minnesota native has solid skating abilities, good vision and playmaking skills, and a quick release to go along with an average shot. The question here is whether or not he'll be able to transfer his production over to a more difficult league, as he's only proved himself against high schoolers.
2) F Nikolai Chebykin - Nikolai Chebykin had an absolutely terrible year, putting up six points in 32 games, while playing in the MHL (the AHL is to the NHL as the MHL is to the KHL). The Russian forward is a big risk, as he hasn't proven himself at all, even playing against lesser competition.
His scouting reports are glowing, however. Despite the fact that he's unproven and inconsistent, Chebykin has a 6'4" frame, great skating skills, soft hands, and some serious shooting skill. Though there are red flags all over this guy, there's also the chance that he can find a way to bring his skills together and start producing. If he manages to get that done, the team that takes him late in the draft will have gotten an absolute steal.
3) LW Artem Artemov - Artem Artemov is one of the few Russian forwards who actually seems to fit the stereotype of skilled, but lazy and impossible to coach. He played on a weak team, the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, but was still inconsistent, and lacking in effort on most nights.
He still managed about half a point per game, as he has great hands and poise with the puck, as well as great offensive zone awareness. The skill is there, and though his skating needs some work before it reaches NHL level, Artemov just failed to deliver it this season and his draft stock plummeted as a result. If he can realize how competitive he needs to be in order to utilize his talent, the Russian forward could become a depth on an NHL roster.
With the 192nd/206th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers select...
1) D Sebastian Aho - It's time to swing for the fences with each pick, so we'll start with Sebastian Aho, no relation to the winger Aho we discussed as a potential target for a third round pick. This Aho is the Swedish defenseman who was eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, but was skipped over due to his size.
Aho the Swede has added an inch and 15 or so pounds to his frame, and still plays the game with such a high hockey IQ, as well as with great puck possession qualities. There were tons of people who were really high on Aho last season, and if the Cats can get him late, he may end up being an absolute steal, as his game reminds me a lot of Brian Campbell's.
2) C Troy Terry - One of the youngest players eligible for the draft this season is Troy Terry, who doesn't turn 18 until five days before the cutoff. This means that he essentially played the entire season a year behind everyone else development-wise, and that his production now could be considered his pre-draft season.
Terry is a gem of a prospect, especially for a late round pick like this. He has all the skills; he loves to possess the puck, he hustles back to play solid defense, he can carry the puck through the neutral zone, he has no problem making defensemen miss, both on the rush and down low, and he can finish on his chances. He just happens to be a very raw prospect at the moment, which is why he isn't rated very highly. There's no guarantee that he continues to look as good as he did this year.
Terry scores the first goal in this video:
3) C David Cotton - While we're on the subject of raw prospects, let's talk about the final prospect on the 2015 NHL Entry Draft wish list: David Cotton. The 6'2" center tore up Boston's high school league this year, scoring 69 points in 33 games. He'll be taking his talents to Boston College next season.
Here his scouting report, courtesy of Curtis Joe at Elite Prospects:
A smart and competitive two-way center with high offensive upside. Exhibits smooth natural skating ability with a top speed that can be hard for the opposition to handle. Soft hands allow him to let his creativity flow free. Possesses a prolific skillset; he can snap the puck to the back of the net, make a seemingly tricky pass look easy, or hold onto the puck and establish a firm forecheck until the right opportunity shows itself. All-in-all, a player who has the ability to dominate offensively and defensively due to his size, speed, individual skills, and intelligence with and without the puck.
For me, the ideal draft for the Panthers to have this year would be:
- 11th overall: RW Mikko Rantanen
- 77th overall: RW Nikita Korostelev
- 88th overall: RW Conor Garland
- 102nd overall: C Anthony Richard
- 132nd overall: C Dante Salituro
- 147th overall: RW/C Dryden Hunt
- 162nd overall: RW/C Jake Jaremko
- 192nd overall: D Sebastian Aho
- 206th overall: C Troy Terry
Some quick thoughts: This isn't a personal ranking of these prospects. I looked at as many rankings by other groups as I could and made guesses as to when I think these players will be available. Sebastian Aho (D) is a perfect example of this; based on what I've read, teams won't be taking a chance on him until very late in the draft. If I'm Dale Tallon, however, and I hear that Team X wants to take him 180th, I'm grabbing him with the 162nd pick, because he's more valuable than Jaremko to me. There's a lot of complex inner workings at the tables on draft day, and maximizing value from your selections is just one way to try and get ahead of the competition.
Though the Panthers don't have a pick in this guy's range, I would love it if they made a trade to select Anthony Beauvillier, of the Shawinigian Cataractes. He's in the top 10 for most statistical categories among CHL forwards (points per game, shots per game, percentage of team goals created, etc) and he's one of the youngest players in the draft. He's probably a top 20 prospect, and it's likely he falls into the second round.
Which prospect do you want the Panthers to take this year? Let us know in the comments.