With the Florida Panthers 13th selection in the 2019 draft, we not only saw a talented goaltender chosen in Spencer Knight, but arguably the standout American keeper from his generation picked by the recently departed general manager Dale Tallon.
Now in 2020, in a belated and much anticipated draft, with new GM Bill Zito at the helm, the Panthers will choose 12th overall courtesy of their qualifying round exit at the hands of the highly structured and possibly underrated New York Islanders.
With the goalkeeper position secure, presumably for the next decade, the Panthers - whose prospect pool is not exactly bursting at the seams - can not only focus on future skaters, but will be able to simply draft the best player available, regardless of position.
With very little consensus on rankings, I was able to research enough footage to determine who may be available by the time the Panthers brass will step up to the mic, or given the current climate, more likely perhaps the videoconferencing laptop.
Unlike last year, where prior to the 2019 draft I listed my top 31 forwards and a rundown of the top defensemen and goalies available, this year I’ve chosen to simply use NHL’s Central Scouting consensus rankings to list the players that will have the greatest or likeliest chance of being available by the time the Panthers pick #12, starting with the least likely.
Alexander Holtz: #2 European prospect per Central Scouting
International mainstay and standout for Sweden. Gifted scorer with a smooth stride, brings shooters mentality with above average playmaking ability. Still raw when playing against older competition, but with a solid 6’0”, 180 lbs frame, should continue to develop and be a quality if not high-end goal-scorer and point producer. Projects as classic top 6 winger and power play mainstay from the left half wall as a right handed shooter, especially once established on North American ice. Comparable style to Phil Kessel.
After scoring 7 goals and 9 points in only three games (yes, three games, not a typo) for his 2019-20 J20 SuperElit team, he was whisked away to the top level Swedish Hockey League, where he put up 9 goals and 16 points in 35 games. His .46 points per game actually had ranked fourth on his team. Those are very impressive numbers given his age and limited role. Don’t want to say he’s one dimensional because he does have playmaking ability, but scoring goals will most likely be his forte.
Anton Lundell: #3 European prospect per Central Scouting
Forceful center and skater with 6’1” 187 lbs stature, above average skill and shooting ability, has decent top end speed but will need better acceleration on North American ice. Overall brings a quality power forward element to the center position while also possessing quality vision, hands, and an accurate shot with velocity. Could be moved to left wing at AHL/NHL level where his frame and skill set could be leveraged to complement a speedier center. Can see him playing on this side of the Atlantic sooner rather than later.
After playing his way out of the Finnish U20 junior league in 2018-19 with 6 goals and 9 assists in 10 games, put up 9 goals and 19 points in 38 games in the top-level Liiga, and then 10 goals and 28 points in 44 games this past season. Was top forward in plus/minus at +11, very impressive considering center responsibilities and being the youngest player on the roster, and his .64 points per game is a noticeable stat for his age.
Lucas Raymond: #4 European prospect per Central Scouting
Not too dissimilar to Holtz, although perhaps more of a playmaking bend to compliment his highly developed shooting abilities. Although only listed at 5’10”, 183 lbs, plays bigger with more reach than one would expect. Possessing and protecting the puck is a strong suit, as is his patience allowing for plays to develop so his vision and passing touch can be put to use. Much like Holtz, Raymond has an accurate shot with velocity and will be a power play mainstay and top 6 fixture on the wing and half wall. Reminds me of a smaller and maybe less powerful Laine when shooting (when Laine was draft eligible), while also having patient playmaking abilities. Probably could use another season in SHL playing against older competition before making the jump to North America.
After leading his 2018-19 SuperElit J20 team in goals and points per game with 13 goals and 48 points in 37 games, was promoted to the top SHL in 2019-20 and held his own with 4 goals and 6 assists in 33 games in a limited role. His .30 points per game was quite comparable to the vast majority of older players on the roster. The closest player in age who produced more was highly regarded Los Angeles Kings prospect Samuel Fagemo (2019 2nd round pick and leading goal and point scorer in 2019-20 WJC) who had 13 goals and 22 points in 42 games.
Jake Sanderson: #4 North American prospect per Central Scouting
If it’s a silky smooth all around defenseman you seek, a silky smooth all around defenseman is what you’ll get with Sanderson. Good size at 6’1”, 185 lbs, natural skating ability and stride, accelerates with ease while closing gaps and shutting down angles. Although he has the ability and speed to push the pace, plays with composure and within himself while understanding where his support and outlets exist. High IQ defender with passing ability and vision who is capable along the boards and in open ice, has powerful shooting ability from the point, and an accurate wrister when time and space is available. Was captain and leading scorer among d-men on his USNDT squad with 7 goals and 29 points in 47 games.
Offensively will remind some of Zach Werenski, however defensively, although he hasn’t played for North Dakota yet, seems to have a higher compete level at this stage of their development.
Cole Perfetti: #5 North American prospect per Central Scouting
Standout center and effortless skater with high end vision, hands, playmaking and finishing ability, while also maintaining a high compete level. Have no doubt, if he was taller than his current 5’10” stature, he would not be on this list, he’d be a top 5 overall pick without question.
However, even if he’s not the prototypical 6’3” 1C that teams look for this high in the draft, given his solid 185 lbs base, is highly effective up and down the ice. From supporting his defensemen to making his wingers better by using his speed to create more space, Perfetti is a highly entertaining and at times, mesmerizing playmaking center. Overall one of my favorite prospects that I’ve had a chance to research. Long term, depending on the team he’s on, could possibly slide to the wing. But, you can win with him at center, where he possesses traits not too dissimilar to Mathew Barzal.
After having a stellar 1st season in the OHL with 37 goals and 74 points in 63 games, followed up with a campaign that firmly placed him as the 2nd leading point scorer with 37 goals and 111 points in 61 games. Overall was 6th points per game, however was 2nd in points per game among draft eligible peers (only trailing Marco Rossi and tied with Quinton Byfield. #6 and #2 respectively in NA rankings). Let that sink in.
Jack Quinn: #7 North American prospect per Central Scouting
While Perfetti brings the mesmerizing puck control skill set from the center position, Jack Quinn brings an explosive display of skill and deft finish from the right wing position. Entertaining and dynamic when at full speed with an opening in sight. High end stick handling, dangling and finishing ability while also not shying away the middle or net front area. Most importantly and noticeable, doesn’t require a lot of room to make high difficulty plays or get shots off upstairs over a goalies shoulder while in tight. Can stop, pop and rip it past a defender and goalie, or change his shooting angle at full speed to deceive the keeper. Accuracy and velocity seems to come naturally, but isn’t one dimensional, can buy time and create while seeing the ice.
At 5’11” and 176 lbs, has a good base to fill out and build from. But, much like any top 6 skill oriented prospect, will need to acclimate to bigger and better defenders. Once he recognizes when time and space is and isn’t available at the NHL level, can be highly effective and productive.
While sharing the ice with Marco Rossi, led his team in goal scoring by a country mile with 52 in 62 games (Rossi had 39 in 56) and was 3rd on his team in scoring with only Rossi, and a 21 -year-old, ahead of him. However, if anyone thinks Quinn padded his stats by playing with Rossi, I believe Rossi that would be the first to say that his gaudy assist total benefited from Quinn’s finishing ability and touch as well. Overall was 8th in points in the OHL while being the leading goal scorer and 3rd in points among draft eligible age peers (only trailing Rossi and Perfetti).
Kaiden Guhle: #8 North American prospect per Central Scouting
Size, skating, physical presence, composure and capable with the puck. At 6’3” and 187 lbs, this left-handed shooting defenseman can do a little bit of everything up and down the ice. Projects as a second pairing and penalty kill mainstay, can be utilized to shutdown the opposition or if paired with a dynamic puck mover, can hold the fort while picking his spots to chip in. Forwards will be forced to keep their heads up in open ice, as well as when he’s holding lines and pinching down the wall. Adept passer, good feel for getting shots through traffic and quite fleet of foot and shifty for his size.
Power play fixture and half wall shooter for his Prince Albert WHL team, however at this stage, it’s questionable if he’ll be on a PP unit at the pro level. Big jump in production in his second full season, from 3 goals and 17 points and +17 in his first full season to 11 goals and 40 points and +23 as leading scorer among defensemen on his team. Was also captain of Canada’s U17 red squad.
Connor Zary: #15 North American prospect per Central Scouting
At 6’0” and 181 lbs, has a quality base to work with as he continues his development. But his best attribute (similar to Guhle above) is that he doesn’t have a noticeable flaw. Displays above average to quality competence in all aspects. Isn’t a speed demon but is shifty with good jump, doesn’t necessarily have the hands or dynamic touch that Quinn has, but has excellent vision, anticipation, accurate shooting and passing ability, while also bringing a sound 200-foot game that supports the defense and creates for his wingers. Projects as a possible 2C that compliments speedy wingers with touch, or at least a reliable 3C that can be opportunistic offensively while holding serve defensively.
Seasoned in the WHL with three full seasons (not common for draft eligible players so clearly proved his worth from a younger than usual age). Goal scoring prowess jumped from 24 in 63 games to 38 in 57 in his draft year. Also quite noticeable and impressive that he led his team in points per game the past two seasons while also being a team plus/minus leader both seasons.
Was second overall in points in both seasons, with only a 21 and 20-year-old being 1st and 3rd this season in 6 fewer games due to Canada U18 commitments (5 fewer games in previous season). Acquitted himself quite well while representing Canada with 4 goals and 7 points in 7 games, was 5th leading scorer, 3rd leading goal scorer with only 2019 1st round picks Peyton Krebs, Alex Newhook, Dylan Cozens, and 2nd round pick Jamieson Rees, ahead of him.
(Central Scouting had a few winger ranked ahead of him, but chose to focus on Zary for this list due him playing a higher value center position, and based on what I saw)
Although no one asked (or maybe even cares), if someone were to ask for my personal preferences and rankings from this group, they would be:
Out of this group I have Quinn, Sanderson and Perfetti in a three horse race and a cut above the others. However, could easily make a case for Sanderson and Perfetti being ahead of Quinn.
For the next trio, there’s no doubt that Raymond and Holtz ooze potential and project to be productive offensive wingers once they fill out and acclimate to North Ameican ice. Lundell could be a thoroughbred center if he develops more burst and jump, but if some view him as a winger down the road, maybe the 12th pick is a bit rich.
Rounding out the list, although Zary and Guhle are on the perimeter of this group, not only will teams value what they bring to the table, their skill sets and competitive nature are most definitely necessary components to any winning team. (Roland Ulanovsky)