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Panthers will make five picks in 2024 NHL Entry Draft, but none tonight

Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The brass of the Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers are in Las Vegas for the 2024 NHL Entry Draft at the fabulous Sphere. By virtue of winning Lord Stanley’s old silver mug, the Cats are slotted at 32nd in each round, except the second which contains an extra compensatory pick.

Barring trade, the Panthers will not make a selection in tonight’s first round. They will get down to business tomorrow as they are currently armed with five second-day picks.

The Philadelphia Flyers hold Florida’s first round pick as part of the big trade that briefly landed Claude Giroux in South Florida. Los Gatos are also without a second round selection (65th overall) as that belongs to the nascent Utah Hockey Club, thanks to the July 26, 2021 transaction that sent Anton Stralman and prospect Vladislav Kolyachonok to the now inactive Arizona Coyotes for a seventh round pick that was used on dynamic Russian winger Stepan Zvyagin.

So, unless general manager Bill Zito works a deal, the Cats won’t make a selection until the final pick of the third round (97th overall). Florida’s also has its own picks in the fourth round (129th overall), sixth round (193rd overall) and seventh round (225th overall).

While Zito traded away Florida’s fifth round pick (161st overall) to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the package to acquire Kyle Okposo, the Cats will still get to pick in this round. They acquired the Flyers fifth-rounder (141st overall) as part of the aforementioned Giroux trade that saw Owen Tippett and a third-rounder in 2023 go to Philadelphia and spare parts Connor Bunnaman and German Rubstov join the Charlotte Checkers.

So, those are picks. What needs do the Panthers have to address with them, especially considering they don’t have a first or second pick to work with? I’ll hand it off to Zim for an assessment.

Skill: There is no denying that the Panthers organizational depth chart is lacking in high-end skill. Mackie Samoskevich’s first professional season yielded a promising 22-goal, 54-point campaign in 62 games and Sandis Vilmanis’ maniacal run after being traded in the OHL — 36 goals in 40 games including playoffs with North Bay after scoring just 10 in 30 games with Sarnia — upped Florida’s value in the skill department, but the Cats system still doesn’t have any projectible top line forward talent or top pairing defensemen in the system. Zito and his scouting department are going to have a difficult time filling the coffers with skill players with no first day picks and low round ownership selections. However, the Panthers took a few high skill risk picks last season with Gracyn Sawchyn and Stepan Zvyagin, so don’t be surprised if they call some project puck skill players while at the podium this weekend.

Center: The Panthers do not have one bonafide center prospect in the organization currently. This isn’t an immediate need with Aleksander Barkov locked up long-term, Sam Bennett still under contract, and Anton Lundell only now getting his first crack at restricted free agency. Still, players that can play center — like Justin Sourdif, Sawchyn, or Wilmer Skoog — are much different than players that actually project as professional centermen. Given Florida’s lack of top round selections, Zito may target a few centers outside of Canada to project a longer development curve. NCAA and European centers that can slow cook in overseas leagues or strong collegiate programs would be sound targets for the Panthers’ scouting department. Jack Devine isn’t a center, but that should be the model for the type of selection the Cats target to add center depth to the organization.

Defense: The Panthers do not have a single blue chip defenseman in the system. There are plenty of guys that show some NHL-level skills or attributes — Marek Alscher’s puck-carrying, Evan Nause’s size and reach, Ludvig Jansson’s skating ability — but not one Florida defense prospect appears on a clear path to play NHL games. Defensemen generally take a slower, gradual path towards developing into NHL players, so a volume approach to building depth on the blueline is pretty much the only option Zito has at the moment. Expect to see the Panthers prioritize defensemen with at least one high upside quality. That could be size, offense, skating, or competitiveness. Zito has an affinity for mid-sized defenders that show some feistiness, so the Cats may target a blueliner or two in the lower rounds that is known for physicality.

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