On the Clock: Florida Panthers 2017

The Florida Panthers enter the 2017 NHL Draft under a lot of pressure. The last two years have seen all types of movement from the team, whether good or bad, causing much drama and headlines. After what appears (at this moment) to be a salary dump in the Expansion Draft, the Panthers draft provides opportunity to change the headline and conversation around their team.

A solid draft, especially their first two picks, would go a long way to stabilizing the media narrative and strengthening their bottom barrel prospect pool. Currently, the Panthers boast a probable top 6 C (Henrik Borgstrom), a possible top 6 winger (Adam Mascherin), graduating a possible Top 4 D (Ian McCoshen) and have a could be starting goalie prospect (Samuel Montembeault). Behind them, its mainly depth prospects. Meaning their needs are skilled hockey players in any position. However, their most notable need is a top flight scoring winger.

This is Tallon’s 7th draft with Florida. This is the first full draft year that the Prospect Cohort Success model team has had, running the scouting department all through regular season. Between Tallon’s experienced eye and PCS’s fuller and better data set–you have to expect an even better outcome than 2016 (which Whyhockey graded a B/B- on draft day last year). But one is reluctant to expect smooth sailing in this front office hodge-podge. However, if owners are kept away, the drafting process is Florida’s best process at the moment, and the one I trust the most.

The last time Florida picked around this spot in the first round they ended up with Lawson Crouse, and well we know how that ended up. I, for one, am nervous that situation arises at the 10th overall selection this year bypassing a stronger option.

As the fan who stood up holding an “Anyone But Crouse” sign at the BB&T Center that fateful first round, I must offer the same warning but with a longer list: Anyone but Tippett, and Rasmussen and Glass and Makar. The hype, the counting stats, the size–it’s a trap pick.

*I discuss more about why these players are trap picks at 10th overall when I joined Point to Point Hockey’s podcast earlier this week.*

Florida should take into consideration team need, and team fit. But above all, with their prospect pool– they should take the biggest potential skillset and player.

Companion Resources:

Whyhockey’s  2017 Draft Guide: 2017 Top 80 Skaters, Top 12 Goalies, First Round Mock Draft, 2018 Top 20, Makar and Pettersson extended profiles. It even has a table of contents and everything.

NHL Central Scouting’s Final Ranking.


 

Pick 1: 10th Overall
Best Player Available Best Fit Sleeper
1 Eeli Tolvanen Eeli Tolvanen Kristain Vesalainen
2 Lias Andersson Klim Kostin Lukas Elvenes
3 Elias Pettersson Lias Andersson Ivan Lodnia

Whyhockey’s Choice: RW, Klim Kostin  (Whyhockey Rank : #10)

Reasoning

This pick makes a lot of sense. Kostin is a huge top 3 talent in this draft. Right up there with Elias Pettersson and Casey Mittelstadt skillset wise challenging Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. He’s a RW that you’d expect to find on a top line. He creates goals–whether his own or for his teammates. He’s AHL eligible and close to NHL ready. NHL readiness, I think, will play into this decision more so after losing two wingers for next season and not having much financial leeway to replace all the open spots. Kostin is cheap high end wing talent. What is not to like?

Well, he may be available at ten because he hardly played any games this season and when he did, he barely played. That means PCS will have to model around his data to get a true sense of what his draft season numbers could have been. It means scouts have to weigh whether he missed any important development needed to hit his max ceiling. But Kostin is confident and has the ‘it’ fator you hope is still there at the last pick of the top 10.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Kostin go earlier, and the man who went to the Panthers in our Whyhockey Draft Guide mock draft, Eeli Tolvanen would be our next pick. Unfortunately, this may be unlikely. As we near closer to draft day, Tolvanen seems to be moving further and further back in drafts. Possibly the news that Boston College rejected his admission and he is now looking at a whole new development path (through Oshawa in the OHL, Finland, or the AHL) led to this. However, I could see that making Tolvanen more valuable to teams that don’t like their first round prospects in NCAA where the backdoor to free agency lives. Rather Tolvanen’s dings come from a perceived one dimensional aspect to his game. While he has work to do in that area, it’s a criticism that escapes other more one dimensional good old Canadian boys.

Kristian Vesalainen is a mix between the two. A Finnish shooter like Tolvanen, he possesses Kostin’s size and power forward game. Vesalainen also had a tough draft season, like Kostin, and couldn’t find ice time or the score sheet in both Finnish and Swedish pro league last year. Vesalainen finished the year strong for the Finnish team internationally and jump started the excitement around his name heading into the draft. He is an intriguing pick for Cats.

If Panthers want to make a Borgstrom of sorts type pick, look no further than Lukas Elvenes or Ivan Lodnia. Both of these players may be more realistic at 40 but that didnt stop the Panthers from grabbing their guy last year. Elvenes is one of the younger prospects and already has pro league experience. He’s an uber creative playmaker who can skate beautifully. Lodnia is a bulldog sniper who was hidden on a strong Erie team but is poised to be their top goal scorer next season. Lodnia has elite hands that assist his passing and shooting.


 

Pick 2: 40th Overall
Best Player Available Best Fit Sleeper
1 Jesper Boqvist Jesper Boqvist Olle Eriksson Ek
2 Aleksi Heponiemi Joni Ikonen Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
3 Robert Thomas Robin Salo Robin Salo

Whyhockey’s Choice: F Jesper Boqvist, Brynas (Whyhockey Rank : #19)

 

It may be hard to believe that Whyhockey’s 19th overall skater is still available at 40th overall selection. However, Whyhockey is much more bullish on European players than the league’s General Managers, and this year’s draft has less certainty and structure.  In a draft year where notable prognosticators like ESPN’s Corey Pronman have Devils selecting Cale Makar number 1, everything in the first round is a toss-up. It’s very likely that Boqvist should fall into the 2nd round but how far we will have to wait and see.

Boqvist got kick started in the middle of the year with a loan to Timra in Allsvenskan. Once back with Brynas in the SHL, his game really matured. Boqvist is a top end skater and passer who is starting to show signs of a goal scorer. Left hand shot who likes to come down the right side, Boqvist can play any forward position. If his killer instinct is nurtured a bit more, Boqvist could develop into a dual shooting and passing threat. His defensive work in-zone isn’t great but he forechecks well, so the defensive skillset to develop is there.

With only Samuel Montembeault in the prospect pool as a possible starter, it makes sense that Florida would be looking for high end goalies in this draft. If Florida thinks the prospect crop around the 40th pick lives up to the draft’s ‘weak’ moniker, they could be one of first teams to go in on goalies–giving themselves the pick of the litter. Eriksson Ek and Luukkonen are two such goalies the Panthers could stretch and take at 40. The biggest reward potential, either goalie would give the Panthers a hulking, European netminder who can develop outside their overcrowded minor league creases.

Don’t count out Robin Salo, a defender who produced well in Finnish pro league for his age. He’s steady and can play with different style partners. He won’t wow anyone, as he moves the puck quick and to his forwards simply. However, that’s exactly what forwards want and when they can expect pucks up quick, their transition and offensive game really take off. Salo makes good gap decisions and steps ups in the neutral zone to break up outlet passes.


 

Pick 3: 66th Overall
Best Player Available Best Fit Sleeper
1 Sebastian Walfridsson Alex Formenton Pavel Shen
2 Alex Formenton Sebastian Walfridsson Maksim Zhukov
3 Conor Timmins Conor Timmins Max Gildon

Whyhockey’s Choice: LW Alex Formenton, London (Whyhockey Rank : #54)

Panthers spent their 3rd rounder much the same way last year- picking Jon Ang a toolsy and athletic center whose point totals didn’t match the player you watched. However, Ang broke out in his draft+1 year when he was moved from bottom 6 to top 6. A year later the pick doesn’t look as risky. Florida could do the same drafting September birthday, young’n Alex Formenton. Formenton is a winger with an NHL size frame, above average skating and a solid shot. As he gets into the top 6 and top power play units regularly next year, Formenton will have more of a leadership role and his trajectory looks promising, probably a point per game or more.

However, that is not the pick I would make. As unlikely as it is, I would draft MODO defenseman Sebastian Walfridsson. The Swede defender is almost an after thought in this draft. Most scouting outfits have him in the high 100s, low 200s. But ISS has him #67. Whyhockey has him ranked 46, and I’ve seen a few more scouts peg him for 3rd or 4th round selection. It only takes one team to grab him, and without a 4th round-the Panthers could use the 66th pick to draft him.

Why doesn’t anyone notice Walfridsson? Look at his point totals. They are minuscule, even by Swedish junior league defender standards. Defenders who don’t produce points, especially in the CHL where most N. American scouts pay attention, usually never make it through to the NHL. And that is why teams aren’t interested much in Walfridsson. However, watching the kid play–his tools are real and valuable to an NHL team.

He skates exceeding well, he moves the puck quickly, and manages the game. Watching him in the SuperElit this year, Walfridsson was a perfect teammate and partner. It was smart play after smart play, quietly off the ice. Go back, get the puck, take a stride or two, move it to teammates tape. Rinse, repeat. In terms of style, Walfridsson looked like Jake Muzzin, or Anton Stralman. He’s a set-the-table type defenseman who is best to pair with a Drew Doughty or Aaron Ekblad carry the mail, offensive and aggressive right handed defenseman.

Maybe 66 is too early for him, maybe it is not. But I really wanted to go to bat for Walfridsson as I think he’s a great fit in Florida with what they are trying to build. It’s also time to start rebuilding the defensive prospect ranks and Walfridsson is one more chip in that direction. With a backlog of puck carrying defenseman, you need these types of defenders to balance.

Pavel Shen led first year eligible MHL players in points, and impressed internationally for Russian U-18s. It’s rumored he recently grew to six foot, but some just say his 5’9 listing is correct, he’s only six foot on skates. Shen is one of the highly creative and offensive forwards in the MHL waiting for an NHL team to give them a chance. He’s a sleeper you can see the Panther’s swipe given their PCS model.

 

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