By Bill Whitehead
It’s only been about 30 minutes since the NHL Draft Lottery was conducted, and I’ve got to admit one thing: I’m perfectly fine with the outcome, but only if the Florida Panthers stay where they are, which is picking No. 2 in the June 30 draft in Newark.
On Monday afternoon, Panther Parkway writer David Lasseter, a hockey enthusiast and avid music lover like myself, agreed with me that losing the draft lottery might not be the worst thing to happen to the Cats. A boatload of pressure comes along with picking No. 1 overall — Edmonton should be immune to that kind of stage fright by now — and one person close to the Panthers suggested to me that Florida might not have kept the top pick overall anyway. This source felt the Cats might succumb to the pressure and criticism and trade away the No. 1 selection.
News stories surfaced regarding that scenario.
A story in the Edmonton Journal stated new Oilers GM Craig MacTavish would try to make a splash by sending his club’s pick at No. 7, along with last year’s first selection Nail Yakupov, to the Panthers for their first choice. The speedy, flamboyant Yakupov was an interesting mention and might bring the kind of confident energy that borders on showboating to the Cats, but one soon wondered if former top selections Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be available in place of the 19-year-old Yakupov. Jordan Eberle, who has blossomed, was likely untouchable.
Well, forget that idea…I think.
In the moments leading up to the lottery, I tweeted the following:
Truly, I don’t think the league did anything nefarious in its lottery or rigged it against Florida, but it is ironic that the one team that had connections to consensus top pick Seth Jones is the kid’s hometown club, the Colorado Avalanche, who won the right to select him. Jones is viewed as a can’t-miss defenseman: gritty, athletic, offensive-minded, and ready to play in the NHL in October.
But is Jones, the son of former NBAer Popeye Jones, what the Cats need right now?
Florida has been missing an electrifying superstar scorer since Pavel Bure. Forwards Nathan MacKinnon (below, left) and Jonathan Drouin (right), likely the second and third picks in some order after Jones, are elite offensive players who could make an impact in Sunrise right away.
Center MacKinnon (5-11, 179) has blazing speed that is top shelf, plus he’s a creative playmaker who can also score. He’s not Steven Stamkos — let’s get that straight right away — but he’s been mentioned comparatively in the same sentence as Stammer by some. Call him Stammeresque in places, which led to 103 points in 56 games this season for Halifax. He also centered a line for Canada in the World Junior Championships in Russia last December. His left winger? A young man named Jonathan Huberdeau.
Left winger Drouin is a bigger version of Martin St. Louis, possessing incredible creativity and a sick pair of hands. Drouin played on a line with MacKinnon at Halifax this year and put up ridiculous numbers (133 points in 61 games) with MacKinnon centering him. Florida GM Dale Tallon was also recently in Halifax — maybe doing his homework or maybe just taking in some hockey that featured two prized prospects.
So it comes down to this: Does Florida want a No. 1 center who can create and get the most out of Huberdeau for the next 10 years or do they want another skillful French-Canadian winger who, along with Huberdeau, could baffle defensemen and embarrass goalies for a decade? Or does Florida trade out of that spot with someone who wants one of the two Halifax forwards, handing over a handsome bounty to Tallon and company in return?
Personally, I’ve liked MacKinnon from Day 1 over Jones, only because Florida is deep with young blueliners. Eric Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Alex Petrovic and T.J. Brennan comprise a promising defensive corps, with Colby Robak and Tyson Strachan a notch below and Michael Matheson, 2012’s top pick, waiting in the wings. So I’d take MacKinnon, call it a win and prepare for the blast of the goal horn more often, though the selection may end Stephen Weiss’s tenure with Florida.
Can Weiss honestly be put in front of centers Drew Shore, Marcel Goc, Nick Bjustad or Shawn Matthias, especially since he may be iffy coming off wrist surgery?
In a season full of losses, the Panthers may have appeared to have suffered another one on Monday night, but they didn’t. All they lost was Jones — if that’s who they truly wanted — or the bargaining power they would have had over Colorado, who covets Jones. And trust me when I say that Tallon, who drafted Patrick Kane first overall in 2007, would have found out how badly the Avalanche wanted Jones. He would have plumbed that depth.
The Cats didn’t lose at the draft lottery.