Who Should the Panthers Draft at No. 2?

By Bill Whitehead

“The Florida Panthers would like to congratulate the Chicago Blackhawks on winning the Stanley Cup and the city of Newark and the New Jersey Devils for their hospitality. And with the second pick in the 2013 NHL draft, the Florida Panthers are proud to select…”

Those are the words Florida general manager Dale Tallon will likely utter Sunday afternoon. What happens at the end of that sentence is anyone’s guess at this point. Unlike his counterparts from Denver selecting No. 1 overall, Tallon has been typically tight-lipped on which player will walk up and greet him onstage in Newark. However, he has made it clear that he expects to be shaking the hand of a top quality player — someone who will step right in and contribute when the season opens in October, not spend time honing his skills in juniors.

While Tallon hasn’t tipped his hand, Cats fans on this forum have made it perfectly clear what they want to do: Draft no worse than No. 2 and select the best talent available. In the poll included in this space last week, fans of Red Rising decided the right move is to stay in the second spot — or even try to move up. Fifty-six percent wanted the Cats to stand pat while 30 percent felt the club should try to sweeten a deal and swap picks with Colorado, so 86 percent want Florida to draft first or second. The remaining votes were in favor of a scenario having Florida trading for a top player and/or prospect and drafting at a lower position.

Drafting first, of course, puts Tallon and company in position to take whoever they want, and “whoever they want” is probably center Nathan MacKinnon. Drafting second? Well, that gets a little more interesting. Defenseman Seth Jones, viewed as a dead solid lock at No. 1 for most of the past few months, has watched his stock plummet since MacKinnon and fellow offensive talent and Mooseheads teammate Jonathan Drouin beat Jones’ Portland club in the Memorial Cup. Then Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche  revealed part of their strategy by saying they would take a forward instead of Jones at No. 1.

Many in the sport think the Avs are putting up a smokescreen to drum up deals. And some organizations have already come calling. Calgary reportedly offered all three of its first-round picks for the first overall but was turned down by Colorado. Craig MacTavish, the new GM at Edmonton, might be willing to make a splash by dealing a top six forward and/or a prospect and the No. 7 selection for Jones. Only Carolina, at No. 5, has made it clear it’s more prone to trading down rather than up.

Then there’s Nashville. The Predators sit at No. 4, which most consider the starting point of stepping off after the Big 3 of MacKinnon, Jones and Drouin. Nashville GM David Poile made his opinion of the draft, particularly Jones, known earlier this week:

“(Jones is) the whole package,” Poile stated to Smashville247.net. “He has size, he’s got great skating, offensive abilities – he could be a Norris Trophy winner. That’s not to say the other guys couldn’t equally be as good, but right now that’s how I would have him, as the best player in the draft.”

If Nashville likes Jones that much, it’s not out of the question that the Preds could attempt to strike a deal with the Avs and get him at No. 1. Or Nashville could hope to get lucky and see if Jones would fall past Florida and Tampa Bay and into the fourth spot. Looking for high-end quality rather than a solid player, the Panthers could be offensive-minded in this draft (at least with their first pick but would probably love to see a blueliner like Shea Theodore at No. 31 with their second pick), but the Lightning would feel like they hit the jackpot if Jones were there at No. 3. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Nashville, a frequent trading partner with Florida, could forge a deal with the Cats.

However, with Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier being bought out on Thursday, maybe center is a bigger need, though the Bolts have prospects Tyler Johnson and Vlad Namestnikov pushing for ice time. Tampa’s need at center could lead them right to Finland’s Aleksander Barkov, a 17-year-old power forward who was outstanding while playing against men in the premier Finnish league and is the top-ranked European skater by most scouting services.

It’s your call and a simple question: If the Cats stay at No. 2 and Nathan MacKinnon is off the board after being chosen by Colorado at No. 1, who would your pick be?

Your comments and feedback are appreciated!

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