Florida Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon talks about the Panthers’ “Blueprint” on a regular basis. He talks about how the blueprint is a longterm plan and events that happen on a season by season basis do not change the desired outcome that this blueprint will produce: i.e. building a team that can consistently compete for the Stanley Cup.
When the Panthers surprised everybody and won the Southeast Division in 2011-12, Tallon made it clear that the blueprint was ahead of schedule. The Panthers’ abysmal 2013 season demonstrated the tenuous structure that accounted for 2012′s success, but the blueprint remains the same. Last season can be looked at as a transition year of sorts, the Panthers moved from older goalies to a young unproven net minder, and a roster that was flush with veterans at the beginning of the season ended the year green and baby faced.
The big question going into this offseason, what is the next step in the blueprint? Here is a quick preview of what to expect from the Florida Panthers in the upcoming months.
The Florida Panthers finished the 2013 season with the worst record in the league, a distinction that gave them the highest chance to win the NHL Draft Lottery and claim the number one pick. Unfortunately, the balls did not bounce in the Panthers’ favor and their pick was usurped by the team with the second best chance of winning the lottery, the Colorado Avalanche.
The Colorado Avalanche will most likely use that pick to draft defenseman who has been the consensus best player available, however, the Avalanche organization has recently thrown fuel onto the speculation fires by claiming they are not so sure that Jones is their guy at number one. While this could just be the Avalanche playing games with the rest of the league, it is not uncommon to see a player slip after scouts take the time to do their evaluations.
After Jones, center Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Jonathan Drouin round out the top three, according to Central Scouting. If the Colorado Avalanche are to be believed, any one of these players could go in the top three. That means the Panther’s pick is largely up in the air but what is for sure is, barring a trade, one of these three players will be picked by the Panthers.
So what player is the best fit for the Panthers? I think Seth Jones would be an ideal fit for Florida. The Panthers have a wealth of talented forwards in their system and if only half of them reach their potential, the Panthers will still have a potent offense for years to come. Florida is rich with talent on the defensive end but they do not have any prospect who’s ceiling is as high as Jones’ is. Jones has the potential to develop into a Nicklas Lidstrom type defender. The Panthers thought they were getting a defensive anchor when they drafted Erik Gudbranson but while his development is still in its infancy, it is looking more and more like Gudbranson may be a top four guy but not a one or two on a good hockey team.
All of this is not to say that the Panthers would not be ecstatic to get another high end offensive player. If Jones in not available at number two, Florida will be happy to add either MacKinnon or Drouin to their stable of talented forwards. MacKinnon the center is ranked second by Central Scouting despite the fact that as teammates, Drouin scored nine more goals and 30 more points while playing in only five more games.
Here is what Central Scouting had to say about the top three players in their rankings:
“Nate MacKinnon is a right-handed centerman that can play in any area of the ice,” Central Scouting’s David Gregory said. “With the way he thinks the game, there would seem to be a huge ceiling for this kid and what he can become. Drouin couldn’t have done anything more to push the envelope against MacKinnon and Seth Jones, so that’s as tight a gap as you’ll ever get between first and third. If you’re picking No. 1, 2 or 3, you’re a happy team.”
At this point, picks one through three seem to close to call. As scouting is such an inexact science, making a definitive statement regarding which player is the best, is next to impossible at this point. While all three are neck and neck now, one player is destined to go down in history as the worst of the trio (worst being used relatively obviously, as all three could become hall of famers or all three could be colossal busts) while one is destined to go down as the best. The objective then is simple, pick the player who will have the best career. Obviously that is much easier said than done.