Florida Panthers: Evaluating Their 2019 Draft

The Florida Panthers went into the 2019 National Hockey League Entry Draft in Vancouver with the 13th overall pick and came out with nine new names in their depth chart. 

 

Overall, the best word to describe the Panthers’ performance in Vancouver is: okay. Just okay.  Nothing phenomenal, nothing crippling.  Just… okay.  Personally, I am a big proponent of drafting the best available talent, but General Manager Dale Tallon and co. clearly went into the draft with team needs on their minds.  A team that struggled defensively and in net invested heavily in their own end with this draft; the Panthers only used one of their first five picks on a forward but tried to stock the cabinets in the later rounds.  So how did they do with each pick?

 

Round 1, Pick 13: Spencer Knight, G (US National U18 Team)

 

Spencer Knight was not just the top goalie prospect in this year’s draft, but one of the best goalie prospects the NHL has seen in a long time.  That said, drafting goalies is a very tricky business, as goalies are much harder to evaluate and generally take longer to develop. 

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The Panthers clearly wanted a defenseman with their first-round pick, but by the time they stepped up to the podium, Victor Soderstrom, Philip Broberg, and Moritz Seider were all off the board.  Tallon allegedly had some discussions with other GMs about trading down, but they proved fruitless and the Panthers ultimately used their given pick on Knight.  With the big-three defensemen off the board, I understand and am generally okay with the Panthers reaching a little bit for Knight.  Hopefully, he turns into every bit the franchise goalie that the analysts are projecting and the Panthers don’t regret passing on the likes of Cole Caufield and Peyton Krebs.

 

Pick feel: fine, given the circumstances

I would’ve picked: Cole Caufield

 

Round 2, Pick 52: Vladislav Kolyachonok, D (Flint Firebirds, OHL)

 

Drafted by the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and traded to the Flint Firebirds, Kolyachonok had 30 points in 54 games as a rookie defenseman in the OHL, in addition to scoring five points in five games as Belarus’ captian at the World U18 Championship.  The Panthers may have lost out on Broberg, Seider, and Soderstrom, but Kolyachonok, described as a responsible, two-way defenseman who excels at moving the puck and moving himself, immediately becomes the best defensive prospect in their system.

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Pick feel: great

I would’ve picked: Mikko Kokkonen

 

Round 3, Pick 69: John Ludvig, D (Portland Winterhawks, WHL)

 

Undrafted in 2018, John Ludvig’s second Western Hockey League season, while an improvement on his first, still left much to be desired.  The 6’1” defenseman is known more for fighting than scoring, having recorded more penalty minutes than points in each of his seasons with Portland so far.  Many mocks had him going in the seventh round, if at all, and nothing I have seen in any stat sheet or highlight reel justifies this pick to me either.  This was easily the worst pick the Panthers made in Vancouver and possibly one of the worst overall picks of the entire draft.

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Pick feel: not nice

I would’ve picked: nearly anyone else, but especially Mikko Kokkonen, who was STILL on the board.

 

Round 3, Pick 81: Cole Schwindt, W (Mississauga Steelheads, OHL)

 

The Panthers followed up their worst pick in the draft by making one of their better picks in the draft. The 17-year-old 6’2” forward Schwindt might not have lit the OHL up himself, but he is a very effective play driver at five-on-five.  In significant minutes, Schwindt had a massively positive impact on his teammates’ (including fellow Panthers prospect Owen Tippett) possession stats, which is a very good sign moving forward.

 

Pick feel: much better than the last one

I would’ve picked: STILL MIKKO KOKKONEN

 

Round 4, Pick 106: Carter Berger, D (Victoria Grizzlies, BCHL)

 

The last of the defensemen with whom Florida left Vancouver, Berger is a skilled, though over-aged, defenseman.  He notched 27 goals and 36 assists (63 points) in his second draft-eligible season and is set to move up to the NCAA and play for UCONN this coming season.

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Pick feel: no strong feelings one way or the other

I would’ve picked: Antti Saarela

 

Round 5, Pick 136: Henrik Rybinski, W (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)

 

If any of the Panthers’ draft picks is eventually described as a diamond in the rough, it will be Hank Rybinski.  Rybinski began this season very slowly with the Medicine Hat Tigers, but exploded onto the scene after a trade to the Seattle Thunderbirds.  The 17-year-old finished his WHL season with 40 points in 47 games, but was a point-per-game player for Seattle.  Rybinski is strong on the puck, but is certainly more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer himself.  If Seattle continues to use him in more significant ice time, his development could be a pleasant surprise.

 

Pick feel: unreasonably excited for a fifth-rounder

I would’ve picked: Henrik Rybinski too.  Good job, team.

 

Round 5, Pick 137: Owen Lindmark, C (US National U18 Team)

 

The second American-born player that the Panthers drafted over the weekend will follow up a 14-point USHL and 25-point USDP campaign by playing at the University of Wisconsin this coming season. A reasonably sound winger, Lindmark did not particularly wow anybody in any facet of the game, but he didn’t cause much disruption either.

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Pick feel: good enough, he just seems happy to be involved

I would’ve picked: Mason Primeau if you really twisted my arm about it.

 

Round 6, Pick 168: Greg Meireles, C (Kitchener Rangers, OHL)/Round 7, Pick 199: Matthew Wedman, C (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)

 

I am going to lump Meireles and Wedman in with each other because the things I have to say about both are strikingly similar.  Both Meireles and Wedman are 20 years old and just completed their third season of draft eligibility.  Both outperformed their previous career highs by significant margins.  Meireles finished 10th in points in the OHL and Wedman 20th in the WHL, but that should be expected, given their age, development, and experience.  I certainly don’t hate taking a flyer on a pair of potential late-bloomers in the sixth/seventh round.

 

Pick feel: *shrug emoji*

I would’ve picked: Michael Gildon both times

Statistics provided by hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

OHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

OHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

With spring right around the corner, that means it is time for some playoff hockey. Teams have fought all season to get a chance to simply compete for a chance to make it to the OHL Finals, but that means they will have to go through the best teams in the league to get there. The West may have some one-sided series, but some may surprise experts and fans alike.

(1) London Knights vs. (8) Windsor Spitfires

Surprise, surprise, the London Knights are great again. Once again, Dale Hunter has been able to assemble a team that is a favourite to make it to the Memorial Cup. It has been the performance of Kevin Hancock that has been what Knights’ fans have been talking about. The former Owen Sound centreman has been incredible this season, with his 107 points putting him fifth in league scoring. The Knights also have two of the best defencemen in the league as well in Adam Boqvist and Evan Bouchard. Boqvist finished the regular season +12 and sixth in defenceman scoring with 60 points. After being sent back from Edmonton, Bouchard totaled 53 points in only 45 games.

The Spitfires clinched a playoff spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season, despite only winning one of their final 10 games. Despite the fact, the Spitfires have a lot of young talent on this roster. Jean-Luc Foudy (brother of London’s Liam Foudy) and Will Cuylle have been impressive in their rookie campaigns. Cuylle’s 41 points is seventh among first-years, while Foudy has been one of the best playmakers in the Windsor lineup, with his 41 assists being the most among newcomers, and 49 points sitting him fifth in rookie scoring.

It is difficult to look past the veteran talent that London has compared to Windsor’s youth and inexperience. Had it been last year with Michael DiPietro in net for the Spitfires, this series may be a different story. You’ll see a lot of compete from Windsor, but the Knights’ depth will prove too much.

My Pick

In front of the home crowd in Windsor the kids will flourish, but only for one night, Knights in five. 

(2) Saginaw Spirit vs. (7) Sarnia Sting

The Sting at some points this season have struggled mightily. This includes a rough stretch after the New Year, where Sarnia lost 10 of 11 contests. Despite the adversity, the Sting were able to hold it together to clinch a playoff spot in the final weekend of the season. While Hugo Leufvenius and Ryan McGregor have been the top dogs in scoring for the Sting, rookie Jacob Perreault and defenceman Mitch Eliot have been just as impressive. Eliot finished 10th in defencemen scoring with 55 points, while Perreault’s 55 points placed him fourth in rookie scoring. 

Saginaw made a big change at the deadline to bolster their roster, and boy did it pay off. GM Dave Drinkill traded for Mississauga’s Ryan McLeod and Owen Tippett just days apart, and the two instantly became big time players for Saginaw. Tippett tied for the team lead in scoring with 74 points. The person he tied with, Cole Perfetti, is odds on favourite to win rookie of the year, with his 74 points atop the rookie charts. Bode Wilde has been a key part to the power play for the Spirit this season, and his 70 points are third among OHL defencemen.

Despite the Sting showing a lot of grit to earn a spot in the postseason, their inconsistent play is what will hurt them again in this series. The Spirit have a lot of confidence, and a lot talent up and down the roster to control this series, and their netminder, Ivan Prosvetov, has been one of the best in the league. That said, home ice will be key, as the home team won four of the six games in the regular season series.

My Pick

The Sting just don’t look like they have enough in the tank, Spirit in four.

(3) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. (6) Owen Sound Attack

The Greyhounds, for the third year in a row, have home ice in the first round of the playoffs, and deservedly so. With players like Barrett Hayton, Cole MacKay and Jordan Sambrook as your “depth scoring” the Soo have a lot to be optimistic about this spring. Mac Hollowell has only improved since being drafted by Toronto. He led all OHL d-men in scoring with 77 points, which includes a nine-game point streak in February. You could not talk about the Greyhounds without mentioning Morgan Frost. Frost was dominant from game one on this season, and his 109 points was tied for third in league scoring.

The Attack are a team that most should be admiring heading into the playoffs. After off-loading a massive amount of talent, they still were able to earn a spot in the postseason. Aidan Dudas has been the top-dog for the Attack since Nick Suzuki was traded. The Los Angeles prospect finished the season with 62 points, leading Owen Sound in scoring. Barrett Kirwin has been a good pickup from Guelph. With increased ice time with his new team, he scored 22 points in 29 games with the Attack. Look to see how Maksim Sushko and Adam McMaster are on the power play as well as 5-on-5, as they finished tied for second in team scoring with 51 points.

Despite the heart Owen Sound has, it may not be enough to hang with the Greyhounds. Goaltending-wise, the Attack are heavily outmatched, as Matthew Villalta has been solid for the Soo this season, while Mack Guzda has had his share of struggles throughout the year. 

My Pick

It’s hard to see the offence of the Soo slow down against the weaker Attack, Greyhounds in five.

(4) Guelph Storm vs. (5) Kitchener Rangers

Talk about a team that went for broke, Guelph knows the time is now if the team wants to win a championship. That’s why GM George Burnett went out and bought, and bought hard. The Storm acquired players such as Markus Phillips, Fedor Gordeev, Sean Durzi, Mackenzie Entwistle, and Nick Suzuki. The team has struggled to keep up with the top dogs in the West, but have certainly shown they are not a team to be messed with. Despite all the acquisitions, Nate Schnarr still led the team in points, and finished tied for the sixth in league scoring with 102 points.

Kitchener comes into this series playing decent hockey, winning seven of their final 11 games. They have a good amount of scoring towards the top-end of the roster with five 70+ point scorers. However, that is all they have, because no other Ranger has any more than 30 points. Joseph Garreffa and Riley Damiani are going to be in the spotlight, especially since they are two of the biggest setup guys on the team. Each have 55 helpers, which is tied for 10th in the league in assists. Greg Meireles will have to be on his A game. Kitchener’s leading scorer finished with 97 points this season, which is 10th in league scoring.

Despite them being the two closest seeds, the Rangers and Storm still finished 18 points apart. The Storm sure have the deeper roster, and the better goaltender in Anthony Popovich. Despite vastly different amount of talent, the Rangers have held their own against the Storm, as both teams have won four of the eight meetings this year between the two rivals, with Kitchener winning the last meeting on March 10th. 

My Pick

Even though Guelph is the better team on paper, Kitchener will be up to the challenge against their Highway 7 foes. With Durzi questionable to start this series, and the Rangers giving everything they have, Kitchener will upset the Storm in seven.

All statistics and records found from the OHL and Elite Prospects.