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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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