Rumor Roundup: Panthers’ plans for No. 1 pick; Ryan Miller’s future; and a Ryan Kesler trade

Ryan Kesler (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ryan Kesler (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The opening round of the NHL Draft is over a month away but speculation is already brewing over what the Florida Panthers could do with the first-overall pick. USA Today’s Kevin Allen reports Panthers GM Dale Tallon isn’t ruling out trading that pick, admitting he’s already “had a few guys kicking the tires” and he anticipates more calls in the coming weeks.

Tallon said he’d like to add “a couple of top-notch defenders,” but Allen notes the Panthers GM could also use the pick to trade down in the draft order. He notes the Edmonton Oilers need to bolster their defense and could have interest in selecting promising Aaron Ekblad, but they’re picking third and Ekblad could be gone by then. Allen speculates they might contact the Panthers about swapping picks. He also wonders if the Oilers would consider moving young winger Nail Yakupov in a swap of players or draft picks.

The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson claims Tallon is interested in Swedish forward William Nylander, son of former NHL center Michael Nylander. Matheson suggests if Tallon believes Nylander might still be available later in the first round it could bring the New York Islanders (fifth overall), Vancouver Canucks (sixth) or Carolina Hurricanes (seventh) into the trade picture. The Panthers lack depth on the wings and blueline. If the Oilers won’t part with Yakupov in a swap for the first overall pick, Matheson feels winger David Perron might be attractive for the Panthers.

Perron’s tallied over 42 points four times in his seven-year NHL career, including career-highs in goals (28) and points (57) this season. The 25-year-old winger might be enticing for Tallon if packaged with the third overall pick, but the Panthers GM could push for Yakupov, especially if he gets good offers from other clubs.

Miller’s Crossroads

If soon-to-be free agent goalie Ryan Miller hopes to sign with the Anaheim Ducks or San Jose Sharks this summer he could be disappointed. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun cites a source claiming the Ducks intend to stick with their young tandem of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, while the Sharks prefer to add youth over veteran players.

NBC Sports’ Jason Brough cites Miller’s agent Mike Liut telling Vancouver radio station News 1130 his client’s desire to win a Stanley Cup will factor into where he signs. Liut also said the Canucks could be an option, noting their new GM Jim Benning was responsible for the Buffalo Sabres drafting Miller in the 1999 Entry Draft.

It remains to be seen what Benning’s plans are for the Canucks, whose current goalie tandem consists of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. He has a projected $11 million in cap space, with their core players under contract for next season. Benning could free up an additional $5 million by trading Ryan Kesler, though a chunk of those savings could be eaten up by whatever they get in return. He could also use his remaining compliance buyout on David Booth ($4.25 million cap hit). That could free up space to add Miller. Despite his reduced value, Miller could seek a multi-year deal worth over $5 million annually, which could prove too expensive for Benning.

If the Canucks, Ducks and Sharks are out of the picture, there aren’t many options for Miller. The Washington Capitals could be a destination but might stick with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Having re-signed Jaroslav Halak to a four-year, $18-million contract, the New York Islanders are out of the picture. The Minnesota Wild could carry Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper for 2014-15, while the Calgary Flames are expected to use Karri Ramo as their starter.

Where Is Kesler Headed?

Speaking of Ryan Kesler, there’s chatter over where the veteran center fits into Benning’s plans. The Vancouver Province’s Jason Botchford recently reported Kesler was willing to waive his no-trade clause for the Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the March trade deadline. Given the recent upheaval with the Penguins, Botchford wondered if Kesler is still willing to join them.

NBC Sports’ Brough doubts the Blackhawks have the cap space to take on Kesler. He considers the cost-conscious Avalanche an interesting trade choice. However, if they successfully re-sign both Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, they won’t have a need for Kesler.

The Lightning are stocked with promising young forwards and must bolster their blueline. They’re also focused on re-signing winger Ryan Callahan. The Red Wings are in the market for a right-handed defenseman and are also stocked with good young forwards.

That leaves the Penguins and Ducks, who expressed interest in Kesler leading up to the March trade deadline. Benning could be unwilling to ship the 29-year-old center to a Conference rival, but the Ducks have more depth in young assets than the Penguins.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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