The Panthers won the draft lottery, but with no clear-cut top prospect this season, would they be better in trading down with a desperate team and getting more in return?
Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is sitting in the cat-bird seat right now. His team won the draft lottery, giving the Cats the first pick overall in 2014 and now apparently, he's open to the idea of trading that top selection. This class has no dominant name, but instead a group of four or five that promise to be very good NHLers.
But there's only one defenseman in that crop and he's the reason Edmonton and Calgary would be interesting trade partners for the Panthers. The Oilers have the most desperation for Barrie Colts star Aaron Ekblad, as Edmonton currently has no one resembling a No. 1 defenseman on its payroll. Could Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse be that top guy one day? Sure, but it won't be this year and it won't be next year – blueliners need time. Ekblad is a "plug and play" guy for scouts and even though you wouldn't want him playing 24 minutes a night as a rookie, he would at least come in and contribute. While none of the three are guaranteed to be potent NHLers, adding Ekblad to the ranks dramatically increases the chance of getting that top blueliner in the organization.
In Calgary, the situation is less dire. The Flames rebuild is looking good so far, though the bulk of the talent is up front. Mark Giordano is the unquestioned No. 1 and in fact, the only question surrounding him this year was "how come that guy didn't get more Norris love?" Then there's 23-year-old T.J. Brodie, who has grown leaps and bounds in a short amount of time. But there's still a need for depth and Ekblad would be great, especially since he could slide in on the second or third pairing to get his feet wet. If the Flames traded up from the fourth slot to get Ekblad, there would also be the extra satisfaction of taking him away from their hated rivals in Edmonton, which I'm sure Calgary fans would enjoy very much.
The best part about this situation for Florida is that the Panthers are deficient in any particular area. Obviously the current roster needs improvement, but the Cats have veterans such as Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski on defense, plus a stable of good futures in college kids such as Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen and Michael Downing.
Up front, your top two centers of the very near future are Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, with Jonathan Huberdeau on the wing and Drew Shore and Vincent Trocheck among the other talented pieces.
And the Cats have Roberto Luongo in goal. This team needs an identity and maturity amongst the youngest contributors, but it's a decent situation. Plus, unlike in Edmonton, it's a little easier to convince free agents to play in Florida thanks to the climate. In the recent past, many agents feared their prospects would get drafted by the messy Panthers, but that was before Tallon took over.
If Florida keeps the pick and tabs Kingston's Sam Bennett, they get a character player who has been compared to Doug Gilmour – but bigger and faster – and can play wing. If they do trade down, they can still get an excellent forward; even with Bennett off the board, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl hold great promise while Michael Dal Colle is another excellent wing option.
So as long as the franchise's marketing team isn't invested in a "Seen Sam?" or "Ehhh, Ekblad!" campaign, Tallon has himself a feast of opportunity. Either get another great asset at the top, or trade down to get another great asset, plus another pick, prospect or player. Not a bad position to be in.