The 2009 NHL draft is now just 2 short days away, and the Florida Panthers will be looking for not just a new addition to their slowly improving farm system, but maybe, just maybe, find that coal mine that will become a diamond before our eyes. (OK, I know I probably stretched that one, too bad)
The Panthers currently, and I stress currently, hold the 14th, 44th, 135th, and 165th picks. Their 3rd, 4th, and 7th round picks have all been traded away prior. Now what picks Florida will actually make remains to be seen, as there is that Bouwmeester character still on Florida's roster. The likelihood is that he, or rather "negotiating rights," will be traded away before Friday, and draft pick or picks might be coming back, but until that happens, we'll just focus on what we know.
Florida's "needs" are not hard to figure out. They need a top line scorer and depth on the blueline. I don't pretend to have any inside sources or inside information, so this is just a look at who might be available by the time the 14th pick rolls around (because let's be honest, will you still be watching by pick 44?)
Should the Panthers look to add a defender, Jared Cowen might warrant a look. While he has top 10 talent, a knee injury in February cut his last season short, and added some questions as to the durability of the 18 year old. Should he still be available at #14, the Panthers would have to take a long look. He stands an impressive 6'5", 218 lbs, so physicality shouldn't be a problem. This could be a guy worth moving up for.
Another defender who could slip out of the top 10 and into the Panthers' lap is Swedish-born David Rundbland. Think mini Jay Bo (and by mini, I mean only 6'2", 200 lbs). While he's a bit smaller than Cowen, Rundbland is a more fluid skater and more offensive minded. Given a year in Rochester (perhaps filling in for the could-be promoted Keaton Ellerby?), his defensive play should mature and he could be a steal at #14.
And then there's the USHL defenseman of the year, John Moore. A bit slighter frame than Rundbland and Cowen, Moore looks like he might need the most time to develop out of these 3. His skating is his strongest attribute, but at only 190 lbs, he might be a few years away from being able to handle the bigger, stronger, faster NHL forwards.
If the Cats are hoping to find a pure scorer in the uncertainty of the draft, a good candidate for the #14 pick might be London, Ontario native Nazem Kadri. He's listed as a center, which is obviously a shortage in Pantherland. A couple of seasons in Rochester to allow him to fill out might be all that's needed for Kadri to become an elite playmaker in the NHL. Lightning quickness and great vision are reasons to watch him come draft day.
The antithesis of Kadri might be Carter Ashton. While Kadri stands at a dainty 5'11", 175 lbs, Ashton is a brute at 6'4", 212 lbs. He might not be as flashy a scorer, but his strength and grind is more than enough for him to be a bona fide scorer in the NHL, once his talent catches up with his body.
A final forward to look at is Jeremy Morin. He is a pure scorer with an attitude. He was the top threat for the US U18 Development team and if he decides to become a complete player, he would be a nice pickup. Questions about his defensive ability are his biggest downside, but he could easily round out into a top line scorer.
Of course, there are certainly other options that are available or could come available depending on what happens in the next 48 hours. For a full list of draft prospects, please visit our friend and fellow Hockey Writer Chris Ralph's extensive preview. If the Panthers are able to snag one of these six, it'd be a nice step in getting this team back into the postseason. Stay tuned...