The Panthers entered the 2017 draft in an interesting situation. To the surprise of many (including myself), Florida chose to expose their leading goal scorer from last season in Jonathan Marchessault, and proceeded to trade another of their top 6 forwards in Reilly Smith to Vegas. Combine that with the departure of Jaromir Jagr, and you are left pondering as to who the Panthers expect to score goals for them next season. After a wildly disappointing season, it is clear that Florida didn’t see these players as part of their core moving forward and so they chose to restructure their offence. With five picks in this year’s draft (1st round, 2nd round, 3rd round, 5th round and 6th round) including the tenth overall pick, Florida had some exciting options to help fill the void left by the departures of 1/2 of their top six.
Here is the scoop on Florida’s five selections in the 2017 NHL Draft:
Owen Tippett: 1st round, 10th Overall
In my opinion, Florida hit an absolute home run with Mississauga Steelheads’ winger Owen Tippett at 10th overall. Not only did they select one of the best pure goal scorers available in the draft, they filled one of the holes on the wing that were created this off-season. Let’s not forget, with the departures of Jagr, Marchessault and Smith, the Panthers have to replace a combined 61 out of their total 205 goals from last season. Although Owen Tippett may not be the sole answer to their problems, he does possess the most NHL ready shot in the draft and will have plenty of opportunity to crack the top six in Florida. As is the case with many rookies entering the league, Tippett has a great deal of work to do in improving his play in his own end. However with the offensive talent he has to work with in Florida, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him develop into a well-rounded 20-30 goal scorer.
Aleksi Heponiemi: 2nd round, 40th Overall
After selecting a big sniping winger with their first round selection, Florida went slightly in the opposite direction with their second rounder, selecting undersized center Aleksi Heponiemi from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. I have always respected Florida’s tendency to not shy away from players based on size, as is seen with many of the prospects in their organization. Although not the biggest player on the ice, Heponiemi makes up for it with outstanding speed and hockey IQ. He has the ability to frustrate and embarrass defenders with his amazing ability to see the ice and consistent willingness to outwork his opponent. With a frame of 5 foot 9 and approximately 150 pounds, Heponiemi will definitely need to add some size and muscle before making the leap at the professional level, however he definitely has the tools to compete and become a versatile player within the Panthers organization.
Max Gildon: 3rd round, 66th Overall
With their 3rd round selection, the Panthers selected their first defenceman of the draft in Max Gildon, out of the U.S National Development Team. Gildon joins the great class of Brian Leetch, Tyler Myers and Seth Jones as Texas born defenceman drafted in the NHL. Gildon is lucky enough to possess the lethal combination of size and intelligence, as he always seems to be in the right place defensively when he