31 in 31 Series, July: Florida Panthers
Going into the draft, the Panthers only had a total of five draft picks because they had previously traded away their own draft picks from rounds two through five. But they had also acquired a second-round pick from Arizona and a seventh-round pick from San Jose. On the second day of the draft, they sent their 2019 third-round pick to Nashville in exchange for their third-round pick in the 2018 draft, so they ended up making a total of six selections at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Round 1 – 15th overall: Grigori Denisenko, LW
The Panthers drafted a very talented winger when they selected Denisenko in the first round. If we only look at offensive upside, Denisenko is one of the best in the entire draft class. Denisenko spent last season playing in the Russian junior league and his numbers don’t jump at you but there’s a ton of offensive talent there. He’s not big (5-11, 172) but he plays bigger than his size. He’s had discipline issues in the past which is something he needs to work on – but that can also mean a good amount of penalty minutes in fantasy hockey leagues that use them.
Here’s how Florida GM Dale Tallon described Denisenko in a feature article at NHL.com: “He’s just a dynamic, explosive, skilled guy. He’s just one of those kids that’s a special winger. Gets into traffic quickly and he’s explosive in traffic and can score and make plays. He’s very creative, very fast.” And the praising didn’t end there – Panthers director of player personnel Bryan McCabe also said in that same article: “He’s going to be a special player for sure from what I saw [during development camp].”
Denisenko immediately becomes a top three prospect in the organization and he’s ready to challenge Owen Tippett’s status as the most talented winger prospect in the system. Denisenko doesn’t speak any English but luckily the Panthers have a few Russians in their organization, so he should be able to get all the help he needs while he learns the language. Denisenko had said through his interpreter at the draft that he wants to jump to North America as soon as possible. Here’s what the Florida GM said about the topic of Denisenko possibly jumping straight to the NHL: “Why not? He’s got explosiveness, he’s got size and strength and ability, so why not give him a shot?”
Denisenko himself said through his interpreter: “It’s not my decision if I’m going to make NHL this year or not. [Panthers coach Bob Boughner] is going to make the decision, but I’m going to try to do my best to make NHL this year. I’m going to show my best game and only [Boughner] will make the decision if I’m going to stay this year in NHL or not.”
Denisenko is supposedly under contract with his KHL team until 2020 but based on the comments said by Tallon and Denisenko himself, it definitely sounds like there’s an out clause in his KHL contract which is good news. He might be flying a bit under the radar in fantasy drafts – make sure you’re not one of those people who undervalue him.
Round 2 – 34th overall: Serron Noel, RW
The first thing you’ll notice about Noel is his size: 6-foot-5, 205 pounds. Players his size usually have issues with skating but Noel is actually a very good skater. He’s the son of former Canadian Football League running back Dean Noel, so that has probably helped him become the kind of athlete he is today and will help him in the future as well.
Noel might be the rawest prospect drafted in the first two rounds. With his August birthday, he’s very young for this draft class. Big power forwards like him also require more time to learn how to utilize their size properly. Because he’s so raw, we don’t really know how high his ceiling is. He has shown he can score goals and make some plays in the OHL. He hasn’t dominated that league yet but he has two more years to do that – and he definitely has that kind of ability.
Noel has been sometimes compared to Blake Wheeler which sets expectations high but it’s also good to remember that it took eight years from Wheeler to crack 60 points in the NHL, and at that point a lot of people had given up on him. Noel may not need that much time but he’s a long-term project either way. If he continues developing his offensive skills and everything goes perfectly, he could be a great player for multi-cat leagues but patience is needed with him. The Panthers have a similar big body in Nick Bjugstad who was drafted in the first round eight years ago, and he still hasn’t cracked even 50 points.
Round 3 – 89th overall: Logan Hutsko, C/RW
After the 34th overall selection, the Panthers didn’t have a draft pick until the sixth round. When they saw that Hutsko was still there late in the third round, they decided to send their 2019 third-rounder to Nashville in exchange for this pick to get the player they coveted.
Hutsko came through the U.S. National Team Development Program but didn’t end up playing much while there because he faced two serious injuries during that time – a fracture in his neck and a knee injury that required surgery. For a while, it looked like he could never return to playing hockey after those injuries. But he came back and had a strong season in Boston College where he scored 12 goals and 31 points in 37 games, and he was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Year. Read more about his injuries from here: Logan Hutsko: Fighting Through The Fear.
Hutsko’s ceiling is very much a mystery because he lost so much time during crucial development years but he was a highly-regarded prospect before his injuries, and his first year at NCAA hockey was very impressive – and he got better throughout the season after he got the rust and fear out of his system. It’s never easy to come back after missing so much time due to serious injuries. Hutsko is not big (5-10, 172) but his calling card is producing points, so he’s a good gamble in fantasy hockey leagues. Hutsko was eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft but obviously went undrafted because of the injuries, so keep that in mind when evaluating him – he’s a year older than most players drafted this summer.
Round 6 – 170th overall: Justin Schütz, LW
Schütz hails from Germany but he played in the Czech U18 league where he scored 24 goals and 62 points in 40 games. Schütz also captained Team Germany at the 2018 U18 World Championship Division 1 A tournament where he was named Germany’s top player. Schütz is an average-sized (5-10, 172) winger who needs to face tougher competition before we can say anything about his abilities and future. Check back in a year or two and hope he’s playing in a better league by that time.
Round 7 – 201st overall: Cole Krygier, D
Krygier is a big defenseman (6-3, 192) who played in the USHL where he scored three goals and 17 points in 58 games while adding 107 penalty minutes. Krygier will play NCAA hockey with Michigan State University this season. After he spends a couple of years in college, we can check back if there’s something interesting in him. Cole is the son of former NHL player Todd, and his twin brother Christian was drafted by the Islanders five spots ahead of Cole.
Round 7 – 207th overall, Santtu Kinnunen, D
Kinnunen went undrafted in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft but heard his name called this time around – although he wasn’t at the draft event but instead found out he’s been drafted by scrolling through the draft results. He’s a right-handed shot defenseman with good size (6-2, 154). Last season, he made the jump from U18 level to U20 level while maintaining similar 0.55 points-per-game average. He also played 11 games with Peliitat of Mestis, the Finnish second-tier league. This season, he’s hoping to make the jump to Pelicans of Liiga where he would be playing under their new head coach, former NHL player Ville Nieminen. But realistically, he probably needs a year or two in Mestis before he can make that jump.
Development Camp Notes
Almost all the Panthers’ prospects were at the development camp. Notable omissions were Finnish forwards Henrik Borgström and Aleksi Heponiemi. They were both training in Finland and the team decided there’s no need to bring them over for the development camp. The full development camp roster can be found from here: http://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/assets/binary/299261928/binary-file/file.pdf
First-round picks Denisenko and Tippett were very good at the development camp which was expected. Denisenko showed some of his dynamic offensive skills and earned a lot of praise from team management but obviously it’s good to remember the quality of competition there. Tippett, on the other hand, showed leadership abilities in his second camp and helped new guys who were there for the first time. He’s been working towards becoming a pro player, and little things like that go a long way. The Panthers are expecting him to earn a spot on the NHL roster because he has nothing left to prove in junior hockey, and he’s not eligible to play in the AHL yet.
In a recent interview at NHL.com, GM Tallon had this to say about Tippett: “I expect him to come to camp and fight for a job. You know, he’s a great shooter, no one can shoot the puck better than this kid. He loves to shoot the puck, and we’ve got a lot of playmakers that can give him the puck. So, we’re going to give him every opportunity to make our team. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s how good you are and how hard you work.”
Besides those obvious names, defenseman Max Gildon was a development camp standout. Gildon returns to college for another year but might be ready to turn pro after that. He’s the best defense prospect the Panthers have and has all the tools to become a good top-four defenseman in a few years. He has lots of offensive talent and his all-around game is starting to look ready for pro hockey. The U.S. National Team Development Program product had a strong rookie season playing NCAA hockey, and he should have a good role for Team USA at the upcoming World Juniors.
Jonathan Ang showed his speed in camp. That part of his game is already NHL ready but he still needs to work on other areas of the game. Recent draftees Hutsko and Schütz showed some impressive skills and great attitude but one of the lesser-known names who really stood out was 21-year-old goaltender Ryan Bednard. Bednard is a big goalie (6-5, 201) who had a good season playing NCAA hockey for the Bowling Green State University. The Panthers drafted him in the seventh round in 2015.
One of the most interesting free agent invitees was center Tyler Soy. Soy was previously drafted by the Ducks but they didn’t sign him. He also didn’t hear his name called when he re-entered the draft. The 21-year-old may have earned himself a contract but apparently the Canucks have also shown interest in him, so it remains to be seen what he decides to do. The Panthers have a need for centers who can play for their AHL affiliate.
The Panthers also invited two very interesting smaller forwards to their camp. Winger Jerry Turkulainen is only 5-foot-7 but he has already played two full seasons in the Finnish Liiga. He turns 20 in September which means he isn’t eligible to be signed. I was expecting someone to draft him in June but for some reason that didn’t happen. And that same thing can be said about 5-foot-9 center Zach Solow. Solow had a good rookie season playing NCAA hockey for Northeastern University where he was overshadowed by Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura and Nolan Stevens. All three turned pro after the season, so Solow should see his role expanded significantly.
On June first, the Panthers signed Russian defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich to a one-year contract. Kiselevich is 28 years old and has spent the last nine seasons playing in the KHL, so he’s very likely expecting to play in the NHL instead of going down to the AHL. This means one of the seven defensemen the Panthers had last season is likely to be traded. Rumors had Alex Petrovic going out the door but he was later signed to a one-year contract, so it still remains to be seen who’s the odd man out. Kiselevich is a defense-minded defenseman who can also move the puck out of his own zone. His impact for fantasy owners is likely to be minimal.
On June 19th, the Panthers sent three draft picks to San Jose in exchange for Mike Hoffman and a seventh-round pick. The Panthers had a need for more goal-scoring from the wing, and Hoffman can fill that role. For top prospects like Borgström and Tippett, the addition of Hoffman is probably a good thing because there’s more scoring depth on the team now, and the Panthers will find room for them if they play well enough. But for other young players like Jared McCann or Frank Vatrano, the addition of Hoffman might mean they end up playing on the fourth line or not playing at all.
The Panthers lost former second-round selection Adam Mascherin for nothing when he refused to sign a contract with the Panthers. Mascherin was re-drafted in the fourth round, 100th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. Depth prospects Linus Hultström, Alexandre Grenier and Gregory Chase were not qualified by the Panthers, so they became unrestricted free agents. None of them had a realistic future in the NHL, so the Panthers didn’t want to use contract spots on them.
And that’s all for now. Feel free to add comments below. Follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Image courtesy of icethetics.co