When the Florida Panthers entered the draft, they had plans to restock their shelves heavily leaning on team need. Having added a second and fourth-round draft pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins in return for Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad, a third from the Oilers for Alex Petrovic and trading up to add a third and fifth-round draft pick, the Panthers were able to recoup some assets that they were missing. When the dust settled, they had nine picks and drafted a goaltender, three defenders and five forwards.
Round 1 – 13th overall: Spencer Knight, G
The Boston College commit filled a monstrous hole the Panthers depth chart when he was selected 13th overall. Standing at 6’3”, Knight may have the ability, that very few before he have had, to make his NHL debut within the next three years. Knight played a large role in the record-breaking U-18 U.S. Development team this past season by posting a 2.36 GAA and 91.3 Sv% in 33 games played. What makes this feat even more impressive is the portion of the games he played against college team stocked with 20+-year-old players.
As an NHL scout told Corey Pronman of TheAthletic, “[Knight’s] a sure thing to be an NHLer. He can be a game stealing No. 1 goalie. His technical skill is elite. His hockey sense and skating are high-end.” Dale Tallon is also in line with this theory, claiming Knight is a “franchise-type goalie” with a long-term plan in mind. This plan has been recently emphasized with the addition of Sergei Bobrovsky relieving pressure from management to rush in Knight.
Knight has vaulted directly into the Panthers’ top prospect pool with Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko, and Aleksi Heponiemi, creating a deeper pool that should be able to perform for seasons to come. What does separate Knight from the other Panther prospects though, is the shorter log jam ahead of himself. With Bobrovsky and Montembleau in the NHL, the latter being an RFA, Tallon, and management can open a roster spot in two or three years if they deem Knight is ready to back up (most likely behind Bobrovsky).
Round 2 – 52nd overall: Vladislav Kolyachonok, D
Sizing up at 6’1” and 183lbs, the Belarussian defenceman was an excellent pick at #52. Coming off a challenging first season with the Flint Firebirds, where he put up 29 points (four goals and 26 assists) in 54 games, Kolyachonok was tasked with carrying the heavy minutes. Kolyachonok took this opportunity though and ran with it, believing that it was the best move for himself. “I [Kolyachonok] was traded from London to Flint and played lots of minutes in tough situations. I think [the move] was one of the best experiences in my life and now I’m here.”
Similarly to their first pick in the draft, the Panthers selected for need they when called out Kolychonok’s name on Day Two of the Draft. “It was necessary to improve our team defense and our depth chart,” Tallon claimed. The cupboards were very bare for defenders in Florida and with this pick, they were able to seize what some saw as the best player available while shoring up their depth.
The skillset that Kolychonok brings to the Panthers is a mobile, physical and a puck-transitioning two-way game. His ability to exit his own end with ease has mostly come from a great first pass, but it also stems from having a strong work ethic. As Barclay Branch, the general manager of the Flint Firebirds, told Aaron Vickers of EPRinkside, “He’s a very driven person. It’s very, very clear that when you sit down and talk to Vladdy on any given day that you come away from any interaction with him knowing that he’s very driven. Hockey is his life. He loves the game of hockey. He eats, sleeps and breathes the game of hockey.”
Round 3 – 69th overall: John Ludvig, D
The Panthers continued their strategy of drafting for need when they selected the shutdown defender of the Portland Winterhawks. Ludvig is an old-school defensive defenceman who played in the WHL where he accumulated 18 points (five goals and 13 assists) and 77 PIMs in 58 games played. In this past season, he was also being relied on to be a defensive rock whether at even-strength or on the penalty kill against the opposing team top players. Tallon wants the team to “play with more physicality on the backend,” another asset Ludvig brings to the table.
There is a belief that Ludvig was a bit of a reach at #69. One of these critics was Corey Pronman of TheAthletic who believes that although Ludvig is a strong defender, he does not provide enough offense to see an NHL product in the future. This can also be reflected by observations on his prospect profile.
Round 3 – 81st overall: Cole Schwindt, C
With their second pick in the third round, the Panthers picked up their first forward of the draft, Cole Schwindt. Looking at the Cats center depth, it was clear that they were lacking in its department. With Henrik Borgström graduating from the AHL, Juho Lammikko playing most of the season in the NHL, and the more veteran Dominic Tonianato joining the organization from Colorado, it was important to snatch up Schwindt at #81 when they could. Moreover, the last center who they had drafted was Aleksi Heponiemi and he looks to fit in better as a winger.
Measuring at 6’2” and 183 lbs, the right-handed forward climbed the ranks on a mid-tier Mississauga Steelheads crew. When he finally made it up to the first line in early-February, Schwindt caught fire and finished the season with 19 goals and 49 points in 68 games (more than half coming in the last two months of the season). He was also relied on to play in his own end and man the teams first unit on the penalty kill. “We entrusted him with big-time faceoffs. He’s a big body and has great puck protection skills.” – James Richmond, Mississauga Steelheads General Manager, and Head Coach. When the Steelheads moved on from their top players in Ryan McLeod and Owen Tippett this past season, Schwindt took full advantage of the opportunity that was ahead of him.
Although this hype around him, he still has a long way to go before making the big club. Schwindt will go likely have to finish his time in junior, while continually working on his skating as well as becoming a more consistent threat.
Round 4 – 106th overall: Carter Berger, D
Selected #106 by the Florida Panthers in the 2019 NHL Draft, Berger could prove to be a valuable asset in the future. The North Vancouver native completed his draft-plus-one season achieving 63 points (27 goals and 36 assists) in 54 games showing a drastic change in his development curve. Taking care of his own end first, Berger knew when the time was right to join the rush and made opponents pay when they weren’t set. This ability will be crucial for him to carry into collegiate hockey next season when he is playing for the University of Connecticut.
Round 5 – 136th overall: Henry Rybinski, LW
Rybinski had a whirlwind of a season split between the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL), Coquitlam Express (BCHL), and Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) where he last played. After being unhappy with his position on the Tigers roster, Rybinski requested a trade and played in the BCHL until a trade was made. Once traded to Seattle, he made a greater impact collecting 33 points (seven goals and 28 assists) in 33 games. This production over the 68-game season would have put him on pace for 72 points. Rybinski distributes the puck exceptionally well and can use his 6’1” frame with his strong strides to penetrate the offensive blue line. He will need to continue to improve these skills as well as his play away from the puck, especially in his own zone, to make it to the next level.
Round 5 – 137th overall: Owen Lindmark, C
Being forced to change his style of play and having his ice time suppressed on a historically great U.S. National Under-18 Team, Lindmark has the potential to show his true form next season when he heads to the University of Wisconsin. During his time with The Program though he collected 25 points (11 goals and 14 assists) in 56 games, a modest stat-line that he accrues centering the fourth line behind Hughes, Turcotte/Zegras and Beecher (all first-round selections). Lindmark does not catch your eye with highlight plays, instead, he is dedicated to playing a 200-foot game and brings a strong work ethic to every shift
Round 6 – 168th overall: Greg Meireles, RW
Meireles is a double-overaged center who played in OHL where he tallied 97 points (36 goals and 61 assists) in 68 regular-season games. The mature hardworking skater will have the chance to play for the Springfield Falcons next season since he is 20 years old but could return to the Rangers to play his overage season. Although being below six feet tall, Meireles is not afraid to battle for the puck below the goal line and uses his strong skating ability to get on the forecheck.
Round 7 – 199th overall: Matthew Wedman, C
With their final pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Panthers elected to go with double-overager Matthew Wedman of the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Edmonton native scored 40 goals and 77 points in 66 games played while playing a large role as a finisher on the first-line. Following the trend set by their previous selections, the relentless 6’3” forward is not afraid to use his body to shield the puck from threats. With the possibility of playing professional hockey next season, Wedman could convert to a power forward with a great scoring touch.
Development Camp Notes
With the 2019 development camp coming and going, most of the Panthers prospects made the trek to South Florida, including the nine from this past draft. The only omissions this year were top prospects Aleksi Heponiemi and Grigori Denisenko. Heponiemi is going to contend for a roster spot this fall and Denisenko will be returning to Loko Yaroslavl. You can find the full development roster below:
Development Camp Roster (Part 1):
Development Camp Roster (Part 2):
Images Credit: Florida Panthers
The new shiny toy on the block this year was the 13