Equipped with a new general manager and eight total draft selections, the Florida Panthers come into this week’s NHL draft with the hopes of revitalizing their organization’s player pipeline.
Holding the 12th pick in the first round for the second time in franchise history, Florida along with teams across the league must overcome the absence of the annual combine as well as season-ending tournaments.
Being held digitally, the first round of the draft will begin on Tuesday at 7 p.m., while rounds two through seven are set to take place on Wednesday starting at 11:30 a.m.
With the COVID-19 pandemic playing a unique part in the draft process, newly appointed GM Bill Zito will have uncharted waters to navigate, coming to Florida after spending seven seasons with Columbus.
“It’s been a little bit different from the organizational standpoint because of the amateur side,” Zito said in a Zoom conference call Monday. “I had more time. We had more structure with regard to the preparation side of the amateur draft. Now, I came in and I’m trying to do a lot of things at once and dive into the amateur process as an outsider.”
Hired to the position on Sept. 2, Zito spent seven years with the Blue Jackets, holding the position of assistant general manager for six years before last season’s promotion to vice president of hockey operations.
During his tenure, Columbus secured postseason berths in five of the past seven seasons, becoming just one of three teams to qualify for the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.
The Panthers finished the 2020 season with a 35-26-8 record before losing to the New York Islanders in the first round of the expanded playoffs. The NHL increased the number of playoff teams from 16 to 22 after the season was paused on March 12 due to the concerns of the coronavirus.
Without the combine, Zito and the Panthers' scouts have had to adjust their evaluation process, utilizing virtual conference calls to get a feel for potential prospects.
“Well absent the combine, a lot of the sort of personality interaction has been via Zoom calls, and the staff here has obviously been on top of it prior to my arrival,” Zito said. "For me on a personal level, it’s more of a feel for the person. But, I can tell you, there is science behind it (the evaluation process).
“Some of the things that you can do in just interviews and personality tests, I’ll stop short of saying mind-blowing because it’s technology that used every day in a lot of industries. A lot of that stuff is on the horizon for us as we move forward.”
Through trades with Colorado, Ottawa and Toronto, Florida increased their draft haul to eight selections, holding five within the first 100 picks.
In their most recent set of moves, the Panthers traded defenseman Josh Brown to the Senators last Friday to collect the 95th pick.
In exchange for forward Derick Brassard and a conditional 2020 six-round pick in February 2019, Florida received the 87th pick from the Avalanche, while also receiving the 137th selection following their trade with the Maple Leafs in December 2018 for goaltender Michael Hutchinson.
Florida’s draft selections will include No. 12 (first round), No. 43 (second round), No. 74 (third round), No. 87 (third round), No. 95 (fourth round), No. 105 (fourth round), No. 137 (fifth round) and No. 198 (seventh round).
Headlined by first-round pick and goaltender Spencer Knight, the Panthers' draft last year featured nine overall selections, including three of their first four picks being defensemen.
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