Success in the draft is a vital part of team’s on-ice success in the NHL. Hitting on early draft picks means establishing a core that can lead to long-term contention while finding late round gems brings unexpected production and is what makes championship teams. The teams with the most success in recent seasons highlights the need to win on the draft floor.
The Washington Capitals had first rounders Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, among others, plus Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, and Braden Holtby, all drafted in the third round or later. The Pittsburgh Penguins had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Olli Maatta from the first round and Kris Letang and Matt Murray as later round selections. Finally, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook were taken by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and Niklas Hjalmarsson was found in the fourth round.
The point is that while there are different ways to build a winner, the best path is through the draft and it is the path followed by the Florida Panthers, a team on the cusp of Stanley Cup contention. Of the expected 23-man roster for the Panthers this season, 12 were originally drafted by the franchise. Of the seven other teams in the Atlantic Division, that’s a smaller number than only the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, each with 13 drafted players on their rosters.
Florida Panthers’ Draft History
Since 2006, Florida’s general managers have done a nice job finding talent in the first round. Nick Bjugstad (2010), Jonathan Huberdeau (2011), Mike Matheson (2012), Aleksander Barkov (2013), Aaron Ekblad (2014), and Henrik Borgstrom (2016) were all first round selections. Current GM Dale Tallon was at the helm for all but Borgstrom, who was drafted by Tom Rowe.
Their success in the draft goes beyond the first round with Alex Petrovic (2010) and Ian McCoshen (2013) taken in the second round, Evgeni Dadonov (2007) and Vincent Trocheck (2011) in the third, Maxim Malgin (2015) in the fourth, and MacKenzie Weegar (2013) going in the seventh.
Yet the Panthers have also had their fair share of draft failures. Jayce Hawryluk (2014), Rasmus Bengtsson (2011), and Joe Basaraba (2010) were all taken in the first three rounds but didn’t or have yet to reach the NHL. Those failures impacted the team’s ability to compete and it shows with just two postseason appearances in the past 10 years.
This article is my attempt to look at the draft picks the Panthers missed on and the players they passed on that would have helped them be more competitive. I looked at 10 years, beginning with the 2006 Draft and ending in 2015. I chose 2015 as the end point because any later and there hasn’t been enough time to fully determine whether or not a prospect will become a productive NHL player.
My definition of a player the Panthers passed on is if he was taken within 10 picks of their actual selection. For example, if the Panthers drafted a player with the 33rd pick, any player picked through the 43rd pick would be someone they passed on with that selection.
2007 – Keaton Ellerby Over Kevin Shattenkirk
The Panthers drafted defenseman Keaton Ellerby with the 10th pick in 2007. Considering he was viewed as the fourth-best skater and top defenseman in North America by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, he slid to the Panthers. Ellerby played junior hockey for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and scored two goals and 25 points in 69 games his draft year. He returned to the WHL the following season and was in the AHL in 2008-09 before he made his NHL debut in Jan. 2010.
He played in 125 games over four years with the Panthers and scored two goals and 17 points before they traded him to the Los Angeles Kings in Feb. 2013. After the 2012-13 season, he played parts of two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets and has been in Europe since 2015-16. His NHL career ended with 212 games played, four goals, 27 points, including two on the man advantage.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche drafted fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk 14th overall. He ranked as the 34th-best skater and 12th-best defenseman in North America after he played for the United States National Development Program (USNDP). In his draft year, he posted 13 goals and 40 points in 57 games. Afterwards, he played three years of college hockey at Boston University, with whom he scored 18 goals and 78 points in 121 games and helped the Terriers capture the 2009 NCAA Championship.
He debuted for the Avalanche in Nov. 2010 and Colorado traded him to the St. Louis Blues in Feb. 2011. Shattenkirk played five full seasons with the Blues before they dealt him to the Capitals at the 2017 Trade Deadline. Last offseason, he signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent. So far, in 536 regular season games, he has 73 goals, 321 points, 158 power play points, and has averaged at least three minutes of power play time per game in four of eight seasons.
Meanwhile, the Panthers haven’t had a player net more than 23 power play goals and no defenseman has more than 18 since 2010-11. By total points, Shattenkirk’s 321 are 146 more than the most scored by a Panthers defenseman the past eight seasons. Drafting Ellerby over Shattenkirk set the Panthers back as they continued searching for that franchise defenseman until they drafted Aaron Ekblad in 2014.
Other Players the Panthers Passed On With the 10th Overall Pick
- Ryan McDonagh – Drafted 12th overall by the Montreal Canadiens
- Lars Eller – Drafted 13th overall by the Blues
2007 – Michael Repik Over P.K. Subban
With the 40th pick in the 2007 Draft, the Panthers took Czech winger Michal Repik, the 58th-ranked North American skater as he played junior hockey with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. He helped the Giants capture the 2007 Memorial Cup with 24 goals and 55 points in 56 games his draft year.
He returned to the Giants the next season before debuting with the Panthers in Dec. 2008. He spent the next four seasons jumping between the AHL and NHL before returning to the Czech Republic for the 2012-13 season and has been in Europe since. His NHL career ended with 72 games played, nine goals, and 20 points.
P.K. Subban was ranked the 32nd-best defenseman and 102nd-best skater in North America and the Canadiens drafted him 43rd overall, three picks after Repik. He played for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls, with 56 points in 68 games his draft year, and played two more junior seasons plus one AHL season before he became a full-time NHL player during the 2010-11 season.
He was a Canadien for six seasons and won the 2013 Norris Trophy before Montreal traded him to the Nashville Predators during the 2016 offseason. Thus far, Subban has 89 goals and 377 points, including 168 on the power play, in 582 games, and helped the Predators reach the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. In addition to his Norris Trophy, he is a three-time Norris Trophy finalist, a three-time All-Star, and won an Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2014.
Subban is considered one of the league’s best defensemen as he plays on both special teams units and receives tougher zone starts than most top pair blueliners. His 375 points since the 2010-11 season are fifth-most in the league among defensemen while his 43 power play goals are third-most and 25 more than any Panthers’ defensemen in that span.
2008 – Colby Robak Over Derek Stepan
The Panthers drafted blueliner Colby Robak with the 46th pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. He played for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, with whom he had six goals and 30 points in 71 games his draft year and helped Team Canada win gold at the U-18 World Junior Championships that year. He played two more years in the WHL, followed up by a season in the AHL, and made his NHL debut in Feb. 2012.
His Panthers tenure ended with zero goals and three points in 42 games before they traded him to the Anaheim Ducks in Dec. 2014. He finished the 2014-15 season by playing five games with the Ducks and has been in the AHL since. Most recently, he spent the 2017-18 season in the Calgary Flames’ system.
With the 51st pick, the Rangers drafted center Derek Stepan out of Shattuck St. Mary’s, the high school attended by Sidney Crosby, where Stepan had 44 goals and 111 points in 60 games his draft year. Afterwards, he played two years at the University of Wisconsin with 21 goals and 87 points in 81 games. He debuted with the Rangers in Oct. 2010 and spent seven seasons with them before they traded him to the Arizona Coyotes in June 2017.
For his career, Stepan has 142 goals and 416 points in 597 games, has averaged at least one minute of shorthanded time per game the past seven seasons and at least two minutes of power play time per game every year. His 360 points with the Rangers between 2010-11 and 2016-17 led the team by 98 points and would have led the Panthers by 162 in the same time frame.
Other Players the Panthers Passed On With the 46th Pick
- Travis Hamonic – Drafted 53rd by the New York Islanders
2009 – Josh Birkholz Over Reilly Smith
With the 67th pick of the 2009 Draft, the Panthers took winger Josh Birkholz from the USHL’s Fargo Force. He was the 42nd-ranked North American skater and scored 21 goals and 36 points in 55 games with Fargo that season. After the draft, he attended the University of Minnesota for one season and, afterwards, played two seasons with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. Then, during the 2012-13 season, he split time between the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones and was with the Cyclones the entire 2013-14 season before he retired from professional hockey.
Two picks after Birkholz, the Dallas Stars drafted winger Reilly Smith with the 69th selection. He was ranked 158th among North American skaters as the Stars took a chance on him out of the Ontario Junior Hockey League where he played for the St. Michael’s Buzzers and posted 27 goals and 75 points in 49 games. He followed that up with three years at the University of Miami (OH) and totaled 121 games, 66 goals, and 122 points with the RedHawks and made his Stars debut at the end of the 2011-12 season.
He became a regular the following season and Dallas dealt him to the Boston Bruins in July 2013 was traded again in July 2015, this time to the Panthers. He was a Panther for two seasons, totaling 40 goals and 87 points in 162 games with them before they traded him to the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the 2017 Expansion Draft. In his career, Smith has 98 goals and 247 points in 432 games and was better than a point-per-game player in the 2018 Playoffs.
In a somewhat comedic turn of events, the Panthers passed on Smith, a player who has developed into a top-six forward, only to acquire him six years later. They also signed him to his current five-year, $25 million contract, one they became dissatisfied with almost immediately, which led to his exodus out of Florida. Given that the Panthers lacked offense last season and acquired Mike Hoffman, a player similar to Smith, this offseason to address the need, keeping Smith the entire time would have been beneficial.
2010 – Erik Gudbranson Over Jeff Skinner
Erik Gudbranson isn’t a complete bust as he’s been a top-four defenseman with the Vancouver Canucks the past two seasons, but considering the talent that surrounded him in the 2010 Draft, the Panthers made a mistake when they used the third overall pick on him. Gudbranson was considered the top defenseman and fourth-best skater among North American prospects in 2010 after he produced 23 points in 41 games for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs his draft year.
He returned to the OHL the next season and made his Panther debut in Oct. 2011. He was with Florida for five seasons and accumulated 11 goals and 43 points in 309 games but missed at least six games every season. They traded him to the Canucks in May 2016 and, as a Panther, his 309 games from 2011-12 through 2015-16 were the third-most among Panthers’ defensemen in that span, while his 11 goals ranked fifth, and his minus-49 was last.
Surrounding Gudbranson in the top of the first round were players who’ve become All-Stars and consistent producers, with the best being Jeff Skinner, whom the Carolina Hurricanes took with the seventh pick. With the Kitchener Rangers, also of the OHL, Skinner was viewed as the 34th-best North American skater after he had 50 goals and 90 points in 64 games in 2009-10. He immediately debuted with the Hurricanes and netted 31 goals and 63 points as a rookie. He won the 2011 Calder Trophy at season’s end.
In eight seasons, all with Carolina, he has played 579 games and scored 204 goals and 379 points. He has three 30-goal seasons and two seasons above 60 points. The Panthers as a team have two 30-goal seasons and no one with multiple 60-point seasons since 2010-11. Additionally, Skinner’s 204 goals would pace the Panthers by 104 and in points by 112 had they drafted him.
Other Players the Panthers Passed On With the Third Overall Pick
- Ryan Johansen – Drafted fourth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets
- Mikael Granlund – Drafted ninth overall by the Minnesota Wild
- Cam Fowler – Drafted 12th overall by the Ducks
2010 – Quinton Howden Over Evgeny Kuznetsov
Although only drafted eight years ago, forward Quinton Howden is out of the league and has been in the KHL the past two seasons. The Panthers used the 25th overall pick on him after he was ranked as the 19th-best North American skater. With the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, he was a point-per-game player his draft year and played two more seasons with them before debuting with the Panthers in Jan. 2013.
He went between the AHL and NHL through the 2015-16 season and totaled 92 games, 10 goals, and 17 points with the Panthers. After that season, he became a free agent and was signed by the Jets, with whom he played five games and accumulated no points. However, since he’s left the NHL, he represented Team Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics, winning bronze.
Capitals’ center Evgeny Kuznetsov took some time to develop into a top-tier NHL player, but his career has been much more productive than Howden’s, despite being picked one slot after Howden. Kuznetsov was ranked as the third-best European skater behind Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko. Prior to the draft, he played in the MHL and KHL in Russia with six goals and 24 points in 44 games his draft year. He spent four more seasons in the KHL before making the jump to the NHL during the 2013-14 season.
Since then, he’s played in 340 games with the Capitals and scored 80 goals and 265 points, plus 12 goals and 32 points in 24 games during the 2018 Playoffs and played a big role in helping Washington capture its first Stanley Cup. During the postseason, he emerged as a top line player, centering a line between Ovechkin and Tom Wilson.
Other Players the Panthers Passed On With the 25th Overall Pick
- Charlie Coyle – Drafted 28th overall by the San Jose Sharks
2010 – John McFarland Over Justin Faulk
Taken with the 33rd pick of the 2010 Draft, winger John McFarland only has three NHL games to his name. He was viewed as the 15th-best North American skater and played his junior hockey with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves and scored 20 goals and 50 points in 64 games his draft year.
He stayed in the OHL two more seasons and was in the ECHL and AHL from 2012-13 through 2014-15 and made his NHL debut in Feb. 2016. He played the next two seasons in Europe and is currently in the Edmonton Oilers’ system.
The Hurricanes drafted defenseman Justin Faulk with the 37th pick after he ranked as the 20th-best defenseman and 56th-best skater among North Americans. Prior to the draft, he played for the USDP with 60 games, 21 goals, and 33 points in his draft year. Afterwards, he played one season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, won the 2011 NCAA Championship, and made his NHL debut in Oct. 2011.
He has been with Carolina for seven seasons and has 74 goals and 223 points in 477 games so far and has averaged 23:25 of ice time per game and has led the team in ice time in four of seven seasons. Faulk has played 101 more games, over 1,700 more minutes, and attempted 421 more shots than any of Florida’s defensemen since 2011-12.
2010 – Connor Brickley Over Jason Zucker
Connor Brickley is still a professional hockey player and will be in the Predators’ system this season, but his career hasn’t panned out the way the Panthers envisioned it would when they drafted him with the 50th pick in the 2010 Draft. Brickley, a winger, was rated the 50th-best North American skater ahead of the draft. He played for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and had 22 goals and 43 points in 52 games and helped the United States win gold at the U-18 World Juniors Championships his draft year.
He followed that up with four years at the University of Vermont where he totaled 21 goals and 48 points in 117 games and made his NHL debut in Oct. 2015. He has since gone between the AHL and NHL, was traded to the Hurricanes in 2016, was selected by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, and was signed by the Panthers in 2017. In total, he has played in 67 NHL games in his career and has accumulated five goals and 17 points.
Brickley and Jason Zucker have taken similar paths throughout their playing careers but with different results. Like Brickley, Zucker is an American winger, won the 2010 U-18 World Junior Championship, and played college hockey, but at the University of Denver, and only for two seasons. The Wild drafted Zucker with the 59th pick after he was ranked as the 51st-best North American skater.
He played for the USNDP with 29 goals and 53 points in 60 games his draft year. At the University of Denver, he totaled 45 goals and 91 points in 78 games. He debuted with the Wild in March 2012 and in seven years with Minnesota, he’s played in 330 games, netted 97 goals, and totaled 172 points. Additionally, his goal and point totals have increased the past two seasons and he signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract this offseason.
Other Players the Panthers Passed On With the 50th Pick
- Calle Jarnkrok – Drafted 51st by the Detroit Red Wings
2011 – Rocco Grimaldi Over John Gibson
Forward Rocco Grimaldi was another Panthers’ draft pick who played junior hockey for the USNDP with 81 games, 51 goals, and 98 points his draft year. That production led to his 32nd rank among North American skaters and, as a result, the Panthers drafted him with the 33rd pick. He played three years of college hockey at the University of North Dakota and scored 31 goals and 76 points in 86 games with them.
He debuted in Nov. 2014 and has gone between the AHL and NHL since. The Panthers traded him to the Avalanche in June 2016 and the Predators signed him this offseason. With the Panthers, Grimaldi saw action in 27 games and scored four goals alongside two assists.
John Gibson was rated as the top North American goaltender for the 2011 Draft. He played for the USNDP and appeared in 57 games with a 2.47 goals against average (GAA) and .924 save percentage (SV%) his draft year. After the Ducks used the 39th pick on him, he played two OHL seasons with the Kitchener Rangers and appeared in 59 games with a 2.58 GAA and .928 SV%. He reached the NHL during the 2013-14 season and went between the AHL and NHL through the 2015-16 season before he became the Ducks’ starter during the 2016-17 season.
In 171 career starts, Gibson has a 93-55-20 record, 16 shutouts, a 2.29 GAA, .923 SV%, and 34.9 goalie point shares. He won a Jennings Trophy after the 2015-16 season for his role in helping the Ducks allow the fewest goals in the league. On Aug. 4, 2018, the Ducks signed him to an eight-year extension with a $6.4 million cap hit that goes into effect next season.
Gibson’s 90 wins from 2014-15, his first season as an NHL regular, through 2017-18 would have been second-most among Panthers’ netminders during the span, only behind Roberto Luongo’s 98. Gibson would look great on Florida’s roster considering they are searching for their goaltender of the future as Luongo approaches retirement.
Other Players the Panthers Passed On With the 33rd Pick
- Boone Jenner – Drafted 37th by the Blue Jackets
- Brandon Saad – Drafted 49th by the Blackhawks
2012 – Steven Hodges Over Frederik Andersen
The third round of the 2012 Draft was highlighted by several future stars, including Shayne Gostisbehere, Colton Parayko, and Matt Murray. Steven Hodges, who the Panthers drafted with the 84th pick, was not among them. Hodges, a center, was rated as the 85th-best North American skater and played his junior hockey for the WHL’s Victoria Royals. In his draft year, he scored 21 goals and 46 points in 72 games and played two more seasons with the Royals before turning pro.
He played his first AHL game during the 2014-15 season and went between that league and the ECHL through the 2016-17 season, his last season in the Panthers’ system. He was out of hockey last season and is expected to play for the University of British Columbia this season. He has yet to reach the NHL and never scored more than one goal in an AHL season.
Another player taken in that year’s third round who became a star is goaltender Frederik Andersen. He was originally drafted by the Hurricanes in the seventh round of the 2010 Draft but never signed. He re-entered the draft in 2012 and the Ducks took him with the 87th pick. He was unranked ahead of the draft after playing for Frolunda of the SHL in Sweden. He appeared in 39 games his draft year with a 1.62 GAA and .943 SV%.
He came to North America the following season and served as the Ducks’ main AHL goaltender in 2012-13, was their NHL backup in 2013-14, and their NHL starter during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, sharing the Jennings Trophy with Gibson the latter season. The Ducks traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in June 2016 and he has been their starter since. Since becoming Toronto’s starting netminder, his 132 starts are second-most in the league. In total, he has made 246 starts in his career with a 148-63-31 record, 15 shutouts, a 2.55 GAA, .918 SV%, and 47.9 goalie point shares.
His 246 starts, 148 wins, 15 shutouts, and 47.9 goalie point shares would be first among Panthers’ goaltenders since 2013-14 had they drafted him, while his save percentage and goals against average would be second. Like Gibson, Andersen is the type of player the Panthers would have loved to have drafted given the lack of talent they have at the position outside of Luongo and James Reimer.
Others That Didn’t Make the List
Although the overlooked players above were among the worst in recent team history, the Panthers made additional mistakes in the draft.
- 2006 – Drafted Michael Frolik over Bryan Little with the 10th overall pick
- 2007 – Drafted John Lee over Jake Muzzin in the fifth round
- 2008 – Drafted Jacob Markstrom over Roman Josi with the 31st pick
- 2008 – Drafted Adam Comrie over Adam Henrique in the third round
- 2011 – Drafted Kyle Rau over Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the third round
- 2012 – Drafted Alexander Delnov over Jaccob Slavin in the fourth round
- 2013 – Drafted Matt Buckles over Juuse Saros in the fourth round
- 2015 – Drafted Lawson Crouse over Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor with the 11th overall pick
Let me know what you think of the Panthers’ missed draft picks in the comments below.
*All stats and information came from Hockey-Reference, Elite Prospects, and HockeyDB