Hockey / Sports

Panthers GM says there's 70% chance team keeps No. 1 draft pick

PHILADELPHIA -- The Florida Panthers are on the clock, and about 25 hours before Friday's NHL draft was scheduled to begin in the Wells Fargo Center, General Manager Dale Tallon said there was a "70 percent" chance that he would hold onto the No. 1 pick.

Tallon, an accomplished poker player, is either telling the truth or bluffing to raise the ante of the many trade offers he's been fielding from a reported five teams who are yearning for projected NHL-ready defenseman Aaron Ekblad or centers Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett.

"It's going to be a tough decision for us if we do take the pick," Tallon said Thursday evening from the Panthers temporary headquarters in the Monaco Hotel. "We're about 70 percent we're going to take the pick. We've had a few real concrete offers that are intriguing, one really intriguing one.

"We're going to have a sleepless night tonight. Our staff is going to think about it ... and if we take the pick we're excited about that as well."

Tallon said the two best offers included an established player and a lower pick in the first round, which was "over and above probably what we imagined we'd get for the pick."

The Panthers, who finished 29th in goals scored and goals allowed, have many needs, but they are stockpiled with young defensemen, including Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Dylan Olsen, Colby Robak, Alex Petrovic and prospect Mike Matheson.

Conversely, the Edmonton Oilers, who finished 30th in goals allowed, are overflowing with talented young forwards such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov -- the No. 1 picks from 2010-12 -- and are believed to be dangling 24-year-old center Sam Gagner and their third overall pick to move up.

Tallon is high on several prospects who are sons of former NHL or European pros, such as Rienhart (Paul), William Nylander (Michael), Kasperi Kapanen (Sami), and Leon Draisaitl (Peter), all projected in the top 10.

"It's fantastic to see these kids to interview them a second time and get to know them better, see the eagerness and interest in them," Tallon said. "There are nine kids in the draft whose fathers have played in the NHL and that's fantastic. They're so calm and smart, and well-schooled, and all those things. Their passion for the game is immense."

Tallon met or will meet again with projected top three picks Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett, as well as Nylander, before the draft. However, he didn't schedule another interview with Finnish winger Kapanen -- a close friend of Panthers center Aleksander Barkov's -- or Draisaitl, a 6-foot-1, 204-pound German power forward who scored 105 points for Prince Albert of the WHL.

If the Panthers do trade down, Nylander, who dominated in the recently concluded Under-18 World Championship in Poland with 16 points in seven games, would be a good fit, given their paper-thin depth at right wing.

"We've got No. 1 and 32, so we'll get two really good players who will fit in nicely with what we have already," Tallon said. "I like having the first pick, but I don't want to have it ever again."

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