The Panthers took Canadian defenseman Evan Nause in the second, Russian defenseman Vladislav Lukashevich in the fourth, Russian goaltender Kirill Gerasimyuk in the fifth, Czech right wing Jakub Kos in the sixth and Canadian defenseman Braden Hache in the seventh.
None of those will be in South Florida anytime soon, though, and the Panthers are at the point where their primary focus is on winning a Stanley Cup with their current group. It meant Zito was fine parting with a first-round pick and fine parting with Levi, who was a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL entry draft, but could’ve been permanently stuck behind rookie goaltender Spencer Knight.
The Panthers also put a top-10 protection on their pick, Sportsnet reported.
Buffalo, on the other hand, is in a full-fledged rebuild, and prioritized picks and prospects this weekend. Florida took advantage to bolster its present lineup with Reinhart, who had 25 goals and 15 assists in 54 games last season.
“We want to improve, we want to get better,” Zito said. “Yeah, we want to help, but we also want to respect that room and what they did, and what they accomplished was extraordinary.”
They no longer have any picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 NHL draft. Instead, they have a core group they trust and, coincidentally, three of the top four picks from the 2014 NHL entry draft with Reinhart, Bennett and Ekblad.
This is the Panthers’ timeline now. Most of their best players are hitting their primes and could be in them for years to come.
Zito is putting together a roster capable of winning the 2022 Stanley Cup, but he also envisions years of contention behind the 2021-22 NHL season.
“Hopefully, we play them properly and we have the good fortune of being able to keep them, then we’d be able to hold on to the assets through their prime,” Zito said. “They are players and, hopefully, teammates that we can have here for a while.”©2021 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.