COMMENTARY | As both a Florida Panthers fan and a die-hard fan of the sport of hockey in general, I certainly suffered from some cognitive dissonance this season.
I was torn in half; part of me was upset with the lack of games and shortened schedule. Yet, the further the season went along, the Panther fan in me wanted the painful season to end quicker than a Los Angeles net-minder. Cheap jokes aside, it was truly a dismal season for the Panthers.
Injury after injury led to a disastrous last-place finish for the club. And even after the season ended, the losing continued. The Panthers were disgruntled yet again when they lost the draft lottery in favor of the Colorado Avalanche.
However, the promising play of Jacob Markstrom and Calder-caliber performance of Jonathan Huberdeau provided a silver lining to the rain cloud of a year, seemingly reminding fans not to linger too much on the present, that this is a budding team, biding it's time for the future.
The prospect pool of the Florida Panthers is arguably the strongest in the NHL and the number two overall pick in a formidable 2013 draft class will only further strengthen the future core of the team.
Therefore, the last place finish should not stir a panic amongst fans; The team is still completely on track.
The first opportunity for general manager Dale Tallon to move forward in his 'Blueprint' will be at the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey this summer and with possession of the number two overall pick, he really can't make a wrong decision.
Available are a stalwart defenseman in Seth Jones, a potential superstar centerman in Nathan Mackinnon, and Mackinnon's junior line mate, Jonathan Drouin, who, with stellar play this season, has risen substantially on draft lists.
At number one, the Avalanche are all but certain to draft the defenseman, Jones. The old draft adage, "draft the best player available, not the position of need," is immaterial to Colorado as Jones is both the consensus best player available and their position of dire need. The Avs already have a quality forward crop but could certainly use improvements to their blue line. Furthermore, Jones grew up and learned the game in Denver. Due to these reasons, it's difficult to imagine a situation in which the Avalanche don't pick Jones.
This boils the choice down to Mackinnon or Drouin. While some people favor the exciting and flashier style of Drouin, Mackinnon will undoubtedly be Tallon's pick.
Mackinnon has surefire potential to be a legitimate first line centerman, which the Panthers have coveted since trading away Olli Jokinen. Mackinnon's combination of elite skating ability, pure speed, and a scoring touch make him the best fit for our team moving forward. Drouin is a nice player but is primarily known as a playmaker, similar to the game Huberdeau already brings to the Panthers. Furthermore, some scouts are worried that Drouin's signature stick-handling flair won't translate at the NHL level.
On the other hand, Mackinnon is noted for having a pro-style, two-way game. He will easily crack Florida's roster as soon as next year, perhaps even as a first-liner. His scoring ability will naturally compliment and serve to take pressure off of Huberdeau. As a team that has significantly lacked offensive fire power since the days of the Russian Rocket, the Panthers won't pass up the chemistry and skill level of the potential potent duo of forwards. A combination of Huberdeau and Mackinnon would solidify the Panthers' offense for years to come. If you don't believe me, check out this gem from a QMJHL vs. Russia game from last year's Subway Super Series. *Warning- may cause excessive salivation.
Like Seth Jones for the Avalanche, Mackinnon is both the best player available and the best fit for the Panthers' organization. Bright, sunny days are certainly ahead for the Florida Panthers' offense this summer and moving forward.
Louis Elliot was born and raised in South Florida. He has been an avid Panthers fan since their inception in 1993.
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