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June 29, 2013

DRAFT DAY DECISIONS FOR PANTHERS: Florida Holds Second Pick on Sunday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- When the Panthers had the third overall pick in 2011, Florida landed forward Jonathan Huberdeau -- now the reigning rookie of the year.

"There were two players we thought were close to Huberdeau,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. "We just waited for the picks to be made and he fell into our lap. Looking back, the right guy fell into our lap.''

On Sunday, Florida has the second selection after Colorado. The Panthers hope history repeats itself and another top-end talent heads to South Florida.

Colorado, which won the draft lottery in April to pull the top pick away from the last-place Panthers, says it will select a forward and not top-rated defenseman Seth Jones.

Of course, this could be a bluff in trying to get the Panthers -- or someone else -- to trade up for the top pick.

Jones, after all, not only has ties to the Denver area and the Avs organization but as a defenseman plays a position the Avs could use help in. General manager Dale Tallon says he believes what the Colorado management team of former players Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are selling.

"Based on their history as players and as people, they are new to the game but I believe they are very truthful,'' Tallon said. "I'm just concerned about what we can do. The top four guys are slam-dunks. We're very prepared and satisfied they all will help us out.''

If the Avs were to take center Nathan MacKinnon, whom it is believed the Panthers higher ups prefer, Florida is projected to select Jones.

Florida, by virtue of finishing the season in last place, will get what projects to be a very good player with either MacKinnon, Jones or forwards Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov.

"We're going to get a better-than-normal prospect in this draft,'' said Scott Luce, the team's director of amateur scouting. "We as an organization would much rather be in the playoffs like we were the year before, picking at 23 and getting a guy like Mike Matheson every year rather than going through the top guys in every draft. Our fans deserve that and our staff deserves that.''

Tallon said Saturday that the Panthers haven't decided whom they will take with the second pick and reiterated that Florida could move up in a deal with Colorado or slide down.

This draft is deep in talent and teams covet Florida's position.

"We're going to get one hell of a player,'' Tallon said. "I wish I had more picks. I really do. You try to be greedy, but you only get one kick at the can. You better make sure it's the right one. We're fortunate to be picking where we're picking.''

Said Santos: "If you are picking one, two, three or four, you are getting a player who is a game-changer. Being at No. 2 doesn't change a heck of a lot from being No. 1.''

The Panthers will have plenty of suitors come Sunday although Tallon said Saturday was "eerily quiet" on the trade front.

"Whatever the best option is for us, that's what we're going to do,'' Tallon said. "I had conversation with [Colorado] on a couple of occasions. You have to exhaust every opportunity to get better.

"It would be unfair for me not to ask them if they were thinking about moving that pick. If they move it for something that we had or more we could have given them, it would be very frustrating for our franchise and for all of us. We explore every avenue to make sure we have the best available picks. That's how I've always operated.''

Luce has been watching both Jones and MacKinnon for a long time. Although Jones comes into the draft as the top-rated prospect by NHL central scouting, MacKinnon is a player who has been pegged to be a top pick for the past few years.

Although surpassed by the emerging Jones in the eyes of some scouts -- Jones is approaching 6-foot-5 and can skate as well as anyone in this draft -- many feel MacKinnon is the goods and is a franchise-changing offensive forward.

"With our spot, we feel there are four guys out there who are elite guys,'' Luce said. "We spent the past few months looking at those four guys to determine who is the best fit for our organization. It's still a work in progress. We've had a lot of conversations.''

Because of the lockout that shortened the 2013 second to 48 games, the NHL is cramming all seven rounds of this draft into Sunday.

The first round is projected to take just over two hours to complete with the Panthers kicking off the second round with the 31st selection.

Tallon and his crew are hoping to continue adding to the Panthers depth as Florida holds five of the first 100 picks. Although Florida doesn't have a third round pick -- yet -- it does have three early selections in the fourth.

"Those picks are going to turn into something very positive for us,'' Tallon said. "Either we're going to use them to move up or it's such a deep draft, we'll fill some needs.''

2013 NHL DRAFT
Sunday, 3 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J. (NBC Sports Net)
Florida Panthers selections
Round 1 (second overall)
Round 2 (31st)
Round 4 (92nd, 97th, 98th)
Round 5 (122nd)
Round 6 (152nd)

DRAFT DAY DECISIONS FOR PANTHERS: Florida Holds Second Pick on Sunday

PANTHERS DRAFT NOTEBOOK: Huberdeau All-Rookie; Weiss Talks Continue; Jovo Feeling Good

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Jonathan Huberdeau received another honor Saturday as he was named to the NHL's All-Rookie team for 2013. Huberdeau recently was named the league's top rookie in winning the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Huberdeau had offseason surgery on his hip and is expected to resume skating in the coming weeks.

"He played hurt. That tells you a lot about this kid,'' GM Dale Tallon said. "He played hurt and extremely well. We didn't have many players due to injuries, so teams focused on him. He's a special kid.''

-- Tallon said he spoke with Stephen Weiss' agent on Saturday in the continued hopes to sign the pending free agent center.

"We're trying to get something done,'' Tallon said. "You only get one shot at being a free agent and we're trying to do the best we can for both parties. If I can come up with the right number, well, that's fine. We'll go through [Sunday] and then make a decision next week.''

-- Ed Jovanovski met with his surgeon on Friday and told Tallon he is pain free for the first time in a long time. Jovanovski was limited to six games last year after having radical hip surgery in April.

Tallon said Jovanovski is expected to begin skating this week although it's not known whether the defenseman will be ready for training camp in September.

PHOTOS COURTESY KELSEY HINDS

PANTHERS DRAFT NOTEBOOK: Huberdeau All-Rookie; Weiss Talks Continue; Jovo Feeling Good

PANTHERS DRAFT NOTEBOOK: Huberdeau All-Rookie; Weiss Talks Continue; Jovo Feeling Good

LECAVALIER A PANTHER? Florida Wants to Look Into Adding Former Lightning Captain

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

NEW YORK -- Vinny Lecavalier in a Panthers sweater?

If the team has its way, that scenario -- a nightmare for Tampa Bay fans -- could happen next season.

Lecavalier, the Lightning's all-time leader in just about everything, was bought out by the team and is now a free agent. With the Panthers looking for veteran talent, team management said Lecavalier is a player they are interested in.

Both general manager Dale Tallon and assistant GM Mike Santos said Saturday that the Panthers full attention, right now, is on Sunday's NHL draft.

After that, however, the team will look into Lecavalier's interest in staying in Florida -- only a few hours southeast of his beloved Tampa Bay.

Lecavalier, like all unrestricted free agents, can't sign with another team until July 5.

"We're very interested in his leadership, his skill level,'' Tallon said after meeting with draft prospects at the team's hotel near Times Square. "We have young, big centermen who could learn a lot from him.

"We have some interest; hopefully he has some as well. That's the way it starts. It takes two to tango. If he doesn't want to come, so be it. But I think there will be some open dialog there. That would be a benefit to our franchise.''

Lecavalier, who just finished his 14th season, has been the Lightning's captain since 2000 and has 26 goals and 42 assists in 78 games against the Panthers. Lecavalier had 10 goals and 22 assists in 39 games last year -- with two goals and six points in four games against Florida.

"Even the thought of wearing a different kind of jersey is weird in my head," Lecavalier told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

Because of a lowered salary cap -- and Lecavalier's declining numbers -- Tampa Bay decided to exercise its option to buy out the final seven years of the 11-year, $85-million deal Lecavalier signed with the team's previous owners.

So, the Lightning will pay Lecavalier roughly $33 million over the next 14 years and not have that money count against the salary cap.

A tireless philanthropist in the Tampa Bay area, the Panthers are hoping the lack of a state income tax and South Florida's proximity to his Tampa charities may help sway Lecavalier in staying local. Lecavalier was reportedly meeting with Dallas on Saturday.

"You have to have interest in Vinny Lecavalier,'' Santos said. "It's a little premature to see what his price will be in years and money. He's a high character guy with great leadership skills. .-.-. Is he better than what we have at center right now? Probably.

"There are a lot of reasons for him wanting to stay in the state of Florida. Lets face it, there are lots of tax advantages in Florida and the money Tampa is buying himself out with is considerable.''

PHOTO: Al Diaz, AP

LECAVALIER A PANTHER? Florida Wants to Look Into Adding Former Lightning Captain