NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers had a chance to continue to improve their defensive stock with the second pick in the 2013 NHL Draft but instead addressed a more pressing need.
Despite having top-ranked propect Seth Jones waiting for them, the Panthers picked Finnish center Sasha Barkov on Sunday afternoon.
Barkov, born in Finland to Russian parents, becomes the second-highest draft pick in Panthers history. Florida selected Ed Jovanovski with the top pick in 1994.
The Panthers apparently told Barkov they were very interested in taking him during their interview Saturday afternoon in New York City. The Panthers are expecting Barkov to compete for a center job during training camp.
"I want to play in the NHL and this is my chance,'' Barkov said shortly after the selection. "I have improved my game. I think I will [leave Finland] and play in Florida. I will be ready.''
Tampa Bay didn't pick Jones, either, and went with Jonathan Drouin with the third selection. Jones landed with Nashville and the fourth pick.
Florida GM Dale Tallon will meet with the media following the Panthers' first pick in the second round.
Barkov injured his shoulder in March but should be ready to go for training camp.
The top-rated European skater, Barkov turned pro at the age of 16 and has played the past two seasons in the Finnish elite league for Tappara.
When the Panthers played a preseason game against Tappara in Finland in 2009, Barkov's father Alexander was an assistant coach for the Tampere team. Florida ended up losing that exhibition 4-3 in a shootout.
Barkov, who attended the game, admits he rooted against the Panthers then -- but is now a big fan.
"I've always liked the Florida Panthers,'' Barkov said.