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Panthers Should Take Forward #1 Overall



The Florida Panthers are on the clock. That much we know. Who they’ll take with the first overall selection is still the unknown part, to all of us and probably the Panthers themselves.

After all, there are three legitimate contenders for that top overall pick. There’s Sam Reinhart, thought for a time to be the consensus top pick in the draft. The 6’1” playmaker has elite hockey IQ and is already a leader with his CHL team, the Kootenay Ice, and the Canada U18 team. What about Aaron Ekblad, the hulking defenseman with the strong offensive game that has the potential to be someone’s franchise defender? Or Sam Bennett, the Kingston Frontenacs forward who has been compared in every aspect to his General Manager Doug Gilmour?

The decision won’t be easy for the Panthers. They need a little bit (or a lot) of everything and really couldn’t go wrong with any of the three. But maybe their decision is just a little easier than we all realize.

History says that choosing a forward is the way to go. Don’t believe me? Consider that since 1994, a defenseman has been chosen with the first pick just four times: Ed Jovanovski, Bryan Berard, Chris Phillips and Erik Johnson. Jovo is still going as a solid top-four defender, Berard had a nice little run but was ultimately hampered by injury, Phillips was a long-time solid defender and Johnson is the best defenseman the Colorado Avalanche have by a country mile. But if you re-did all of those drafts, arguably none of them would be the first picks again.

Of the 14 forwards selected with the top pick since then (there were also two goalies: Rick DiPietro in 2000 and Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003), it’s been pretty much a slam-dunk that teams picking first got a pretty damn good player. Check out this lineup: Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nathan MacKinnon. The only busts or bust-like substances have been Patrik Stefan (1999) and Nail Yakupov (2012). That’s 12 “hits” in 14 drafts. Pretty good odds.

Some of this is luck, but the general consensus is that when drafting a forward at the top of a given draft, you’re getting a player who can step in pretty much from day one and have an impact. The majority of that list had an impactful rookie year. The ones who didn’t were making a difference by year two or three. Defensemen, meanwhile, are harder to project. Not only that, but they are harder to develop. For every Seth Jones or Drew Doughty who makes an impact from day one, you get five rookie defensemen who struggle to make the transition and take at least a few years to become a reliable NHL defender if they ever pan out at all. This is also ignoring the fact that you can find pretty good defensemen later on in the draft. Erik Karlsson was a late first-round pick. Last year’s Norris winner, P.K. Subban, was a second-round pick. This year’s Norris Trophy candidates are Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara. Weber was the highest pick of all of them, taken 49th overall in 2003. Keith and Chara went 54th and 56th in their respective years.

The lesson from this is that when it comes down to it, always take the forward with the first overall pick. You’re getting a surer shot and a more impactful player from the start.

Which is fine and well, but still leaves the Panthers with the question of which Sam to take. Best of luck on that one, Mr. Tallon. At least the odds look pretty good that you won’t screw it up.

Read more at Two Pad Stack.


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