B / 16th overall
The Panthers finally have the pipeline of elite scoring talent that they had been seeking since Dale Tallon took over as GM in 2010. As the contracts of Florida’s top-six start to come due in 2020, the Panthers have several options to consider. Some of those options include the leading scorers from this year’s World Junior Championship, two power forwards and a top-flight center who is already seeing some NHL action. Taking care of business in the defensive end has been Florida’s biggest issue this season, and internal help in the form of goaltending and a shutdown defenseman are still at least a year away.
1. Grigori Denisenko (6th overall)
LW, 18, 5-11, 176 – Yaroslavl (KHL)
2018 draft, 15th overall
Florida sees the 2019 WJC leading scorer as the full package. He’s a smooth skater who is shifty in the corners. He loves to take advantage of his lethal shot, making him a perfect complement for Aleksander Barkov or Henrik Borgstrom. “He can push the pace in a game, he can play with elite players and he can make players around him better,” said director of player personnel Bryan McCabe. Denisenko is physical despite his small frame. He’ll spend at least one more year in Russia.
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2020-21
2. Henrik Borgstrom (16th overall)
C, 21, 6-3, 190 – Springfield (AHL)
2016 draft, 23rd overall
In his first year as a pro, Borgstrom started the season in the AHL, but after averaging nearly a point per game, he had earned an NHL call-up. His playmaking ability was showcased as high as Florida’s second line. Strength is still an issue, and he recognizes his limitations, but the Panthers love his work ethic. “He’s an incredibly cerebral, smart player,” said assistant GM Eric Joyce. “What impresses us the most about him is his detail. He’s always in the right spot at the right time.”
FW18| No. 1 – NHL | 2019-20
3. Owen Tippett (23rd overall)
RW, 20, 6-2, 205 – Saginaw (OHL)
2017 draft, 10th overall
The Panthers returned Tippett to junior, hoping he’d find more jam. The natural scorer learned to develop a sense of urgency away from the puck with penalty-killing duties in Mississauga. Along with an exceptional shot and explosive stride, Tippett’s improved defense earned him a WJC spot. He’ll wrap up his OHL career in Saginaw after a trade. Florida likes the fit. “Saginaw plays a high-tempo, come-at-you energy game, which is what we’re preaching to ‘Tipp,’ ” McCabe said.
FW18| No. 2 – NHL | 2019-20
4. Aleksi Heponiemi (64th overall)
C, 20, 5-10, 147 – Karpat (Fin.)
2017 draft, 40th overall
The Finn boasts highlight-reel skills, which he’s showing off during his rookie pro season. He’s an elite passer with the ability to think the game two steps ahead. “He’s got a high hockey IQ,” McCabe said, “and he’s a determined individual.” Size is the issue, but Heponiemi added 10 pounds in the off-season. Florida would like to see more detail in his own end. Between a smooth transition in Europe and his production at the WJC, McCabe said Heponiemi has “exceeded our expectations.”
FW18| No. 3 – NHL | 2020-21
5. Serron Noel (80th overall)
RW, 18, 6-5, 213 – Oshawa (OHL)
2018 draft, 34th overall
Noel has set personal bests across the board. Florida is eager to get the hardworking power forward under contract and see how many heads he can turn. “He deserves it,” Joyce said. “The best part about him is I know he’ll probably take that signing bonus money, and invest in himself and train all summer. He’s a dedicated kid.” The Panthers are high on Noel’s size, skating and ability to finish, making him an ideal replacement for the traded Nick Bjugstad. “We’re excited,” Joyce said.
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2021-22
6. Sam Montembault
G, 22, 6-3, 192 – Springfield (AHL)
13–14–3, 3.16, .901
2015 draft, 77th overall
Fleury-like with a great glove. Moves the puck like a third ‘D.’ Now Florida’s No. 3.
7. Jayce Hawryluk
RW, 23, 5-11, 196 – Springfield (AHL)
2014 draft, 32nd overall
Pesky winger had become a mainstay in Florida’s bottom-six by January.
8. Ryan Bednard
G, 21, 6-5, 205 – Bowling Green (WCHA)
16–6–4, 1.80, .923
2015 draft, 206th overall
Big late bloomer could turn pro after junior season. Ready for AHL seasoning.
9. Max Gildon
D, 19, 6-3, 191 – New Hampshire (HE)
2017 draft, 66th overall
Power-play QB with a big shot. Has shown improvement containing opponents.
10. Riley Stillman
D, 20, 6-2, 194 – Springfield (AHL)
2016 draft, 114th overall
Shutdown defender has adjusted well to pro game. Also plays wing in a pinch.