• Elite Hockey Experience

Florida Panthers' 2019 Entry Draft review


As an EHE team begins making preparations for the entry draft, the first thing that's generally done is an over-all assessment of the organization and its assets. From there, the team can usually decide upon a “best player available” or “draft for need” strategy for each of its picks, depending on the club's priorities and organizational weaknesses that need to be addressed.

For the Florida Panthers, the team already has bonafide NHL prospects at left wing with Denisenko and Robertson, at center with Studnicka, at right wing with Nylander, and at defense with Vaakanainen, Joseph and Samuelssen. But the team had no sure-fire goaltending prospect. And along that same line, the main long-term project that was identified by GM Jeff Kuntz when he took over the team was to build out a so-called "goalie pipeline" for the club.

“I kicked tires on a few goalies through the course of the 2018-19 season, but with Braden [Holtby] in the fold and only 29 years old, finding his future replacement just wasn't something that had any sort of urgency for me,” explained Panthers GM Jeff Kuntz.

But, Kuntz admitted, “Clearly though, goaltending depth is a huge problem for us. I decided that the 2019 EHE draft was the perfect opportunity because you don't need to negotiate with other GMs and pay whatever prices they set. You just draft the player and you own their EHE rights.”

“My plan was that I wanted to draft an AHL-aged goalie who showed the most potential to become an EHE starter, and then also the 18-year old goalie with the most potential,” said Kuntz.

At one point, the Panthers held the sixth over-all pick and could have selected Spencer Knight to take care of the second objective, but that pick was dealt in a blockbuster trade to acquire Tyler Seguin. Given the team's desire to contend within 1-2 years, using that pick to land Seguin made much more sense than Knight.

“There's no question that Spencer Knight was the goalie with the highest upside potential in the 2019 EHE draft, but in my analysis another goalie -- Josef Korenar -- was easily the most talented goalie available on draft day. I swung a deal with Boston for Jaden Schwartz in which I included a swap of a 2020 second round pick for the 38 pick in 2019, and my expectation was that Korenar would be the best player available at 38,” Kuntz said.

But as is often the case at a SIM draft, unexpected things happen. Kuntz: “When Simon Holmstrom was shockingly available at 38, I had to adjust. Korenar would be nice but there were other options and I really wanted to take the best player available at 38 and would worry about getting my two goalies in the third and fourth rounds. I also was willing to gamble that most of the league was asleep on Korenar, so we drafted Simon.”

Then began the nervous wait.

The Panthers didn't pick again until 65.

Kuntz explained: “While deep down I knew that 27 or 28 of the other GMs wouldn't even have Korenar on their draft boards at all, I also knew that 3 or 4 would be astute enough to have him right up there behind Knight on their goalie lists. After drafting Holmstrom I tried to trade back in to the second round with like 5 different GMs to select Korenar but nobody wanted to make a deal.”

Then .. it happened.

During a break after the second round, with New Jersey's pick 63 on the clock... another GM began publicly inquiring about pick 64, one spot ahead of Florida.

“My spidey senses went off. Actually they went berzerk. My stomach went into knots. I somehow had no doubt in my mind that GM was trying to trade up one spot ahead of me to draft Korenar. I immediately contacted New Jersey and traded 65 for 63, surrendering our 2020 fifth round pick to move up just 2 spots in the third round, but I was on the clock,” explained Kuntz.

As it turned out, Kuntz's instincts were correct and the trade paid off.

“Fifteen minutes after the pick was made, curiosity got the best of me and I contacted the other GM and asked if he was trying to trade up to 64 to snag Korenar. That GM confirmed to me that's exactly what he was trying to do,” said Kuntz. “He said he had Korenar as a top 40 prospect in the 2019 draft and that he was trying to trade ahead of me to draft Josef. I'm assuming he looked at my organization chart and he realized that it made sense for me to take Korenar at 65.”

“So I had my young AHL goalie, and I just needed to pick the best 18 year old available when I was up at 99 and then two pieces of our goalie pipeline would be in place,” Kuntz stated.

“Pick after pick flew by until I was up, and Colton Ellis was still on the board. Easiest pick I've ever made as a GM in SIM hockey,” said Kuntz.

“Heading in to draft day, I thought I would be done with the draft at 99 but I had obviously noticed Sammy Bolduc was still on the board and was sliding down for some reason. I quickly reached a deal with the Rangers to grab pick 105 and drafted Sammy in the fourth round,” continued the Panthers GM. “Now I was done.”

Kuntz seemed pretty pleased with how his draft turned out: an unexpected surprise landing Holmstrom at 38 and two very good goalies at different stages of development to be building blocks of the goaltending pipeline. And then snapping up Samuel Bolduc who somehow made it to the fourth round.

But when the draft grades came out, Florida only received a B-minus.

“I'm not surprised,” said Kuntz. “The morning after the draft, the guy who writes up the draft grades said 'Not a fan of the Florida picks' in the EHE Slack channel. There's supposed to be a rule where we don't criticize each other's drafts but for some reason three people crapped on our draft. You have to understand that they don't look at my org chart enough to know that we already had multiple top prospects at every skating position and that our goalie situation was in total shambles. I decided I would use the 2019 EHE draft to work on correcting the biggest problem we had. And I feel I did exactly that.”

Next up for the Panthers is the restricted free agency period, where the team is evaluating its options on presenting an offer sheet to one of two potential targets. After acquiring Tyler Seguin, the team now also expects to match any offer sheet to Mark Stone.