NASHVILLE — Without a first-round pick for the second consecutive year, the Florida Panthers took some big swings on the second day of the NHL Draft on Thursday morning.
Florida mixed up its five picks by taking two forwards, a pair of defensemen and a goalie.
Center Gracyn Sawchyn was predicted by some to be a late first or early second round pick after he helped lead his Seattle Thunderbirds team to the Western Hockey League title.
Yet there he was waiting for the Panthers when they were up to bat with the 63rd overall pick.
Bill Zito went above the traditional “he was at the top of our list” spiel by saying the Panthers were trying to move up in the draft to draft the hard-nosed center.
Regardless, they got him.
“Our scouts were pretty happy,” Zito said. “There were instances when we were trying to move up and got the player anyway. So that was great. We were trying and it was a situation where it was ‘what’s the cost’ so we were rolling the dice a little bit. We didn’t want to give up more picks. It worked out for us.”
Sawchyn, 18, was ranked the No. 13 prospect by EliteProspects.com and does look like a steal of a pick for the Panthers.
Last season he scored 18 goals with 58 points in 58 games for the Thunderbirds — adding three goals and 11 points in the postseason.
Born in Alberta, Sawchyn played prep hockey at the famed Shattuck St. Mary in Minnesota before playing for the United States National Team Development Program.
He is expected to return to Seattle for the upcoming few seasons to continue developing his game, one in which he is not afraid to go hard to the net — a style he likes to compare to Matthew Tkachuk.
“I think I bring a lot of skill, a lot of compete and grit,” Sawchyn said. “I think a big thing which separates me from other players is grit along with that skill.”
The Panthers are going to have a development camp in the coming days with this being Sawchyn’s first trip to the Sunshine State.
After a couple of meetings with the Panthers, Sawchyn said he had a feeling he would end up with the Panthers despite their draft standing in the second round.
So, sitting through the first 62 picks with friends and family in Nashville was not that hard.
“Obviously there are so many good players and every team has a chance to pick what they need,” he said. “I’m glad I went to Florida. I talked to them multiple times, actually kind of had a feeling I would go to Florida. I am glad it worked out.”
As for Florida’s other picks, the Panthers did not have a third round pick and took defenseman Albert Wikman in the fourth round.
With their fifth-round pick, Florida added goaltending depth with Swedish netminder Olof Glifford.
“We’re really blessed to have our goaltending department,’’ Zito said. “You can trust them, they are very thorough and have different voices but a shared philosophy. … They have done an unbelievable job so far.’’
Florida closed out the draft with Canadian defenseman Luke Coughlin and Russian forward Stepan Zvyagin.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Friday: Buyout period ends
- Saturday: Free agency opens, noon
- July 9-15 (approximately): Development camp, Coral Springs
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts, doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends, vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
- Mid-October: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season