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The Florida Panthers Go Into NHL Draft Without a First-Round Pick (again)

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Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito speaks following the end of the 2021 NHL Draft in Sunrise. That was the last draft Zito and the Panthers had a first-round pick as they selected Mackie Samoskevich. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

NASHVILLE — Bill Zito became the general manager of the Florida Panthers in 2020 yet when it comes to the NHL Draft, he has never walked up on stage to introduce his team’s first-round selection.

His first draft, the one in which Florida took Anton Lundell with the 12th pick, was done virtually due to the pandemic.

In 2021, he was at the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club as the draft was, again, held online as the Panthers took Mackie Samoskevich with the 24th selection.

Florida has not had a first-round pick since and are not scheduled to have one again until 2026.

Which means, unless something changes, Zito will not be headed on stage tonight when the 2023 NHL Draft commences at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

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Unless, of course, the Panthers pull something unexpected and trade back into the first round.

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Or Zito wins the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award after being a finalist two of the past three seasons.

Could the Panthers find their way into the first round tonight?

Stranger things have happened.

Zito certainly is no stranger to pulling off a trade (or three) and says that if there is a player whom he and his scouting braintrust absolutely have to take, he is willing to make that leap if, he said, “it was too valuable to pass up.”

“If we have somebody whom we have rated very high and they’re slipping — but I don’t know if he’s going to get into the 60s — maybe we do give something up,’’ Zito said.

“There could always be trades. You never know until that phone rings.”

So, one may be thinking, how is it that the Panthers do not have any first round draft picks?

If you enjoyed the past two seasons of Panthers hockey, well, it came at a bit of a cost — and that was future draft picks.

Like many general managers, Zito looks at high draft picks as currency to use not only for the future but for the immediate.

In 2021 while working at the yacht club, Zito pulled off a deal with the Buffalo Sabres which brought Sam Reinhart to town. The cost: Florida’s 2022 first-round pick and goalie prospect Devon Levi who may end up being the Sabres’ starter this season.

At the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, Zito acquired defenseman Ben Chiarot from Montreal and Claude Giroux from Philadelphia to bolster Florida’s Stanley Cup hopes.

Chiarot cost Florida its first-round pick this year — it dropped all the way to No. 31 with the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final — and the Giroux deal cost the 2024 first-round selection among other things.

Last July, Zito gave up Florida’s first-round pick in 2025 to Calgary as part of the haul which brought Matthew Tkachuk to South Florida.

As part of all of those trades, the Panthers also do not have a second-round pick next year.

If Zito does not trade into the first round today, that could make for a pretty boring opening night in Nashville for the Panthers.

Day 2 of the draft starts Thursday morning with the Panthers having their first pick at No. 63 in the second round. Florida does not have a third-round selection.

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