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Florida, You Are On The Clock

Less than 12 hours from the BEARD Hockey Inaugural Draft, we take an exclusive look inside the Florida Panthers’ facilities, and inside the mind of GM Trevor Cook.

Trevor Cook checks into the Florida Panthers' team facilities. Today, we're the first ones there - the sky is barely bright with the glow of the sunrise - as we head to the GM's office.

"Too early for this," he laughs. "It's a big day."

Truthfully, they don't come much bigger. You hear all the time about how draft day can change the fortunes of a rebuilding team holding a high pick in an Entry Draft. So imagine that, but with a clear slate - for an entire league. Tonight will set in motion the futures of all 32 BEARD Hockey franchises.

The GM's office is a sort of organized mess; scouting reports piled high on most surfaces in the room, a TV almost permanently set to SportsCenter, a mini-fridge full of snacks, computer screens full of spreadsheets, and a Google Chrome window with way too many tabs open. "This week has been draft prep week. There hasn't been time for much else. The scouts and I have been here working overtime every day," Cook says.

The Panthers made a little noise this week when they agreed to swap draft positions with the Vancouver Canucks shortly after winning the 6th overall pick in the league's draft lottery - moving themselves down from pick #6 to pick #18. I took the opportunity to see if I could glean some insight into the move.

Cook was happy to elaborate, if not to give specifics.

"If I'm being honest, I doubt we were looking at the same names at the top of the draft as everyone else. There's one guy - who I don't think we were going to get at #6, and we probably would've stayed there if I thought we would - and besides that, I think we're targeting a lot of players that we will still be able to look at in the 18th spot. So we're in a spot we're still really happy with, and we've got better position in the even-numbered rounds."

"I know there's a certain calibre of player that people were expecting us to have the chance to draft when we got that #6 slot in the draft. And yeah, I can see how as a fan you might be a little disappointed when you hear your team is going in a different direction. So it maybe adds a little more pressure to get it right, but we've done our research, got a good group of scouts here, and we're confident in our plan. And for us, the #18 spot seemed like a better spot to execute it from."

Time approaches a more reasonable hour of the morning, and Cook hops on a call with some scouts while I'm taken for a quick tour of the faculties. I come to the quick realization that ownership spared no expense making sure that people want to work for and play for the Florida Panthers. Whether it's the state-of-the-art gym, the full size pool area and hot tub, the incredible player's lounge, or the lunch room, cafeteria, break room, and offices with spectacular ocean views, just being in the building is an experience in itself.

I met back up with Cook just before lunch and got down to the subject of draft prep. What goes into preparing for a draft? Especially a franchise-defining event like this one?

"It's a process, for sure. It's a lot of work to prepare for an Entry Draft and this one is so much bigger. So we've got the scouts in here, we're in meetings all the time, reviewing players, talking about strategy and what we're looking for. We've been looking at how successful teams in other leagues, like the EHE for example, build themselves and how less successful teams build themselves and identifying what works and what doesn't as best as we can," he explained.

"I think the biggest difference with this one compared to your standard Entry Draft is how it's going to affect your finances. So we've gone through and budgeted for different positions in our lineup and obviously there's some wiggle room there. But you've got to be careful you don't put your team in a tough spot financially right off the bat."

"It's an exciting time."

We move the discussion towards the team's war room, where it will all go down tonight, and inevitably it's time for Cook to get back to work. The Panthers are in good hands. They will be ready to build an organization over the next few weeks.

Be excited, hockey fans in Sunrise - tonight begins a new era in Florida Panthers hockey.

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