Compared to the lost drafts of 2005 and 2006, where only one of 14 players selected (Michael Frolik, now with Chicago) went onto be a full-time NHLer, the 2007 class is an unqualified success.. The draft has so far produced one NHLer in Keaton Ellerby, two players who appear to be on the verge of becoming a full-time players in Evgeni Dadonov and Michal Repik, a late-round Russian goaltender who has been working his way up the KHL ladder, and a collegiate defenseman who may yet prove to be a valuable professional.
Coming off an historic season for goals allowed, the Panthers used their first-round selection on a player considered by many to be second-best defenseman available in the draft, behind Karl Alzner (taken by Washington 5th overall).
After an additional post-draft season of junior hockey and an invitation to the Team Canada World Junior selection camp, Ellerby signed an entry-level deal with the Panthers. He attended fall camp with the Panthers and displayed some of the skills that earned him a top-ten draft selection, but was ultimately assigned to the AHL. Ellerby finished second in team scoring for Rochester in 2008-09 with three goals with 20 assists. In 2009-10, Ellerby doubled his goal total and earned 22 pointless games in the NHL.
Ellerby played all but a handful of games at the NHL level in 2010-11. He averaged over 16 minutes of ice-time per game mostly at even strength, scored two goals and added 10 assists in 54 games. Although he finished the season with the lowest plus/minus among Florida’s defensemen, his offensive contributions and ability to move the puck up ice proved valuable to the club.
Although he now enjoys full-time status on the Florida roster, the 2011-12 season has seen Ellerby spending a lot of time in the press box watching games instead of playing in them. The offseason signing of veteran defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski and the emergence of rookie Erik Gudbranson has left Ellerby the odd man out most nights. Although he may never become the top-pairing blueliner that many hoped he would be, he does look to be a solid middle-pair offensive defenseman with many years of NHL contribution ahead of him.
In the second round, the Panthers looked to bolster scoring depth on the right wing. Repik had just come off of a successful season with the Giants, helping lead the team to its first Memorial Cup championship while earning the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the tournament’s top scorer (beating out teammate and Boston prospect Milan Lucic by a single point).
A head injury kept Repik off of the ice for most of the early part of the 2007-08 season, but he finished strong after returning to the Giants. He tallied 27 goals and added 34 assists, finishing the season third on his team in scoring. He then paced the Giants in the playoffs, scoring five goals in 10 games.
Repik managed 49 points in his rookie professional campaign in 2008-09. Since then, he has split time between the AHL and NHL, but has struggled to score at the NHL level. In 55 games coming into the 2011-12 year, Repik had scored just seven goals with eight assists, primarily playing bottom-line energy role. A smaller player with above-average skating and stick-handling abilities and a good release, Repik could still become a second-line winger in the NHL. He appears to be gradually earning more trust from the Panthers staff, and has repaid that trust with five points in 16 games this season.
In the third round, the Panthers selected another smallish but skilled right winger in Dadonov. In his draft year, the young Russian received limited ice time playing against veterans in what is now the KHL, but he put his skills on display at that year’s Under-18 World Junior Championships and scored two goals and two assists in seven international games while earning a gold medal with Russia. Dadonov played two more seasons for Traktor Chelyabinsk, where he scored a total of 35 points in 83 games, finishing in the top ten in team scoring each year. He also played in another two World Junior tournaments for Russia, and in the 2008 championships he rang up seven points in seven games.
Dadonov signed a contract with the Panthers prior to the 2009-10 season and began his North American career that fall. He played 76 games in the AHL, and enjoyed a brief cup of coffee with the Panthers (four scoreless games). Since then, he has bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL, logging 51 more games, 10 goals and 10 assists in the NHL.
Florida’s free-agency spree of last summer, combined with the immense prospect depth at the forward position, eventually caught up with Dadonov. The Panthers traded the young winger to Carolina on January 18, 2012 (along with prospect A.J. Jenks).
Matt Rust, C, US Development Program – 4th Round, 101st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Panthers selected Rust in the fourth round, hoping that his speed and grit would help make up for his 5’9 frame. After playing three seasons and 65 games with USA Hockey and gaining valuable international experience, Rust started his hockey career with the University of Michigan.
The Panthers traded Rust to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL trade deadline in 2010. The trade looks prophetic in hindsight as Rust’s senior year was ultimately a disappointment and he would finish his college career with 41 goals and 70 assists in 164 games played.
The Blue Jackets did not sign Rust after his NCAA eligibility expired. The New York Rangers invited Rust to training camp last fall, but released the free agent early in camp. He then tried to latch on with AHL’s Connecticut Whale, but was again released. Rust was eventually signed to a minor-league deal by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and has played 24 games for their AHL affiliate, primarily in a checking line role.
The Panthers selected a two-way defenseman in the fifth round. Lee, the younger brother of defenseman Brian Lee (OTT), played high school hockey in Minnesota and also played 27 games with the USHL Waterloo Black Hawks in his draft year before moving the USHL full time He did not add a lot of scoring for the Black Hawks, but he did rack up 106 penalty minutes in his 59 games.
Lee moved on to University of Denver in 2008. In his sophomore year, he finished tenth on the team in scoring with 19 points and rang up 188 hits and 46 blocked shots, second and third on the team respectively, and was selected to the All-WCHA Academic Team. His junior season resulted in more of the same for the rock-solid defenseman, with 39 games played, 12 points, 63 blocks, and another All-WCHA Academic team selection.
Lee is currently playing out his senior season with Denver as an alternate captain. Steadiness and durability has become the hallmark of his play, but his offensive game has been limited. He is a defenseman that plays a simple, nearly unnoticeable game that gets the job done. His future as a professional will depend on his ability to maintain the consistency he has shown in college.
With the last pick of the sixth round, the Panthers chose another defender whose older brother Danny Syvret was then an NHL prospect. The younger Syvret was traded mid-season of his draft year from the OHL‘s London Knights to Guelph. There, he played in 27 games, scoring five goals with nine assists. Syvret played an additional 176 games for Guelph over the next three seasons, including an overage season in 2009-10 during which he put up 30 points in 66 games. At the end of the year, the Panthers brought Syvret up to play four games with their AHL affiliate Rochester Americans. That summer, the Panthers decided not to sign Syvret to a contract, and he rights were relinquished.
Syvret played the 2010-11 season in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings. He skated in 28 games with zero points, though he did notch two points in four playoff games that year. He is currently playing for the Trenton Titans of the ECHL.
Ryan Watson, LW, Cambridge (MWJHL) – 7th Round, 191st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Watson, originally draft eligible in 2006, was selected by Florida as a project forward with good size and offensive instincts. He scored 56 points in 37 games in Junior A hockey in the 2006-07 season, enough to earn a look from the Panthers. Committed to Western Michigan, Watson began his collegiate hockey career the following the 2007 draft.
At Western Michigan, Watson enjoyed moderate success playing in a bottom-line role with the Broncos through his freshman and sophomore seasons. However, his career stagnated in his junior year, during which he scored two points and played in only 20 games, seeing plenty of time as a healthy scratch. His play improved somewhat in his senior year, but not enough to earn a professional contract from the Panthers.
Watson is playing in the ECHL this season. Having originally signed with Idaho, he has since been moved to the Utah Grizzlies. There is little reason to expect anything more than minor league play in his future.
Sergei Gayduchenko, G, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Russian Jr) – 7th Round, 202nd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
With their final selection of the 2007 draft, the Panthers took a shot at a little-known but huge (6’5, 227 pounds) Russian netminder. Gayduchenko has progressed slowly since then. In the 2007-08 season, he played primarily for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s second team, but did register some ice time with Metallurg in the top league where he played behind current NHLer Sergei Bobrovsky (PHI). Gayduchenko returned to Lokomotiv for the 2008-09 season and saw only three games with the big club, but his startling .942 save percentage was enough to earn him the backup spot the following year. Gayduchenko again posted decent numbers, saving better than 92 percent of the shots he faced. For the 2010-11 season, Gayduchenko moved to the famous CSKA Moscow team and split time with former NHL netminder Steve Valiquette and gained valuable experience.
He is still splitting time at CSKA Moscow, but his slow but steady progression, great size, and athletic ability have kept him on the Panthers radar. If he is willing to cross the pond, with some coaching and additional experience on North American ice, Gayduchenko could become one of the more promising goaltenders in the Panthers organization.