While other teams, mainly the Canucks, Islanders, and Rangers, were stealing the show with blockbuster deals, the Florida Panthers had an active day of their own, completing 2 trades and drafting a solid group of prospects.
Unlike past drafts, the Florida Panthers managed to draft a bit of everything, including 3 goaltenders. The only position that wasn’t cared for was the center position. The Panthers did take more skilled players than in previous drafts, and also picked up a few project players.
A recap of the Panthers draft picks and trades:
1: Denis Shvidki, RW/LW – (1st Round, 12th overall)
Vitals: 6’0″ 195lbs 18 years old.
Stats: Barrie (OHL) 61 Games, 35G-59A-94PTS 8PIM.
This kid out of the Ukraine was projected to be Top 8, but luckily dropped to #12 for the Panthers to grab. After playing 2 years in the Russian Junior League, Denis lit up the OHL, Racking up 94 points and a +57 rating in his rookie OHL season. Amazingly, some saw Shvidki’s season in the OHL as a dissapointment. They thought a young man like him, with his experiences, would do even more damage.
He could likely make the NHL right away, but with the Panthers getting their own AHL team next season, Shvidki could and should be developing one year in the AHL with super-sniper Ivan Novoseltsev.
Denis is exciting to watch. Possessing good speed and a good shot, Denis can use his teammates well, and creates chances for his teammates, as well as himself. Not overly physical, he can dissapear against physical teams if he is hit early and often. At times, he will fight through the checks and refuse to get knocked around. Otherwise, Denis plays the puck hard and sacrifices his body to generate scoring chances. Fits in nicely with the other exciting Panthers goal-scorers.
2: Alexander Auld, G – (2nd Round, 40th overall)
Vitals: 6’3 1/2″ 195lbs 18 years old.
Stats: North Bay (OHL) Went 9-20-1 with a 3.36 GAA.
The Panthers liked this kid so much, they traded their 45th overall pick, and their 9th round pick in the 1999 draft to move up 5 positions and take him. A tall, but wispy goaltender, Auld’s is a butterfly goalie who takes up a lot of the net.
The earliest goaltender pick in Panthers history, as most goaltenders go, Auld potential is somewhat unlimited. Goalies need the most development, and Auld’s abilites will continue to develop, hopefully to future success. Auld will be back with North Bay for sure next season as his progress continues.
3: Niklas Hagman, LW – (3rd Round, 70th overall)
Vitals: 5’11” 183lbs 19 years old.
Stats: HIFK (Finnish Jr.) 14 Games, 4G-9A-13PTS,
HIFK (Finnish Sr.) 31 Games, 2G-2A-4PTS.
Although ranked 48th in European skaters by CSB, many expected the son of former Oiler Matti Hagman to go earlier than expected. Hagman had a great WJC, leading the Finnish squad in scoring with 3 goals and 5 assists.
Hagman brings world class skills to a Panthers orginization lacking in skilled prospects. Hagman has great skating, and controls the puck very well. More of a finisher than a passer, Hagman has a hard, accurate wrist shot, and works hard to generate scoring chances.
Along with his skill, Hagman brings a lot of hard work to his hockey club. Hagman is stronger than most Finnish players in terms of corner battles, and is very tough mentally. Hagman works hard and has intangibles that most European players don’t. Looks to be a steal for the Panthers at #70.
4: Jean-Francois Laniel, G – (3rd Round, 80th overall)
Vitals: 6’1 1/2″ 170lbs 18 years old.
Stats: Shawinigan (QMJHL) 17 Games, went 6-7-0 with 3.90GAA
Quite a reach for Bryan Murray, he must have seen something very special in Laniel as he picked the French goalie in the 3rd round. Ranked 16th in North American Goalies, Laniel is a classic Butterfly goalie with quick reflexes. Will remain in Shawinigan as a back-up next season.
A project goalie perhaps? Laniel only played 17 games last season, and was expected to go in the very late rounds, if he was drafted at all. He hasn’t played many games in his QMJHL career, and must have impressed the Panthers scouts in some unknown way. His development will take a very long time, probably 5-6 years.
5: Morgan McCormack, RW – (4th Round, 103rd overall, compensation pick from Wash.)
Vitals: 6’3 1/2″ 199lbs 18 years old.
Stats: Kingston (OHL) 34 Games, 6G-5A-11PTS 43PIM.
Another project player, Morgan is a big winger with good hands, but not a lot of offensive ability. Injuries limited his playing time, and his body needs to fill out a lot.
Expected to grow another inch or two, McCormark’s size and good hands show potential for a Power Forward type player. He will need a great deal or work, and will be back playing full time in Kingston next season.
6: Rod Sarich, D – (4th Round, 109th overall)
Vitals: 6’3″ 178lbs 18 years old
Stats: Calgary (OHL) 65 Games, 3G-15A-18PTS 22PIM.
A tall, but thin defenseman, Rod Sarich (brother of Sabres defenseman Cory Sarich) needs to fill out and gain weight more than is usual for prospects his age. GM Bryan Murray liked his puck movement and offensive ability, although he won’t likely put up big numbers. Sarich has good skating, and prefers to ride out his man much like Gord Murphy. Somewhat of a project, Sarich’s downside is his wavering intensity and lack of physical play for one his size.
Jiri Dopita , C – (Acquired from the Islanders for the Panthers 5th Round Pick.)
Vitals: 6’3″ 230lbs 31 years old.
Stats: Petra Vsetin (Czech Extraleague) 17G-29A-46PTS
A member of the 1998 Czech Olympic Team, Jiri Dopita is a big center, and a legend in the Czech League. He has led his club team (Vsetin) to 4 straight league championships, and possesses NHL calibre skill and size. He would be a great 2nd or 3rd line center in the NHL and skates very well for a big player.
The problem with Dopita is that 3 other NHL teams have had his rights, but were unable to bring Dopita to North America. Dopita has turned down million-dollar contracts to keep his family in the Czech Republic and won’t likely play in North America. Makes me wonder why the Panthers think they can be successful in signing him. If they are successful, it would be a major coup for them.
7: Brad Woods, D – (6th Round, 169th overall)
Stats: Brampton (OHL), 58 Games, 1G-5A-6PTS 42PIM.
Another reach for Murray, Woods went unrated by CSB and compiled a lovely -43 rating with the Brampton Battallion of the OHL (The same team as phenom Jason Spezza). Another pick that makes no sense to me as this time.
8: Travis Eagles, RW – (7th Round, 198th overall)
Vitals: 6’3 1/2″ 195lbs 18 years old.
Stats: Prince George (WHL), 48 Games, 1G-9A-10PTS 66PIM.
Instead of picking an obsure European offensive threat, Murray went with a little-used character player in Travis Eagles. Gritty and hard-working, he will be back with Prince George or another WHL team next season.
9: Jonathan Charron, G – (8th Round, 227th overall)
Vitals: 6’1 1/2″ 180 lbs 18 years old.
Stats: Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL), 19 Games, went 10-9-0 with a 3.60GAA,
Val d’Or (QMJHL), 26 Games, went 12-7-2 with a 4.21GAA
Involved in the big Roberto Luongo trade, the Panthers were pleasently surprised to see Charron fall to the 8th round. A typical QMJHL butterfly goalie, Charron has good quickness and could be a steal in the 8th round.
With the exception of a Center, the Panthers got a bit of everything in this draft: 3 goalies, a few good prospects, a few projects, and what could be a few steals. Players like Eagles or Woods have very little potential for anything great, while other NHL teams (like the Senators), have shown that little-known European picks can turn out to be good players.
Overall, this draft could be one of the best ever for the Panthers. Three goalies were drafted. Shvidki fell to 12th. Hagman and Sarich could be solid mid-round picks.
With the Panthers getting their own AHL affiliate next season, and with a young, fast, exciting team, things are looking up for the Panthers after a couple bad seasons.