In Part 1 of the Class of ’99 series, I profiled the graduates of the 1998-99 season: Mark Parrish, Peter Worrell, Jaroslav Spacek, and Oleg Kvasha. With a new season underway, and many of the overpaid veterans (such as Kirk Muller) bought out or traded, there are more rookies making an impact on the Panthers this season, and other hopefuls looking to make an impact on the Panthers in the coming months. This article will look at the prospects who have made the Panthers early in the season.
Ivan Novoseltsev – RW [1998/99: 63 Games, 54g-36a-90pts 41pim – Sarnia (OHL)]
After a mediocre start to his OHL career (45 points in 51 games) in 1997/98, Ivan turned it up to score 54 goals in 63 games with the Sarnia Sting (owned by ex-Panther Dino Ciccarelli) in 1998/99. He had a great training camp in Florida and would have made the big club if not for the depth of skilled forwards on the team. Panthers GM Bryan Murray wanted Novoseltsev to get the prime-time ice time he needed, to develop his offensive and defensive games. Playing on the 3rd or 4th line in Florida wouldn’t be too beneficial to an offensive-minded player like Novoseltsev.
His 1999/2000 season has been a success so far. After a good showing in the pre-season, “Supernova” has lit up the AHL with 2 goals and 4 assists in just 5 games for the expansion Louisville Panthers. In addition to his AHL exploits, the injury to sniper Pavel Bure meant a call-up for Novo…it was time for the big show!
His debut was everything people were expecting of Novoseltsev, as he played against the Leafs in Toronto, very close to where he played junior hockey (Sarnia). Although dissapointed that his junior coach could not attend the game, Novo did score both goals in a 3-2 loss to the Leafs. Both goals were on the Power Play, and Novo was the most energetic player on both teams. Unfortunately, his teammates didn’t follow suit.
After his quick start, reality set in. The Bure-less Panthers a usually lack spark, and Novo just isn’t ready to fill such a role. In the 4 NHL games that followed, Novo’s weaknesses shone through, as his defensive lapses led to goals against. He didn’t use his teammates to the fullest, either. He collected 1 more assist and went -2 to finish with 2 goals and 1 assist in 5 games. A promising start, but there is much work to be done.
Novoseltsev can score, and some believe he should still be in the NHL, but, he is a rough jewel that needs to polished. He is very creative, but like a lot of Russian snipers (and Viktor Kozlov), he tends to stickhandle forever into nowhere, and doesn’t feed his teammates when he is in trouble, or when his teammates are in good scoring position. But that problem is smaller in comparison to his overall defensive play. Nobody will realistically expect Novoseltsev to be a Selke winner or checking winger. Just like Pavol Demitra in St. Louis, the Panthers just need Novoseltsev to not be a liability when he is on the ice. The effort to backcheck must be there, and Novo must learn to cover the point man well. Now that Novo is back in the AHL, the coaching staff will continue to develop his overall game.
Novoseltsev is the most exciting Panthers prospect since Ed Jovanovski…perhaps the most exciting ever. He could be a first-line winger at best, or a high-end second-line sniper. He could score 30-40 goals a season in about 3-5 years.
Ryan Johnson – C [1998/99: 37 Games, 8g-19a-27pts 18pim – New Haven (AHL)]
After a dissapointing 1998/99 season, in which he had a horrible training camp, and then missed most of the season with post-concussion-syndrome, Ryan Johnson’s future looked like that of a career AHL’er…but with the Panthers weakness at the center ice position, Johnson still had a shot at making the pro roster.
Despite his terrible season, Johnson knew he had 2 things going for him. 1. Chris Wells could not hold down the 4th line Center spot. Wells was just too slow, and couldn’t be counted on to perform defensive chores, hit anybody, or win a faceoff. 2. Most importantly, in the age of the almighty dollar, Johnson would have to clear waivers if the Panthers sent him to the AHL.
Although Eric Boguniecki outperformed Johnson in the pre-season, Ryan Johnson still showed some skill, and his speed is a big asset. Not wanting to lose Johnson to another team, the Panthers sent the smallish Boguniecki to the AHL, and kept Johnson on the pro roster.
Ryan was expected to be the 13th forward, only expected to play a handful of games, but he’s done more than that. With injuries to Whitney and Bure opening up forward spots, and with Chris Wells playing like…Chris Wells, Ryan’s speed has been useful for 4th line Center duty…including some shifts on the penalty kill. Through 10 games for the Panthers, Ryan has played in 8 of them, recording 1 goal and 1 assists with a -1 rating. He has also won 55.71% of his faceoffs, something which the Panthers (the NHL’s worst faceoff team last season) also need Johnson to do.
Despite having an AHL calibre game, Johnson, through expansion and opportunity, has managed to stick himself on the 4th line and play regularily. He has also shown versatility, and logged some shifts on the wing, allowing Chris Wells to assume the 4th line center role. Johnson likely won’t put up many points, getting 20 points at tops in his career.
John Jakopin – D [1998/99: 60games, 2g-7a-9pts 154pim – New Haven (OHL)]
With defensemen Terry Carkner and Gord Murphy departing over the summer, and Paul Laus being converted to a full-time Left Winger, John Jakopin was a favorite to lock up one of the new defense openings. His 1998-99 season in the AHL was fairly solid, as John Jakopin faced the oppositions’ top scorers every night and earned a short mid-season call-up to the Panthers.
With the signing of UFA Lance Pitlick, and the trade for Todd Simpson, John Jakopin was eager to lock up the #6 spot on the blueline. During training camp, Jakopin had to battle many other good defensive prospects such as Joey Teterenko, Filip Kuba, and Brad Ference. Veteran Brent Thompson also challenged for the #6 spot, but that didn’t faze “Jako”.
Last season, the Panthers most glaring weakness was the inability to clear the crease of attackers, and defend well down low. GM Bryan Murray knew this, and added Pitlick and Simpson to play along mobile defensemen like Hedican, Svehla, and Spacek. The new shift to a more physical defense gave Jakopin a great opportunity. Who better than a 6’5″ 239pound tower of power to fill the role?
Jakopin didn’t have to worry too much about Boyle and Ratchuk in training camp, as they play different games, and were vying for a different spot. Jakopin’s main opposition was veteran Brent Thompson, a defenseman who had played the past 2 seasons with Hartford of the NHL. Thompson, a 28 year old defenseman, is a veteran of 121 NHL games, and also brings nastiness to the table. Brad Ference, who some consider no longer to be a ‘blue-chip’ prospect, was tabled to AHL duty from the beginning, and was not in contention for a spot. Filip Kuba was also vying for the same exact spot, but Kuba lacks the physical game of Jakopin.
In the end, the Panthers decided to go with the youthful Jakopin over Thompson, which is still a surprise to some. Though Jako had a solid pre-season, Brent Thompson looked much better, and had the experience Jako did not have. Still, Jako wasn’t just handed the #6 spot…he has had to work very hard game in and game out to keep his roster position.
Although Jakopin provides leadership, toughness, and defense, he is still held back by his skating. His straight ahead speed isn’t a huge concern, although he has to use more energy than most skaters. What kills Jakopin is his lack of agility, as he can be beaten by quicker players, especially on rushes. On the Penalty Kill, he lacks the speed to get the puck when it gets in the corners, or behind the net. His decision making looks better every game, but he still lacks that split-second judgement, which can mean Jako is out of position at the worst possible time.
Despite his weaknessess, he has shown he will work to improve himself. He only logs about 12.5 minutes of ice time per game, so he isn’t counted on to do a lot more than add a physical presence. Through 10 games, Jako has 26 hits, and is still looking for his first NHL point. He likely won’t be more than a 6th defenseman, but the Panthers are happy this free-agent signing (out of Merrimack College) has been able to perform his #6 defense role adequately. Expect about 60-70 games a year with 150 PIMs and about 4-5 points.
Filip Kuba – D [1998/99: 45 games, 2g-8a-10pts 13pim – Kentucky (AHL)]
Like Ryan Johnson, Filip Kuba missed a lot of action last season due to injury. Kuba suffered a knee injury early in the season, and was out until early December. When he did play, he played a solid, unspectacular game. Filip has the physical tools, along with solid skating ability, to be an NHL calibre defenseman. The problem for Filip has been that he hasn’t been able to grab an NHL spot full-time, either due to bad luck, or lack of commitment. Along with Jakopin, Kuba had a chance to grab a roster spot this pre-season.
If the Panthers wanted Kuba to play in the AHL, he would had to have cleared waivers. This assured Kuba had a great chance to lock-up the 6th of 7th defense spot. His preseason was solid, and he produced more offense than he usually does. It would have been a dissapointment if Kuba didn’t make the roster this year, as Kuba looked good in his brief 5 game call-up last season, as well as in the playoffs for the AHL Kentucky Thoroughblades.
Filip plays a similar style to fellow countryman František Kuèera: solid, but not particularily good, in every aspect of the game. Kuba makes good first passes, plays a decent positional game, but is much too nice. He doesn’t use his size enough to punish opponents, preferring to just ‘get in the way’. He showed he could clear the crease in the AHL, but will have to get nastier if he wants to clear the likes of Lindros and LeClair from Trevor Kidd’s crease.
Filip found himself #8 on the depth chart, behind Jakopin and Mike Wilson, to start the season, so he didn’t find his first NHL action until 5 games in, when the Panthers were dressing 7 defensemen per game. Kuba notched his first NHL goal, and has 3 points in 5 games so far. However, even with the new found offense, Kuba has let his defensive game slip. Kuba has been pinching in a great deal and has been playing like a 6’3″ Sandis Ozolinsh. With only about 10 minutes of ice time per game, Kuba looks a little too eager to please. Kuba will have to get smarter if he wants to continue playing every game.
Filip has the tools, and looks impressive at times, but he must be consistant if he wants a regular role. He has shown consistancy at the AHL level, but it hasn’t translated in the NHL yet. As it stands right now, he is #7, ahead of Mike Wilson. Nothing in his game stands out, but he is capable of being a steady 3rd liner if everything comes together. Kuba is unlikely to do much more than a 3rd line role in his NHL career, but could log some time on the 2nd Power Play unit. Expect about 10-15 points tops if Kuba gets a regular 3rd line role. If not, Kuba will be a fill-in defenseman and may find himself trade bait if he frustrates his coaches too often.
Dwayne Hay – LW [1998/99: 44games, 18g-17a-35pts 22pim – New Haven (AHL)]
A fiesty and intense grinder, Dwayne Hay has seen spot duty early this season, and looks to be a sure thing in the NHL. A 3rd line checker at worst, Hay has the kind of attitude that any coach would love. His intensity and work ethic are second-to-none on the Panthers, and his leadership skills are something most Panthers prospects have never had. Hay plays a similar game to Tampa Bay’s Darcy Tucker, but he has more size and doesn’t provide the lip service that Tucker so generously gives out. Hay has only played 2 games this season, but it’s only a matter of time before he gets a full time spot on the roster.
After making the team out of training camp last season, Hay played 9 games before he was sent down to New Haven. He broke his finger and missed about 20 games, but his scoring touched continued to improve, as he basically tripled his AHL production from his 1997/98 totals. Hay had a dissapointing training camp this year, and veteran Cam Stewart stole his spot.
The main reason Hay has not been able to stick quite yet is his defensive lapses. Hay hits hard (very hard), and can forecheck well, but his defensive zone coverage is quite bad thus far. He often tries to make the big hit, or loses his man on the rush. Hopefully, Dwayne is using his AHL time to better his defensive game. Skilled wingers often make the best checking forwards, and Hay has all the tools to do so.
Hay remains the top 3rd/4th line call-up for the Panthers, and is likely a year away from full duty. There is no reason to believe Hay won’t make the Panthers full-time, but he will need to improve his defensive game if he wants a full time role, as his scoring won’t likely translate at the NHL level.
The 1999/2000 is a big season for the Florida Panthers, as they complete the transition from rebuilder to contender. Part of the plan was to eliminate the locker room of the stale influences of ineffective veterans (Muller, Carkner, Lindsay) and bring in fresh new faces. Although the Panthers are expecting to contend for the cup in the near future, there are prospects in the orginization looking to make an impact and help the Panthers contend.
In the 3rd part of the Class of ’99 Prospects Review series, I will profile the Panthers prospects who haven’t made the roster this season, but look to make an impact later in the season, or start out their careers next season.