2001 Panthers Draft Preview

By Jes Golbez
After a disasterous season, the Florida Panthers find themselves in a very
enviable position: 4 picks in the Top 50, and the draft in their home court.
With the 2001 NHL Entry Draft considered to be the strongest in some time,
the Florida Panthers have the chance to stock their bare cupboards with some
blue-chip talent, and possibly bring in some older talent to help them compete
in the near future. As with any bottom-feeder squad, there are many gaping holes
to be filled. First, a look at the essentials.

Draft Tendencies:

The Panthers have had a love affair with the CHL, especially the OHL and WHL.
Of the 6 First Round picks the Panthers have had, 4 of them have been from the CHL.
26 of the past 36 Panthers picks have been from the CHL, with many of them being ‘safe’
‘character’ players that have amounted to absolutely nothing.
The Panthers have been deathly afraid of college players (DiPenta is the only
college pick of note), and have not ventured often into Europe, including just three picks
from the Czech Republic and ZERO picks from Slovakia.
This one-dimensional approach to drafting has led to predictable results, and it shows
in the standings, and on the farm. When the Panthers have ventured into uncharted waters
(Europe), they have had good success. Radek Dvorak, Filip Kuba, Oleg Kvasha, Kristian Huselius,
Jaro Spacek, Niklas Hagman, Marcus Nilson and Vladimir Saphozhnikov have all been very good
picks, and since the Panthers have only picked twelve European players since 1995, they have had
an incredible success rate when they go overseas. (Janis Sprukts, Adrien Wischer, and Denis
Khlopotnov are still developing to date, all late round picks, while Daniel Tjarnqvist could
perhaps amount to a solid NHL player. Too bad he is no longer a Panther).

BIGGEST NEEDS:

1. DEFENSE, DEFENSE, AND MORE DEFENSE:

It can’t be said enough, the Panthers need defensemen. Offensive defensemen, Defensive
defensemen, and puck-moving defensemen. With Ed Jovanovski flourishing for the Canucks, and the
rapidly aging Robert Svehla set to go elsewhere in the near future, the Panthers have a lack
of a 2-way #1-#2 defenseman that can do it all. In fact, they need at least 2 of those types
in order to succeed, as Bret Hedican has showed he cannot handle such a load.
With Brad Ference, Kyle Rossiter, and Lance Ward as up-and-coming defensive bangers,
the need for defensive defenseman in that Ken Daneyko mode isn’t as pressing, except that all
three mentioned have question marks: discipline, skating, and ability. Ference was considered
to be a Blue-Chip prospect at one point, as was Ward. The Panthers could use another Blue-Chip
defensive monster.
On offense, the Panthers have had many hopes go down the drain. Dan Boyle just doesn’t
have the physical skills to get the job done, Peter Ratchuk has been stuck as an average AHLer,
and Chris Allen and his cannon-like shot have all but dissappeared off the face of the earth. The Panthers
desperately need defensemen that can make great outlet passes, run a power play, and generally
provide offense of any sort. Robert Svehla cannot do it by himself, and Dan Boyle, unfortunately,
just can’t produce enough to make up for his lack of size and strength.

2. CENTER OF ATTENTION:

The one element the Panthers have ALWAYS wanted, and have never had (no matter
how hard they try), is a big dominating center who can do it all, ala Eric Lindros or Mats Sundin.
Rob Niedermayer was drafted to be that factor, but he hasn’t gotten it done. Viktor Kozlov
was turned into a center, but he only dominates when the stars align in mysterious astrological
formations.
Not only do the Cats lack a #1 power center, but they lack any kind of orginizational depth
in that regard. Serge Payer, a true battler if there ever was one, is the only center in
the system that could have any chance of stepping up to the NHL. Prospal, Kozlov, and
Niedermayer are all young, but have their limits, and the Panthers need some fresh blood
in the system.

3. TENDING THE NETS:

With the Panthers unable to come to terms with Alex Auld, a member of Canada’s last
WJC entry, the Panthers have reverted back to having goaltending issues on the farm. With young
Roberto Luongo already one of the better NHL netminders, the need for a young goaltending is
dimished somewhat. WHL star Davis Parley has turned out to be a steal, but the Panthers have a need
for netminders at every level of the minor system, especially with J-F Laniel not being retained.

4. SPEEDY DEFENSIVE FORWARDS WITH HEART:

The Panthers, once known for having 3 lines of defensive forwards and grinders, found
themselves without one good checking line all season long. The Panthers need forwards who can
kill penalties, check opposing offensive players, and bang bodies. Basically, the Panthers need
a big heaping of heart from the Wizard of Oz.
The Panthers have tried, and failed, to draft these
types of forwards in the past. They need to concentrate on players with good wheels, and develop
checking forwards from players with good natural skills, rather than from goons and fringe junior
players. As for now, David Morrissett can be considered the only speedy forward prospect.

NEEDS THAT NEED NOT BE ADDRESSED:

1. SPEEDY OFFENSIVE FORWARDS:

You can never have enough skilled forwards, but the Panthers certainly do not have a
pressing need for skilled, offensive forwards. Huselius, Shvidki, Novoseltsev, and Podkonicky
compliment the likes of Bure, Prospal, and Kozlov. The Panthers need power forwards, and should concentrate on other areas.

2. GOONS: for that. That being said, the Panthers have a great stable of fighters including Sweet Pete
Worrell and Joey Teterenko.

Sadly, the Panthers only have 2 areas in which they don’t need to improve on. Which means
that the Panthers, under new ownership and stable management, need to use the 2001 Entry Draft
to set the franchise on a new and prosperous direction.

DRAFT SCUTTLEBUTT:

- With Czech center Jiri Dopita apparently interested in joining the Flyers, the Panthers
may able to score a few more draft picks and assets from the Flyers. It might be in the best
interest of the franchise to let Dopita rot in Europe, rather than to see him flourish with a
conference rival.

- Assistant Coach Slava Lener is interested in bringing 2 Czech Extraleague veterans
to the Panthers: Petr Cajanek and Dusan Salficky.

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- Cajanek is a speedy, hard-working winger in the same mould of Rem Murray. He starred for the
Czech Republic at the 2001 World Championships, and would address the need for a defensive
3rd-line winger.

- Salficky, the back-up goaltender for the Czechs at this same tournament, has also been linked
to the Panthers in recent weeks. Dusan is very popular in Plzen (played every game last season),
and the Panthers already have Kidd and Luongo in the nets. If Kidd is somehow traded, then
Salficky may be an option.

- The Panthers are also rumoured to be persuing the option of trading up from 4th overall
to 2nd overall in order to nab Jason Spezza. It seems unlikely that the Panthers could make such
a trade, given the current state of their assets. However, Rob Niedermayer is interesting trade
bait and the Islanders may be interested.

As of now, the Panthers have these picks (This is an unofficial list, there may be a few
slight mistakes). 4 of these are in the Top 50, while the Panthers have 13 picks overall.

1st Round – 4th overall.
2nd Round – 34th overall, 44th overall, 48th overall.
3rd Round – 64th overall.
4th Round – 94th overall, 117th overall.
5th Round – 124th overall.
6th Round – 154th overall.
7th Round – 184th overall.
8th Round – 214th overall.
9th Round – 244th overall, 248th overall.

The Panthers may use a pick or two to select another European veteran. Likely selections
would include Salficky, Slovakian Center Peter Pucher (6’1″ playmaking wizard), Swedish winger
Daniel Rudstatt (Put up good numbers with Brynas), and Slovakian winger Martin Kul’ha (speedy
shooter who was last cut from 2001 WC team). 3 goalies in order to fill up the goaltender hole that had been unfilled for many years.

Hopefully, the Panthers will not repeat the mistakes of past drafts, and draft ‘character’ players that never amount to very much. Although the Panthers certainly do need a heavy helping of heart within the orginization, the selection of low-skilled character players
has netted the Panthers absolutely nothing. It is time to take chances on skilled players, and
develop them into checking players later on, or to trade them for needed assets.
Come this Saturday, the Panthers will face a turning point in their orginization. 13
picks in a strong draft, in front of the home crowd, with many holes to fill. If the Panthers
perform well, and do their homework, they could become a force for many years to come.
The Panthers may use their picks in trades, to acquire players that could help with a quick turnaround. Or…the Panthers could blow a tire, and draft themselves into many years of bottom-feeding. There will be thousands of eyes watching, will the Panthers rise up to the challenge?

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