Panthers Pre-Season Wrap-up
With two days before the Panthers season opener against the Flyers on Oct. 4th, the hopeful Panther prospects have learned who made the opening night roster. 6 Panthers still considered prospect under HF’s criteria have survived the last cuts going into the season opener, while 4 of the Panther sophomores are given the opportunity to build on last season.
An unfortunate concussion has relegated Denis Shvidki to the injured reserve list, and Panther veterans Peter Worrell and Bret Hedican also are starting the season on the IR. These unfortunate injuries have opened up the roster for a few prospects to start the season with the big club, but when those three players come off the IR, some tough decisions will have to be made by management. One transaction that will help clarify the roster is the pick-up of defenseman John Jakopin on waivers by Pittsburgh.
The Panthers named their opening night 22 man roster at 5:00pm on Tuesday, which is one short of the maximum allowed. To follow is my analysis of what prospects and sophomores made the roster and a breakdown of what I see the lineups as being going into the rebound 2001-2002 NHL Season.
Kristian Huselius, Left Wing: Kristian immediately showed that the hype surrounding him was justified. Playing mainly with Olli Jokinen, Niklas Hagman, and Valeri Bure, Huselius scored 3 assists in 6 pre-season games, and was thrown in all game situations where he was able to adjust accordingly. Huselius shown the knack for getting to open ice and taking shots from all angles, and the physical play hasn’t seemed to faze him to this point. From where he has been playing all pre-season, he should be slotted in to the second line left-wing spot, and if he can make the adjustment quickly to the physical game and the smaller ice, he will be a Calder candidate.
Niklas Hagman, Left Wing: Another player whose steady development made him one to watch coming into training camp, Niklas Hagman led all prospects in goals and was tied with Viktor Kozlov in pre-season goal scoring. Hagman’s two power-play goals were a nice addition as well. A gritty player who isn’t afraid to take a hit, Hagman loves to go to the net for scoring chances and never seems to quit when it comes to effort. Due to the numbers game at left wing, with Nilson, Weimer, Lindsay and Worrell also on the roster, Hagman might have to wait a little bit longer to play on the left side, but he seems to be a candidate for the 3rd line right-wing, where he has been playing in training camp.
Ivan Novoseltsev, Right Wing: Always one of the best players in the pre-season and scoring 5 points in 6 games, now might be the best opportunity for Novo to finally grab his spot on the roster with Denis Shvidki on IR with a concussion. Novoseltsev has been fighting injuries and inconsistency in the AHL and the NHL, and needs to use this year to prove he can make the necessary adjustments to earn his spot. Always a threat with his speed, Novo just needs to play a more complete game and use his teammates better to ensure that he stays on the NHL Roster. Also translating his Jr. goal scoring ability into the professional ranks is another way to make this happen.
Lance Ward, Defense: Deadly serious about retaining his roster spot from last year, Ward played in all 6 pre-season games and was a +5. Ward was usually paired up with the solid Svehla as they were last season and they look to be the top line pairing again this season. Ward will be relied on to be the defensive conscience to allow Svehla to get back to supplying his two-way game and being the lynchpin for the Panther defense.
Joey Tetarenko, Right Wing: Another of the many players who saw playing time last year due to all the injuries, Joey brings toughness and character to the Panthers. His style of play lends itself well to where he could line up, but there are a few similar players like him on the roster. Tetarenko said “I think I was pretty uptight the whole training camp cause the competition was so stiff. Everyone here was in the same mold, hard-working and a lot of fast players.” With Peter Worrell starting the season on the IR, Joey looks be used in a checking and enforcer role.
Brad Ference, Defense: After last years nightmare that occurred to Brad Ference, when he received a broken jaw in the off-season, than had a string of unlucky NHL games and was sent down to the AHL, Ference will look to rebound and put it all behind him. One way to do that is to make the opening night roster and continue where he left off two years ago. Ference is evolving into a two-way defenseman, and has matured enough to know when to defend his teammates without taking the retaliatory penalties, which plagued him while in the AHL and in juniors.
Dan Boyle, Defense: With Bret Hedican missing the first two months of the season with a broken jaw, Boyle will be relied on heavily to use his speed to carry the puck up the ice and supply offense, but he needs to keep improving his strength and defensive play to compensate for his smallish stature. Last year he was able to score 22 points but his defense worst –22 must be reduced.
John Jakopin, Defense: (claimed on Waivers by Pittsburgh)This huge bruising defensive defenseman has been struggling with injuries for his whole Panther career and needs to use this year that he can stay healthy. Jakopin can be a presence in front of the net and along the boards, but needs to be consistent all year. As of Tuesday, John Jakopin was put on waivers and was claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and gets a chance to play with Mario. “Of course, that is the first thing that comes to mind….there‘s top players on every team and to play with a legend like Mario Lemuiex is going to be unbelievable” Jakopin said right after learning that Pitt picked him up. For a player who has been on the bubble for the last four years with his Panthers, he will get a very good opportunity to stick with an NHL Team now. “I got a defensive style game, pass the puck up and keep it simple type of thing, play the body and do my job”
Denis Shvidki, Right Wing: (Starting the season on IR) Having received a serious concussion against the Bruins last week is a big blow for the promising Panther sophomore. At this time, it is still not known what his prognosis is and it might be another week till more information is known. Before the injury, Denis was looking like he was going to be on the 3rd line right wing spot which is now going to go to Hagman or potentially Novoseltsev. Denis Shvidki’s development was going well since the end of last season, improving his neutral zone play, defensive play, and battling for loose pucks.
Marcus Nilson, Left Wing: Marcus is the perfect example of the player who keeps working to reach his goals. Starting off on the lower lines last year after a few years in the minors he ended up on the top line playing with Bure and Kozlov to end the year. This year he came into camp looking stronger and quicker and will reprise his role on the top-line again to start off the year. Panthers coach Duane Sutter did mention the possibility of Nilson moving to second-line center to play with Huselius and Valeri Bure, but Jokinen’s strong pre-season play might prevent that switch from happening.
Roberto Luongo, Goalie: Looking to reprise his strong freshman season, Roberto Luongo will surely focus on maintaining his excellent play and fend off a challenge from veteran Trevor Kidd. “I think that both have been really good at times” Said Coach Duane Sutter “Kidder plays the puck better still, and Louie’s rebound control maybe gives him a slight advantage there. I am glad that we have two guys that can go”
Serge Payer: Last years fan favorite for his hustle and determination, Serge played his usual game in pre-season but it wasn’t enough to unseat any of the incumbent centers on the roster. The Panthers know what to expect to get from Serge and he will probably see some action in a few call-ups from Utah this year to fill in for injured players.
Stephen Weiss: Immediately after the 2001 draft, Panther coach Duane Sutter was quoted as saying that Weiss will have the opportunity to compete for the 2nd line Center position. Weiss initially had some adjustments in getting used to the speed of the NHL game, but progressed at a pretty good pace. While his skills and abilities were pretty evident, it wasn’t enough to beat out the strong play of Olli Jokinen for the roster spot and he was returned to Plymouth in the last group of cuts. Weiss will need to put on some more weight so he wont be knocked off the puck as easily.
Kyle Rossiter: This strong defenseman has matured both physically and mentally since he was drafted, and was sent down to Utah on Sept 21 to start in Utah’s training camp. A defensive defenseman, Rossiter played in the first pre-season game and made some highlight quality checks along the boards and behind the net. A no-nonsense style and straight forward attitude will probably earn Rossiter a few call-ups this year to get some NHL experience
David Morisset: What he has already, is world-class speed and hustle and it showed in his pre-season games and practices. Morisset will be getting his professional experience in Bridgeport this season and will need to continue developing his finishing skills. Torrey compared his speed and defensive play to a young Radek Dvorak, and the comparison was pretty accurate.
Lukas Krajicek: The second of the two Panther first round picks, Lukas was among the group of players who was right before the final cuts. He got to see action in two pre-season games and his strong skating and offensive potential helped him cover a lot of ice. Krajicek will spend his next season continuing his development with Peterborough.
Ivan Majesky: When the Panthers selected this European veteran in the 9th round, it was hoped that he might have an outside chance to earn a roster spot. Majesky admittedly had trouble adjusting to the smaller ice and the difference in speed in the NHL game. Some days in training camp he seemed to be adjusted well, and some days he struggled against quicker opponents. Majesky will play for Ilves Tampere this season.
Panther prospects playing for the Hershey Bears: Matt Herr, the free agent pick-up spent his few first seasons playing in the Capital’s organization and was signed as a depth player for the Panthers. Jeff Norton’s younger brother Brad, also signed as a free agent struggled in a few pre-season game and will continue his development in the AHL. A free agent signee last year, Center Mike Cirillo played in Louisville last year and will now see time in Hershey as well.
Panther prospects sent to Bridgeport Sound Tigers: Center Nick Smith and Right Wing Eric Godard were among the first group of players cut from training camp, and they will start the AHL season with Bridgeport.
Panther prospects sent to Utah: In addition to Kyle Rossiter and Serge Payer, Utah will Ryan Jardine, Eric Beaudion, and Paul Elliot. One thing is for sure, between Rossiter, Beaudion, and O’Connor, not a lot of teams will take liberties with the other players on the Utah roster.
Panther prospects sent back to juniors: Tough defenseman Grant McNeill was sent back to Prince Albert, goalie Billy Thompson was sent back to Prince George, Sean O’Connor returned to Moose Jaw and Josh Olson will go back to Portland.
1st Line: Left Winger Marcus Nilson looks to reprise his role as the grit for Bure and Kozlov. Seeing how these three played together last year, it isn’t surprising to see them back together to start off this season.
2nd Line: Highly anticipated Panther rookie Kristian Huselius will start the season lining up with Olli Jokinen and Valeri Bure. This line looks to be one that will control the play with their puck possession abilities and scoring ability, while Olli Jokinen is getting a prime chance to fulfill his potential that made him a 3rd overall pick 4 years ago.
3rd Line: Niklas Hagman and Ivan Novoseltsev look to be the Right Wing on this line that features the strong Jason Weimer at Center, and the gritty and fast Kevyn Adams on the left side. Panther coach Duane Sutter has been playing Hagman with the two veterans all throughout training camp, but Ivan Novoseltsev should get some opportunities to bring his speed to this line as well since he isn’t a 4th line type player. Denis Shvidki will possibly get time on this line when he returns from IR, but the time frame for his return is still unknown. Another factor of this line is having two strong face-off men sharing the line. “Maybe Weimer is doing better against a certain player than Kevyn. They can work things out like that” Explains Sutter on this line-up, ”I think they should cheat all the time, because if one guy gets thrown out, big deal.”
4th Line: Joey Tetarenko looks to get some time on this line with the other defensive and physical minded veterans Bill Lindsay, and Ryan Johnson. Figure in Peter Worrell playing here when he recovers from the groin injury or Novoseltsev seeing some time here as well. With Johnson’s strong face-off ability, this line has the advantage of controlling the face-offs and punishing the opponent physically on the defensive side of things.
1st Unit: Lance Ward should reprise his role as Robert Svehla’s playing partner. Last year the two of them meshed quite well together and played off each others strengths. Svehla’s rebound has earned rave reviews from coach Sutter “He has been tremendous. I don’t believe that there was any player close to him on either team these last two games”. With Svehla being the undisputed top defenseman, they need him to stay fresh to give the Panthers defense a chance to compete this year.
2nd Unit: The only player that was a definite to be in this position was Bret Hedican, but he is out for an undetermined time with a broken jaw. Two seasons ago, Hedican was paired up with rookie Brad Ference and was able to provide a mentorship role to the young defenseman. But for now, it isn’t determined who will make up the remaining two units.
3rd Unit: Panther co-captain Paul Laus looks to be the emotional leader that will see time on the 3rd unit and times when he needs to protect the star players. The other candidates who could see time on this unit will potentially be Lance Pitlick, Jeff Norton, and Dan Boyle.
2001-2002 Outlook: With the Panthers roster basically having an off-season revamping, the Panthers brought back team speed and toughness, but were unable to answer the problems on defense. Losing Bret Hedican also was a major blow. For the Panthers to be able to compete again, the defense will have to at least return to the 1999-2000 form. While that season’s defense wasn’t one of the strongest either, the Panther offense and goaltending were able to carry that team to the playoffs.
The Panther’s hired a defensive coach for the first time
since Lindy Ruff left, and Paul Baxter was able to make dramatic improvements when he worked in San Jose. All throughout training camp, Baxter introduced new drills and supplied hands-on teaching and it should have an impact this season. Another thing that will be relied on will be the return of form for Robert Svehla and the continued development of Ference, Ward, and Boyle. These factors must all work for the defense to improve and give the Panthers a chance to hold on to their leads.
The Panthers offense will get away from being the one man show it was last year. Keys to this season will be the health of Viktor Kozlov, the quick adjustments and impact of Kristian Huselius and Niklas Hagman, and Valeri Bure providing a strong second-line presence to take pressure off the top line.
One area the Panthers do not have a problem is in the strong goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Trevor Kidd. Having two #1 goalies is a pleasant problem for the Panthers, especially when some teams barely have one top goalie. Last year, Roberto was able to steal some games all by himself and that trend should continue as he keeps improving.
For the Panthers to make the playoffs, the offense must be firing on all cylinders like it was two years ago, the goaltending must remain strong, and the defense must see some moderate improvements (especially in reducing the team GAA). If these factors all fit in, the Panthers will be competing for the 7th or 8th playoff spot.