The 2001-2002 NHL Season wrapped up for the Panthers by missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Dropping 6 Points in the standings from this time last year, it seemed that this years version had the same problems as last year’s team. Lack of leadership from it’s top skilled players, not enough scoring punch, too many young players at forward, and a defense that was too young, inexperienced, and unable to compensate the lack of defensive play of some of the top forwards.
Combine that with the massive injuries this team faced this year (3rd in 2001-2002, led the league in man-games lost this year), having 10 rookies make their NHL debut as a Panther, and 5 Panthers in only their first or second full year in the NHL, and with the franchise player essentially quitting at the beginning of the season, all of this makes for one long season.
But as good teams eventually become old, the young teams gain experience and get better. The Florida Panthers have been drafting the last few years later in the draft, and have been able to unearth some gems that have begun to pay off. Coming over from Europe were Kristian Huselius and Niklas Hagman, whose strong rookie campaigns showed promise. Second year Panthers like Ivan Novoseltsev, Roberto Luongo, Lance Ward and Brad Ference, and newcomers like Byron Ritchie, Pierre Dagenais and Eric Beaudion all making an impact one way or another.
Soon to be added to the pool of prospects like Stephen Weiss, Filip Novak and Lukas Krajicek, will be the # 1 and #10 pick in the upcoming draft. Whether the Panthers select Rick Nash or Jay Bouwmeester, the future for the Panthers is young and inexperienced in the short term, but the long-term prognosis leaves a solid nucleus of talent with which to build upon.
Named last week to the General Manager position was former Lightning GM Rick Dudley. Dudley is noted for his extensive work in scouting trips and his desire to see almost every single draft eligible player play in one form or another, which was the main reason the new Panther ownership hired him to assume the GM duties.
What follows is a breakdown of some of the Panther rookie seasons, with complete stats for all Panther prospects in the pipeline. The quotes came from Former Interim GM Chuck Fletcher before he left the organization.
Kristian Huselius, Left Wing:
79 Games, 22 Goals, 22 Assists, 45 Points, -4, 14 PIM
Expectations were high for Huselius prior to coming over for training camp, and he was expected to replace Ray Whitney’s production following his trade last season, and by all indications he didn’t disappoint many in his rookie season, including former Panthers GM Chuck Fletcher, “He’s certainly met if not exceeded our expectations. He’s leading our team in goals; certainly on pace for 25 or 30 which for a rookie player in the national hockey league is a very good year.”
After earning a spot on the roster, Huselius spared little time in getting his first NHL goal against the Flyers on opening night. In his first month in the NHL, Huselius led all rookies in scoring with nine goals and 2 assists, including scoring seven points in seven games and four multi-point games. This hot start enabled him to take home the Rookie of the Month honors for October.
Around mid-December while on the road trip to New York, Huselius came down with intestinal infection that kept him sidelined for 3 games. According to Chuck Fletcher “That seemed to take a little bit of his strength and knock some energy out of him. He lost I believe 8 –10 pounds at the time”.
While losing some weight may not hurt some players as much, the weight loss on an already slim Huselius clearly was affecting his productivity. After coming back from the illness, Huselius was only able to score 4 goals notch 7 assists in the months of January and February. Also having an impact on his play was the Dec 3rd arrival of Mike Keenan, who naturally took some time in learning the styles of his players. With this adjustment period, Huselius’s struggle to gain back the weight, and some periods spent on the bench for defensive lapses ( the exact same kind Pavel was allowed to commit ), his productivity remained down in contrast to his natural abilities. Before Keenan and the sickness, Huselius was on a .65 PPG pace, while after Dec 3rd his pace was .52 PPG
But in the final two months of the season, Huselius started to regain some strength and ended up scoring 12 points, including finishing up April with 4 points in 6 games on a clearly rejuvenated young Panther squad. The weight loss that sidetracked the rookie showed that there is one thing that Huselius needs to come back with next season, according to Fletcher “Strength would be the key for him; he’s going to have to get stronger so he can win more one on one battles particularly along the defensive zone wall.”
Huselius ended up what many consider a strong rookie season by being named a finalist for the Calder trophy, along with the Thrasher’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley
Niklas Hagman, Left Wing
78 Games, 10 Goals, 18 Assists, 28 Points, -6, 8 PIM
Like Kristian Huselius, Niklas Hagman was a player that the front office and fans were anticipating seeing in training camp. But unlike Huselius, Hagman’s roster spot wasn’t as guaranteed.
“We weren’t sure if there would be that spot available to him and he played well; came to camp in good shape and he’s a wonderful skater and a high-energy player and I think his enthusiasm, and the energy and speed were elements that we needed at the beginning of the year.” Fletcher reflected on Hagman’s arrival at training camp.
A very strong training camp for Hagman where he clicked in pre-season with several of the Panther players, including Olli Jokinen and fellow rookie Kristian Huselius, helped make his case as for the opening night roster.
“He earned the roster spot; he wasn’t given anything.” Fletcher replied, ” So we were pleasantly surprised by how quickly he adjusted coming out of camp; he’s young and inexperienced player and certainly has a lot of improvement; a lot of room to improve.”
While playing for former coach Duane Sutter, Hagman was still learning the game and scoring at a .19 PPG average through the end of November, but it wasn’t for lack of trying or effort. The nickname “Postman” would have become appropriate for Hagman if any more of shots kept clanging off the post instead of the back of the net. But this wasn’t a concern.
“I think we’ll see a lot of those pucks start to go in the future” Fletcher stated when asking about Hagman’s scoring woes, “Clearly he’s shown the ability to score goals at the junior level and at the pro level in Finland, and I expect that his offensive numbers will improve with experience and time”
Niklas Hagman brings a game to the Panthers that revolves around non-stop hustle, strong board play, and a willingness to make contact to keep plays alive. In the remaining part of the season under Keenan, Hagman finished the season scoring at a .43 PPG basis, while still playing mainly on the third line. His ice-time rose steadily and he seemed to be making better use of the open ice, carrying the puck, scoring and play-making abilities. Due to his strong finish, Hagman became the second Panther rookie to take home a Rookie of the Month (March) award by recording 10 points and a +3 in 14 games, beating out Atlanta’s Dany Heatley and San Jose’s Matt Bradley.
“The more games you play in this league the more comfortable and confident you become. That’s a big thing for goal scorers and there’s a bit of an adjustment,” Chuck Fletcher replied when asked about Hagman’s adjustment to the NHL, “Things happen quicker and as you make those adjustments which come naturally through experience and through hard work you find that you have more time to shoot and you’re more confident when you shoot”
For a player that works as hard as Hagman does, and has some natural scoring ability to go along with the other parts of his game, his future in the NHL can be a long one, and Fletcher feels that he can move up on the depth charts as well.
“He should produce enough offensively to play at least on the third line; he’s a good penalty killer and if he can become more of a proven goal scorer there’s a chance he can move up to one of your top two lines.”
Brad Ference, Defense
80 Games, 2 Goals, 15 Assists, 17 Points, -13, 254 PIM
Having only played in 27 games before this season, Brad was given the opportunity to take a step forward and claim a full-time spot. But with playing in 80 games this season in his full NHL season, Ference, like fellow young defenseman Lance Ward, had a very up and down year.
“He’s a young player that doesn’t have a lot of games played in the league” Fletcher said “It’s a real challenge for him every night to play in the top four and he’s met that challenge most nights.”
Under Sutter, Ference was given upwards of 20+ minutes a game in ice-time, including a season high 29:53 against Los Angeles. Also, a good share of that came time came on the Power Play, where Ference showed good poise for a young defenseman. He possesses a low and accurate shot that was easily deflectable, and he didn’t look out of place on the top unit.
“He’ll have to continue to work on his strength like he has every year since he was drafted, but the thing with Brad is that he moves the puck well, he skates well and he’s a very competitive aggressive player.” replied Fletcher, “So a lot of the attributes you like to see in a defenseman are part of his repertoire already and now it’s a question of adding more strength and again like most of our young players, gaining more experience and another 100 games in this league and he’ll be much more confident and poised than he is right now”
But as most young defenseman are prone to making mistakes, Ference has had his share of the negatives. Most notably was being the point man on a 5 on 3 power play, when Mike Modano was able to steal the puck and score on a breakaway. Another troubling aspect of Ference’s game was the amount of careless minor penalties he took, combined with several game misconducts and fighting majors, caused Ference to be second in the league in PIM’s with 254, trailing only teammate Pete Worrell’s 354.
With the mid January arrival of Sandis Ozolinsh, Ference saw his power play time reduced to second unit duties. With Keenan’s and Ozolinsh’s arrival, Ference’s PPG average went from .34 PPG down to .14 PPG, and Ference found himself paired up with young defenseman Lance Ward. There is a big difference from having steadying veteran influences like Bret Hedican, to having to cover the ice with another young defenseman in Lance Ward.
Ference has the skills, poise, and attributes to return being an effective top 4 defenseman, and his youth and relative inexperience wasn’t enough to overcome the turmoil and tumult that enveloped the Panthers this year.
Pierre Dagenais, Right Wing
NHL: 42 Games, 10 Goals, 4 Assists, 14 Points, -10, 8 PIM
AHL: 10 Games, 1 Goal, 3 Assists, 4 Points, +1, 4 PIM
Picked up off of waivers from the Devils on Jan 12th, Dagenais was the big body the Panthers needed on the Power Play. While concerns of his skating are legitimate, Dagenais is able to hold up his part on the ice, and his role for the PP was to immediately park himself in the front of the net. By no means a speed burner, Dagenais possesses quick reflexes to pounce on rebounds or loose pucks, and he will make his career out of being the type of player who has to be opportunistic within 10 feet of the net.
Upon his arrival in Florida, Dagenais only scored 2 goals in 14 games, and was relegated to the press box for 5 straight games before being sent down to Utah from March 13th to the 17th. While with the Utah Grizzlies, Pierre scored 2 goals in 4 games before getting called back up. Upon his return, Dagenais scored 5 goals and 1 assist, including back-to-back GTG’s against Philly and Atlanta, but missed the final two games of the season with an ankle injury.
Lance Ward, Defense
68 Games, 1 Goal, 4 Assists, 5 Points, -20, 131 PIM
Another of the young Panthers defenseman who came into the league last year, Lance completed his first full NHL season with a question mark of sorts. The previous year, Duane Sutter had Ward paired up with Svehla and the two formed the top defensive unit, and Svehla provided a steadying influence on the Alberta native.
This year for Lance was definitely an up and down season. But Fletcher understands the growing pains a young players faces.
“Lance had 30 games of national league experience and it just take time. It is a tough league with a lot of great players and it’s a big adjustment from the American hockey league to the national. Lance is meeting those challenges most nights and as he gains experience he will meet it most nights than he is now.”
On his off nights, Lance would lose his man, especially if it was a very quick player. For a player of Lance’s size and strength, he has to consistently make sure that the area in front of the goaltender is kept clear as much as possible, and he will need to use his size in all areas. But when Lance’s game is being played well, he is able to keep forwards from taking liberties with the goal crease, and he is able to consistently knock down streaking forwards, especially in the open ice and just across the defensive blue line.
While he won’t be confused with a offensive defenseman, Ward is poised enough with the puck, especially in making the first pass out of the zone. At this stage in his career, he is obviously best suited to playing with a veteran, and Ference and he did struggle together. But a player with his size, strength, and potential, it is too early to give up on a guy who can play in the top 6 on an improving NHL team.
And Chuck Fletcher says patience is required, “He’s shown a lot of promise and a lot of his potential on certain nights this year and now it’s just a question of bringing it to the rink every night.”
Ivan Novoseltsev, Right Wing
70 Games, 13 Goals, 16 Assists, 29 Points, -10, 44 PIM
One of the more talked about prospects 2 years ago, Novoseltsev teased onlookers with his ability, but disappointed many with his effort and production up to this season. While he still has some way to go match his production with his talent and speed, Novo made a strong case that he is maturing as a player and a person.
Novo’s ice-time with the arrival of Keenan saw some modest gains, and he avoided the selfish play that was his characteristic for the first two years.
“I think he learned that if there is nothing there, he has learned to spin back and take a look around and try and move it to a teammate,”
Fletcher says, “He’s probably made more strides than any young player on our roster. I think this year you can make the argument that he may be the most consistent performer among this group of forwards this season”
That consistency he found meant that Ivan made increasing efforts in playing responsible defense, and his 50 hits showed that when it came to playing a physical game, Novo didn’t shy away. Part of the Keenan effect is having underachieving players play a more intense game, and Novo visibly played with more passion and creating more scoring chances with his speed, the speed which he has begun to use more effectively.
“He can attack the defensemen and with speed and enter the offensive zone with a lot of speed” Fletcher remarked, “and it’s cutting off the wing and trying to cut to the net and shooting the puck off the wing with speed; he’s going to be that type of player.”
Ivan led the Panthers in Game Winning Goals this year with 5, and he notched his first shorthanded goal against New Jersey. This goal was notable because it showed that due to Novo’s improved work ethic and intensity, Keenan didn’t hesitate in using him on the Penalty Killing unit.
While Ivan is still a young player prone to lapses of concentration, his role should increase as the team matures around him.
“We want him coming through the neutral zone with a lot of speed and hopefully, we can find a way to get him the puck at the right time and have other players driving the net with him” Fletcher comments, “he creates a lot of opportunities around the net because he does gain the zone so well and this year he does get the puck on the net a lot more often than he has in previous years.”
Joey Tetarenko, Right Wing
36 Games, 1 Goal, 0 Assists, 1 Point, -5, 123 PIM
When you have a player score one goal all season, set a new franchise record for PIM’s in one period with 32 and spend more time on IR with conceivably every injury known to man, you don’t anticipate that player to counted on as a scoring machine. What one can expect from Joey Tetarenko is a player who brings a tough, gritty, physical game to the ice every night without question.
Joey knows his role well, and his ability to fore-check and try to create turnovers was perhaps aided by his mask worn to protect his dislocated jaw, which prevented him from fighting as much as normally would. While the long term projection of Joey’s role is uncertain and his future with the Panthers will either be as a full-time 4th liner, or among the group of first players called up, his character and hustle is without question.
“(Joey’s) attributes have been very welcome on our club on a lot of nights this year” Fletcher says “And I know he’s earned the respect of everyone in the organization including his teammates.”
Eric Beaudion, Left Wing
NHL: 9 Games, 1 Goal, 3 Assists, 4 Points, -2, 4 PIM
AHL: 44 Games, 5 Goals, 16 Assists, 21 Points, +13, 83 PIM
Eric Beaudion surprise a lot of onlookers and was an almost unknown commodity to fans until he was called up on March 20th to take the place of one of the many injured Panther veterans. Originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 4th round of the 1998 draft, the Panthers acquired him for a 7th round pick and signed him before he re-entered the draft.
Eric Beaudion was able to immediately fit in on the roster, and Keenan used him in regular strength and penalty-killing roles. A tall player (6’5’’) with very good reach, Beaudion seems to have one direction always on mind, and that direction is going to the net. All of Eric’s points, including his first goal, was from the result of his driving hard around the net. While it might be too early to tell if Beaudion is a sure-fire NHL’er, he didn’t look too out of place in his 8 games and Keenan didn’t hesitate to use him for around 18 minutes a game.
Stephen Weiss, Center
NHL: 7 Games, 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 2 Points, Even, 0 PIM
OHL: 46 Games, 25 Goals, 45 Assists, 70 Points, +38, 69 PIM
WJC: 6 Games, 3 Goals, 1 Assist, 4 Points, +3, 6 PIM
The Panthers first round choice in the 2001 Draft made his NHL debut late in the season against Pittsburgh, and wasted time in getting that first NHL goal out of the way. Playing on the Power Play, Weiss found himself behind the blue line on the right boards, where he skated across the crease to get J.S. Aubin to open his legs. Once the goalie moved to his right, Weiss placed the puck 5 hole for his 19th Birthday present, an NHL power play goal. Three Games later in Philadelphia, Stephen Weiss added his first NHL assist by setting up defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh on a two on one break, and what was notable about the play was that Weiss took a big hit on the boards to make the play.
Weiss represented the OHL West Team in the 2002 Hershey Cup All-Star Series but sat out due to injury. He led the Whalers in assists, points, and +/-, and finished fifth in the OHL in +/-. Also was a member of the Canadian WJC team, scoring 4 points in 6 games.
Panther Notes: Congratulations goes out to the Chris Eade, who was part of the OHL Championship Erie Otters, and Janis Sprukts was a member of the Acadie-Bathurst Titans which lost in the Finals to the Victoriaville Tigers. Center Matt Herr was named Hershey’s 2002 Man of the Year, was a finalist for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, and represented Hershey in the 2002 AHL All-Star game.
Lukas Krajicek saw 5 NHL games in his draft year, and showed the poise carrying the puck that made him a 1st round pick. Krajicek also represented the OHL Eastern Conference in the 2002 Hershey Cup All-Star Tourney, and played for the Czech Republic in the 2002 WJC’s. Goaltender Andrew Allen set an ECHL record with 78 saves for Jackson in a 5-4 playoff triple-overtime win over Lousiana. He also faced a ECHL record 82 Shots. RW Michael Woodford played on the Frozen Four Michigan Wolverines team. Stricken with injuries all year was Serge Payer and Denis Shvidki, who will need to put the injuries in the past and resume their careers
Defenseman Kyle Rossitersaw a two game call-up to make his NHL debut, where he was able to average 15 minutes of ice time. Extremely tentative the first game (and who wouldn’t be?), Rossiter settled down in his second game and was able to show why his big size could be an advantage to the Panthers soon. Free Agent Defenseman signee Brad Norton is about as opposite as you could get from his brother Jeff. Big and strong, Norton has a very hard shot and took care of matters in his own end before thinking offense. He played in 22 games for the Panthers, notching 2 assists and played some games at forward.
Prospects who changed teams this year were Chris Eade who early in the season went from North Bay to Erie, where he is currently getting ready to play for the Memorial Cup. Matt Sommerfeld who demanded a trade from Swift Current and was moved to Tri-City halfway through the season.
Prospects representing the Panthers in the Hershey Cup All-Stars Series were Seattle’s Dustin Johner, Center Greg Watson of the Prince Albert Red Raiders, Prince George’s goaltender Billy Thompson, Lukas Krajicek of the Petes, Filip Novak of the Regina Pats, and Stephen Weiss of the Whalers.
Panther Prospects playing in the WJC’s were Lukas Krajicek, Stephen Weiss, Toni Koivisto, Vladimir Sapozhnikov, Filip Novak, and Janis Sprukts. Playing in the AHL All-Star Game were Centers Byron Ritchie and Matthew Herr.
Panther Prospect Final Statistics for 2001-2002
Minor Pro Hockey Statistics
Paul Elliot, Defense.
AHL: Utah, 35 Games, 2 Goals, 2 Assists, 4 Points, +2, 2 PIM
ECHL: Florida, 5 Games, 2 Goals, 2 Assists, 4 Points, Even, 0 PIM
Eric Godard, Right Wing
AHL: Bridgeport, 67 Games, 1 Goal, 4 Assists, 5 Points, +1, 198 PIM
Mike Green, Center
ECHL: Macon, 54 Games, 27 Goals, 35 Assists, 62 Points, +22, 18 PIM
AHL: Cincinnati, 22 Games, 2 Goals, 9 Assists, 11 Points, Even, 4 PIM
Paul Harvey, Right Wing
ECHL: Florida and Atlantic City, 28 Games, 3 Goals, 6 Assists, 9 Points, +4, 25 PIM
UHL: New Haven, 12 Games, 3 Goals, 5 Assists, 8 Points, +4, 12 PIM
Matt Herr, Center
NHL: 3 Games, -2
AHL: Hershey, 61 Games, 18 Goals, 15 Assists, 34 Points, -6, 68 PIM
Ryan Jardine, Left Wing
NHL: 8 Games, 2 Assists, 2 Points, 2 PIM
AHL: Utah, 64 Games, 16 Goals, 16 Assists, 32 Points, +6, 56 PIM
David Morisset, Right Wing
NHL: 4 Games, -7, 5 PIM
AHL: Bridgeport, 62 Games, 9 Goals, 10 Assists, 19 Points, +12, 46 PIM
Brad Norton, Defense
NHL: 22 Games, 0 Goals, 2 Assists, 2 Points, 2 PIM
AHL: Hershey, 40 Games, 0 Goals, 10 Assists, 10 Points, -8, 62 PIM
Serge Payer, Center
AHL, Utah, 20 Games, 6 Goals, 2 Assists, 8 Points, -2, 9 PIM
Michel Periard, Defense
ECHL: Macon, 72 Games, 4 Goals, 19 Assists, 23 Points, -6, 26 PIM
Byron Ritchie, Center
NHL: 35 Games, 5 Goals, 6 Assists, 11 Points, -2, 36 PIM
AHL: Lowell, 43 Games, 25 Goals, 30 Assists, 55 Points, +13, 38 PIM
Kyle Rossiter, Defense
NHL: 2 Games, -1, 2 PIM
AHL: Utah, 74 Games, 3 Goals, 7 Assists, 10 Points, -7, 88 PIM
Denis Shvidki, Right Wing
NHL: 8 Games, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, 3 Points, -4, 2 PIM
AHL: Utah, 8 Games, 2 Goals, 4 Assists, 6 Points, +3, 2 PIM
Nick Smith, Center
NHL: 15 Games, -1
AHL: Saint John, Bridgeport, 63 Games, 11 Goals, 15 Assists, 26 Points, +4, 14 PIM
Rocky Thompson, Right Wing
NHL: 6 Games, 12 PIM
AHL: Hershey, 42 Games, 3 Assists, 3 Points, -2, 143 PIM
Major Junior Hockey Statistics
Kyle Bruce, Right Wing
WHL: Prince Albert, 70 Games, 7 Goals, 8 Assists, 15 Points, -23, 189 PIM
Chris Eade, Defense
OHL: Erie and North Bay, 64 Games, 11 Goals, 31 Assists, 42 Points, +32, 120 PIM
Dustin Johner, Center
WHL: Seattle, 71 Games, 33 Goals, 48 Assists, 81 Points, -3, 71 PIM
Josh Olson, Left Wing
AHL: Utah, 1 Game, 0 Points, -1
WHL: Portland, 72 Games, 40 Games, 48 Assists, 88 Points, +12, 85 PIM
Lukas Krajicek, Defense
OHL: Peterborough, 55 Games, 10 Goals, 32 Assists, 42 Points, Even, 56 PIM
Grant McNeill, Defense
WHL: Prince Albert, 70 Games, 7 Goals, 6 Assists, 13 Points, -9, 326 PIM
Filip Novak, Defense
WHL: Regina, 60 Games, 12 Goals, 46 Assists, 58 Points, +31, 125 PIM
Sean O’Connor, Right Wing
WHL: Moose Jaw, 62 Games, 15 Goals, 19 Assists, 34 Points, +14, 135 PIM
Vlad Sapozhnikov, Defense
WHL: North Bay, 29 Games, 0 Goals, 4 Assists, 4 Points, -5, 28 PIM
Matt Sommerfeld, Left Wing
WHL: Swift Current and Tri-City, 47 Games, 7 Goals, 5 Assists, 12 Points, -13, 386 PIM
Janis Sprukts, Center
QMJHL: Acadie-Bathurst, 63 Games, 35 Goals, 44 Assists, 79 Points, +41, 46 PIM
Greg Watson, Center
WHL: Prince Albert, 51 Games, 22 Goals, 30 Assists, 52 Points, -24, 88 PIM
Davis Parley, Goalie
WHL: Kamloops, 36 Games, 1994 Min, 20 Wins, 11 Losses, 2 Ties, 2.77 GAA, 1 SO
Billy Thompson, Goalie
WHL: Prince George, 42 Games, 2375 Min, 20 Wins, 17 Losses, 2 Ties, 2.73 GAA, 2 SO
College Hockey Statistics
Robert Fried, Right Wing
ECAC: Harvard, 31 Games, 7 Goals, 5 Assists, 12 Points, 16 PIM
Michael Woodford, Right Wing
CCHA: Michigan, 43 Games, 8 Goals, 11 Assists, 19 Points, +11, 46 PIM
European Hockey Statistics
Toni Koivisto, Left Wing
Finland: Lukko Rauma, 52 Games, 4 Goals, 10 Assists, 14 Points, -16, 8 PIM
Adrian Wichser, Center
Switzerland: Kloten, 52 Games, 22 Goals, 31 Assists, 53 Points, +30, 18 PIM
After the Draft, the top 20 Panther Prospects will be fully redone