Panthers 2004 draft preview

By Rich Bartho

Panthers Top 10 Prospects

1. Anthony Stewart, RW
2. Lukas Krajicek, D
3. Rob Globke, RW
4. Filip Novak, D
5. Greg Campbell, LW
6. Stefan Meyer, LW
7. Petr Taticek, C
8. Dany Roussin, C
9. Kamil Kreps, C
10. Jeremy Swanson, D

The current nucleus of the Panthers are in place but there are still some obvious holes to fill. The unexpected firing of GM Rick Dudley and hiring of former coach and now GM Mike Keenan will make for a very interesting draft for the Panthers. It is expected that Keenan is willing to trade some of the youth for some immediate veteran help as well. As a result, the needs, strengths, and weaknesses of the organization may and probably will change as the draft approaches.

Team Needs

Florida continues to struggle to put the puck in the net consistently. Outside of center Olli Jokinen, there is no one on the current roster to score 20 goals or more. Nathan Horton started the year playing center but eventually made the move to right wing and might have scored 20 goals if he stayed healthy. A top line sniping left wing is an obvious need to play alongside both Jokinen and Horton.

Another area where the Panthers continue to struggle is in their defense. All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo set NHL records for saves and shots faced this past season. While Luongo thrives when he faces a lot of shots, he cannot continue to face those kind of numbers. A crease clearing defenseman that can play top 2 line minutes is another obvious need (preferably a right-handed one). With plenty of offense expected to come from the blue line, stay-at-home defenders would be very helpful to offset those defenders that jump up in the play.

Organizational Strengths

The Panthers are obviously very deep at the center position. With Jokinen still only 26 and Stephen Weiss just 20, the top 2 lines are solidified at center. Horton and Vaclav Nedorost also have played center but seem to be more suited to playing on the wing and formed a strong second line with Weiss. Additionally, prospects Petr Taticek, Kamil Kreps, Stefan Meyer and Dany Roussin give the organization plenty of depth at center. Though Meyer was drafted as a left wing, he improved his playmaking and skating skills and had a solid season with Medicine Hat as a center. Also, while Roussin was drafted as a center in the seventh round, his impressive season where he led the QMJHL and all Canadian Junior players in goal scoring (59 goals) makes him more likely to play on the wing. He often benefitted from playing on lines with Oiler prospect Marc-Antoine Pouliot or super-phenom Sidney Crosby.

Unlike in the past, the Panthers seem to be very deep with power forwards, especially on the right side. Horton’s game seems perfectly suited to the right side and played quite a few games at right wing on both top 2 lines. Horton finished with 14 goals this season in just 55 games and will be expected to improve on that next season. Also, Anthony Stewart is expected to crack the Panthers lineup next season. Most people feel he was a steal at the 25th pick in the 2003 draft. He may struggle with scoring early on but will use his speed and strength to create scoring chances for linemates.

Recently signed right wing Rob Globke also brings a powerforward type game to the organization. Globke will be given time to develop a bit more in San Antonio but he combines the rare size, speed and skill combination and the reason former GM Rick Dudley drafted him in the early 2nd round in 2002. Globke finished his career at Notre Dame with 68 goals and 124 points and finished tied for first on the career list with 13 game winning goals. Another physical RW prospect who found the back of the net quite often in his career is John Hecimovic who scored 30 goals in three straight years for Sarnia of the OHL. He probably won’t be expected to play on a scoring line in the NHL, but he has a cannon of a shot and should fit in well with a Mike Keenan type team.

Florida is a team full of grinders amongst its wingers, especially on the left side. Amongst the prospects, Greg Campbell, Eric Beaudoin, Josh Olson, and Ryan Jardine are all possible third line grinders for the Panthers in the future.

The breakout of Mike Van Ryn was a pleasant surprise this past season. He, along with Bouwmeester, prove that Florida is already heavy in offensively talented defensemen. Especially with powerplay quarterback-to-be Lukas Krajicek, Florida should have no trouble getting offense from its blue line.

Organizational Weaknesses

Goal Scoring Wingers: Florida’s top scoring wingers were Nathan Horton and Juraj Kolnik who both scored 14 goals this past season. In San Antonio, the top winger was Denis Shvidki but most of his points were assists and many feel he may never achieve his full potential (but Keenan is a big fan of his and he will get a good shot next year). If you take the reports as being true, Keenan is expected to trade Kristian Huselius as well who struggled under Keenan but has two separate 20-goal seasons under his belt. The breakout of Roussin is good news for scoring from the wings but after that, the organization is still weak on goals off the wing.

Goaltending:

One need that seems evident is depth at the goaltending position. After Luongo, there is very little in the way of prospect goalies in the Panthers system. At least a mid round pick could be used to add some depth to the organization, especially as a potential future backup for Luongo.

Goaltender Travis Scott also saw a large number of shots in San Antonio and could replace Shields next season as Roberto’s backup. Simon Lejeunesse continued to struggle but showed some signs of improvement when goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk visited San Antonio. A leg injury curtailed any forward progress but if Scott is in the NHL next season, Simon will get a chance to start in the AHL. Mikael Vuorio had an impressive season (12-2-5 with a 1.87 GAA) with powerhouse Jukurit of the Mestis league in Finland but split time at the position. If Luongo, as its been reported, demands to be the top paid goaltender in the league, the Panthers could have a potential hold out problem similar to Mike Comrie in the future. If that does happen, it would be smart for Florida to have someone that could potentially be a starter as well.

Defense: Injuries plagued the defense this past year and highlighted that there is an obvious weakness for physical defenders in the organization. Bouwmeester was sidelined for six weeks with a broken foot but often did not look like the same defender from a year ago the rest of the time. Mezei also suffered a freak injury that left him blind in one eye for several months and his physical play was missed. Even prospect Filip Novak suffered a season ending ankle injury in training camp which has probably set him back in his development another year. The Panthers often had several fifth/sixth type defensemen playing well above their roles including veterans Lyle Odelein, Andres Lilja and Pavel Trnka.

Draft Tendencies

Florida has traded down from their pick in two straight years. But that was with Rick Dudley as GM who attempted to pick up a player or better draft position while still drafting the player he coveted. With Mike Keenan now on board, its possible that the Panthers trade the pick away entirely. Previously, Dudley would look for what he coined as the rare players that combined the size, skill and speed combination regardless of nationality. Keenan, however, seems to be more inclined to favor the North American players and seems to not prefer Europeans. Keenan likes big, physical players who may not have tons of skill but have a strong work ethic. Keenan does not generally have patience with developing players so don’t expect to see many draft selections ever make the Panthers from the 2004 class.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Robbie Schremp, C