The Florida Panthers went into the 2008 NHL draft without a first-round pick, having traded away the rights to that pick in a package that brought Tomas Vokoun to Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers (under then general manager Jacques Martin) made a sequence of trades that gave them the 31st, 46th, and 80th overall picks, as well as their own fourth (100th overall) and seventh round picks (190th).
Although none of the Panthers picks from the 2008 draft have significant NHL experience at this time, they did draft two players in the second round that are on the threshold of becoming regulars for Florida in the near future.
Florida had the first pick on the second day of the draft. After Detroit selected top-ranked North American goalie Thomas McCollum with the 30th overall pick to close out the first round (and left the top-ranked international goalie Markstrom on the board), the Panthers started fielding phone calls. Several teams wanted a chance at picking up the goaltender many considered the best player available after the opening day. In the end, despite multiple offers, the Panthers held on to their pick and selected the tall, athletic, and agile Swedish netminder.
Like most goaltenders, Markstrom has taken time to develop into an NHL-ready player. He has added height since the draft, and now weighs in at 6'6, 195 pounds. He has adjusted to the smaller ice surface in North America, the changes in the tempo, as well as the physicality of the game, and has become one of the top netminder prospects outside of the NHL. Unfortunately, in addition to his one-ice performances and mind-boggling saves, he has suffered two knee injuries that have required surgical repair. The first ended his rookie season in the AHL. The second cost him a month of the middle of his second season. Though he has recovered fully from both operations, the lost time hindered his development and slowed his NHL trajectory.
Four months into his third season in North America, Markstrom has shaken off some early season troubles in the net for San Antonio, and has once again been dazzling crowds and opponents in the AHL. His .921 saves percentage is among the league's best, and his goals against average of 2.61 per game is also very respectable for a middling San Antonio team.
At this time, all signs point to Markstrom getting his first real shot at a full-time role in the NHL next season as first a backup to a veteran starter (probably Jose Theodore, current Florida starter), but vying for a starting spot before long.
Sixteen picks into the second round, the Panthers traded up three spots to select a two-way defenseman out of the Western Hockey League. Colby Robak was generally considered a first-round pick leading into the draft (he had been ranked nineteenth overall by ISS), so again the Panthers appeared to benefit from a player slipping down in the draft. Robak would play two more seasons in the WHL, racking up 108 points in 136 games and making an appearance in the WHL All-Star game. He finished his final season of junior hockey with the best plus/minus rating in the Western League (plus-56).
Robak has spent the last two plus seasons in the AHL, where he has become San Antonio's top defenseman. He plays in all game situations, and last year was named to the AHL All-Star team. He thus far has posted 19 goals and 62 assists in 195 games in the AHL, and earned a brief NHL debut last year. He may get another crack with the Panthers this season if necessary, but his true opportunity should come next season.
The Panthers took another big-bodied defenseman in the third round. Comrie brought toughness, physical play, and decent offensive ability. After two more seasons of junior hockey, Comrie moved up to the professional ranks, but his offense never materialized at the minor league level. He bounced back and forth between the ECHL and AHL, and was eventually unconditionally waived by the Panthers in March of 2012. Since that time, Comrie has seemingly recommitted to his game, and has played 45 games with the Reading Royals in the ECHL. He was recently loaned to the Worchester Sharks on a try-out basis, and has appeared in one game with them.
A.J. Jenks, LW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL) – 4th Round, 100th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Florida turned to offense in the fourth round and selected A.J. Jenks, a versatile forward with good size, speed, toughness, and a spark of offensive ability. Jenks had scored nearly a point-per-game with 94 penalty minutes for Plymouth in his draft year. Before he finished his junior career, Jenks would be named captain of the Whalers squad, play for Team USA in the World Junior Championships, and make the OHL All-Star team.
Jenks had a rough time however transitioning to the pros. In his first professional season, he posted a respectable rookie output of 21 points in 63 games, but thereafter, his play faltered. After starting the 2011-12 season in the AHL, he shuttled between San Antonio and the ECHL team in Cincinnati, and never found a rhythm. In January of 2012, the Panthers included Jenks in a trade with Carolina that sent Evgeni Dadonov to the Hurricanes in return for Mattias Lindstrom and Jonathan Matsumoto. Since the trade, Jenks has continued to yo-yo between the ECHL and AHL, and has managed only a handful of goals at any level since his professional debut. He is in the final year of his entry-level contract, and is edging dangerously close to the end of his professional hockey career.
With their final pick of the 2008 draft, the Panthers once again looked to a defenseman. Matt Bartkowski showed decent offensive output with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL. In 2007-08 he scored four goals with 37 assists in 60 games. He also finished the year at plus-19 while accumulating 135 penalty minutes. He then joined the Ohio State Buckeyes where he continued to enjoy moderate success. In March of 2010, the Panthers traded Bartkowski to Boston. Since then, Bartkowski has become regular feature along the Providence blue line, and has appeared in nine NHL games.