The Florida Panthers are fresh off of an excellent second half of the year including a record seven-game winning streak in March. It took the first half of the year for the new coaching staff to establish a system and start to have some success. They narrowly missed the playoffs only because they started off the year so badly. With so much offensive promise waiting to be discovered, there is optimism for the future.
The Panthers have three potential offensive power forwards Rostislav Olesz, Anthony Stewart and Kenndal McArdle in their system. Of these three youngsters, only Olesz got his chance to show what he can do with the big club this year. Stewart got hurt early in the season, and McArdell the first rounder from last year stayed in junior.
Olesz, Lukas Krajicek, and Gregory Campbell played regularly with the big club. Four rookies saw limited action: Anthony Stewart, Greg Jacina, Rob Globke and Petr Taticek, who was traded away in March.
Rostislav Olesz, C
HT: 6’ WT: 191 lbs.
Draft: 2004 (1st round, 7th overall)
The Panther organization is very high on Olesz because he has so much offensive potential, he gives all he has on every shift, and he can be trusted to play solid defense. Olesz was mainly used as a defensive player this year as he killed penalties, even 5 on 3’s. It was pretty obvious that head coach Jacques Martin is trying to develop him defensively, and he responded very well.
It’s hard to say just how Olesz recovered from his mid-season shoulder injury. He missed 16 games last year with a sprained MCL and injured both his shoulder and knee this year. Nevertheless he managed to play 59 games, and he scored eight goals and added 13 assists in 59 games and was a -4. As a highly-touted first rounder from the 2004 draft, he is brimming with potential.
Olesz had a similar season to two promising European rookies, Mikko Koivu, 23, and Robert Nilsson, 21. Koivu scored six goals and added 15 assists in 64 games with Minnesota, and Nilsson tallied 6 goals and 14 assists in 53 games with the Islanders. Koivu had the benefit of a year of seasoning in the AHL and Nilsson had the benefit of 29 games in the AHL, while Olesz did not get any AHL time. Olesz is also the youngest of the three, at 20.
Olesz spends a lot of time with Jaromir Jagr in the offseason and plays a lot like a very young Jagr, except that he is better away from the puck, which is another reason the Panther organization is so high on him.
So the question is will Olesz be able to thrive on a talent-challenged defense-first team? The Panther organization is going to need him to develop quickly. He will get every chance to prove himself, and will need to increase his production next year if he wants to get the ice time he craves and live up to his promise.
Lukas Krajicek, D
HT: 6’2 WT: 192 lbs.
Draft: 2001 (1st round, 23rd overall)
Krajicek played very well as a rookie defenseman on the Panthers, looking a lot like a very young Sandis Ozolinsh. He is offense first and will sacrifice himself defensively to go for an offensive opportunity. He scored two goals and added 14 assists in 67 games this year. Martin wants defensively responsible defensemen, so Krajicek will need to develop that side of his game.
The Panthers will need to be restocking the defense in the draft this year, as they are thin in prospects in that area. It is fair to say that while he has found a spot on the team, Krajicek is not living up to his first round billing. He will be hard-pressed to move into the top four with the players ahead of him. What is in his favor is that he makes close to minimum salary, and in the new NHL it is necessary to develop some low-salaried players alongside higher-salaried veterans.
Gregory Campbell, LW
HT: 6’0 WT: 197 lbs.
Draft: 2002 (3rd round, 67th overall)
Campbell was called up from the minors in November and stayed with the parent club for the year. He played a defensive role on the third line with limited offensive success in 64 games. He scored three goals and added six assists. Mostly he was used as a role player who brings energy with his physical play and skating ability. At -11, he will need to get better defensively, and will have to step up if he wants to fit in to next year’s team. During his last two years of junior, he scored close to a point a game, so with some experience, he is expected to improve his offensive numbers.
Anthony Stewart, RW
HT: 6’1 WT: 225 lbs.
Draft: 2003 (1st round, 25thoverall)
Stewart arrived in the Prospects Tournament in Ottawa just before training camp looking out of shape, unmotivated and overmatched. After his OHL career, the Panthers were drooling waiting for him to show what he can do and to shake his reputation as a floater.
This past season was pretty much lost for him when shortly after being recalled he went down with a wrist injury which required surgery. He was not recalled after recovering because the Panthers were on the best roll of the year. He was limited to only 10 games, scoring two goals and added one assist. Next year will be like starting fresh for Stewart, who scored over a point a game his last three years of junior. He still retains a lot of offensive potential.
Rob Globke, RW
HT: 6’2 WT: 200 lbs.
Draft: 2002(2nd round, 40thoverall)
With all the injuries up front, Globke spent the year being recalled and sent down enough times to leave him wondering where he was waking up in the morning. He managed to play 18 games and registered his first and only NHL goal. He showed limited playmaking ability this year, but was good in the corners. He is likely to need a few years of AHL seasoning.
Greg Jacina, C
HT: 6’ WT: 203 lbs.
Free agent: 2003
Jacina signed on as a free agent in 2003. This year he got into 11 games with all of the injuries that the Panthers had, registering no goals and one assist. Jacina’s point total has been about a half a point per game for the last two AHL years. Right now, Jacina is a role player, a forward who is known for his checking ability and bringing energy.
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