The Florida Panthers had eight selections in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and used those picks to draft one goaltender, three defensemen, and four forwards.
With their first selection in the draft, the Panthers selected 6’4 195-pound Ellerby from the Kamloops Blazers. Ellerby, who patterns his game after Chris Pronger and future teammate Jay Bouwmeester, has great wheels especially for his size and a mean streak reminiscent of Panthers rearguard Bryan Allen. When chosen by the Panthers he said, “I’m so excited about it. Having a guy like Jay Bouwmeester to look up to is just unbelievable. Going down to Florida is going to be great for me I think.”
A conscientious player, he realizes that every minute at the rink counts. “Every time I go to the rink I like to try to make myself better and when I leave I like to think I’ve done something to improve my game or improve myself as a person,” he said.
To that end he took full advantage of his familial relations with Phoenix Coyotes power forward Shane Doan in preparation for the draft. ”I lived with him for a bit this summer and worked out with him and that was a very good experience. He pushes me to my limits every time we step into the gym so it’s definitely a good thing to have him around.”
Ellerby harbors no illusions about making the team out of training camp this year, realizing he is not by any means a finished product. When asked about how many years it might be before he is skating for the pro club he replied “I’d like to say probably two. I think another year of junior would be good for me, just to keep developing, keep getting bigger and stronger. Hopefully in two years I can hopefully make that step up, play well, and make that team in Florida.”
When asked on what he needs to do to take the next step he readily points out that he needs to “keep getting stronger, keep getting bigger, things like getting my point totals up, keeping my plus/minus up, keep developing and working hard.”
The young rearguard realizes that next season is a big year for him both on the ice and in the dressing room. “Hopefully next year if I go back and play junior I can make the World Junior Team.” He went on to say that, “My coaches said they are expecting me to make a jump up and become a leader on the team.”
In the future, look for Ellerby and Allen to be the Panthers shutdown defensemen, filling much the same role that Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov did for the Ottawa Senators last season.
For their first pick on Saturday the Panthers brass went back to the WHL, this time selecting shifty winger Michal Repik from the Memorial Cup Champion Vancouver Giants. GM Jacques Martin took a liking to Repik during the tournament, where he played alongside Florida prospect Kenndal McArdle.
Repik was a fast riser on many draft boards due to his superlative performance in the post-season when he lead the WHL in scoring with 26 points in 22 games. Repik was happy to be picked by Florida, noting they have a couple of Czech guys on the team already.
Florida Director of Scouting Scott Luce readily admits his performance when it counted most was an influencing factor in taking him. “Michal had a great playoffs. He’s a smart two-way player who was highly rated on our lists. We couldn’t pass up on him. Jacques saw him play in the Memorial Cup and was impressed with his good hockey sense.”
Evgeni Dadonov, RW — 3rd round/71st overall — Traktor Chelyabinsk (RSL)
Again, with the third selection, the club went after a diminutive sniper on the right wing. This time, however, they went across the pond to Russia to take Evgeni Dadonov from Traktor Chelyabinsk in the RSL. At 178 pounds, handling the rough going of the North American game is definitely something he is going to have to prove he can handle in the future.
Luce, however, is confident he can meet the challenge stating, “He’s smaller in size but he’s a very brave player. He plays more of a North American style shift to shift. Very consistent…. but he has tremendous talent and a large upside.”
For all that though, there is the ever-present problem of the absence of a Russian transfer agreement that probably makes this pick more of a gamble.
Matt Rust, C — 4th round/101st overall — USDP (U18)
In the fourth round, the Panthers tapped into the US Developmental Program taking solidly-built center Matt Rust (5’9, 192 pounds). Gritty for his size, it should be noted that he put on 14 pounds between November of 2006 when he played in the U-18 Four Nations Tournament in Sweden and his draft day. While he was used primarily in a defensive role this year, the fact that he has demonstrated a higher level of offensive ability at lower levels when given the opportunity coupled with the his commitment to the high-octane Michigan Wolverines in the fall will probably spell an increase in his numbers as he works his way up the forward rotation.
Luce points out that Rust “brings a complete game. He’s very good on the draw. No, he’s outstanding on the draw.”
Rust, a Michigan native, attended the draft and described himself this way. “I’m a smaller player, kind of gritty for my size, I’m only 5’10. I’m a solid two-way player, I try and play both ends of the ice. I really pride myself on faceoffs and being a hard-nosed player.”
While he might remind some old-timers of Peter Zezel, a more current example of his eventual upside is probably that of Bryan Smolinski.
The fifth round saw Florida go back to the blue line in selecting John Lee, brother of Ottawa blue line prospect Brian Lee. He played at two different levels last season, first putting up 6 goals and 27 assists in 23 games with Moorehead, then moving on to Waterloo and adding 2 goals and 7 assists in 27 games with limited ice time. While not quite as big coming out of high school as his older brother, at 6’1, 173 pounds he has the potential to get there soon enough.
Luce like what he sees in Lee commenting, “we think he’s got a good upside to develop and become kind of like a (fellow Florida prospect) Derrick LaPoint-type player.”
He will be attending the University of Denver in the fall.
Luce and co. followed the bloodlines again in Round 6, this time taking rearguard Corey Syvret, brother of Edmonton’s Danny. While he started out slowly with the London Knights both offensively and defensively, his game started to come around once he was dealt to the Guelph Storm, though the numbers don’t really show it. Suffice to say that if Syvret the Younger makes the NHL, it probably won’t be as an offensive defenseman.
Ryan Watson, LW – 7th round/191st overall — Cambridge (MWJRB)
With the first of their two seventh rounders, the Panthers dipped into the Junior B ranks selecting left winger Ryan Watson. At 6’1, 175 pounds, he has the frame to eventually play at over 200 pounds. While his offensive upside is not as impressive as some of the earlier choices in the draft, it’s also not his calling card.
“He’s known as one of the tougher players in that league,” Luce pointed out. “We added grit and character here.”
Although drafted by Kingston in the OHL, Watson will attend the University of Western Michigan in the fall where he will team up with his older brother Cam.
Sergei Gayduchenko, G – 7th round/202nd overall — Yaroslavl (RUS3)
The last pick went to another Russian, this time a goalie, in Sergei Gayduchenko. This is definitely a case of a team taking a flier on a player with high possible upside, but for whom a lot of things have to go right in order for him to make an impact.
While praising his “good technical skills,” Luce readily admitted, “he’s a diamond in the rough from a goalkeeper’s view. I think because of our depth, we can roll the dice a little bit.”
All told with eight selections, Florida had a productive draft under Martin and Luce. Ellerby and Repik are very good bets to have a significant future in the pros, while both Rust and Lee should also eventually find their way onto the Panthers roster. The two Russians, Dadonov and Gayduchenko have the lack of a Russian transfer agreement hanging over their heads. As for Watson and Syvret, both are longshots to make the NHL but could be solid contributors on the AHL level in time.
Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.