Panthers 2003 draft evaluation

By Ian Bross

After several tough years, the Florida Panthers’ hopes were relying heavily on the outcome of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

The Panthers had 13 draft choices in 2003, which is widely recognized as perhaps the deepest draft class in 20 years. Only one first rounder from 2003 has yet to play in the NHL — Hugh Jessiman (NYR). By virtue of their fourth-worst record in the league in 2002-03, the Panthers ended up with the third overall pick.

For the organization, the draft should be deemed a success, if nothing else due to the acquisition of one of the organization’s cornerstones up front, Nathan Horton. And still, some players yet retain hope of adding to that success.

Nathan Horton, C (OHL – Oshawa Generals)

1st Round, 3rd Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 290

In Horton, the Panthers saw a potential franchise player — someone with the talent to score, the strength to dominate, and the versatility to lead by example. Horton was more than just a goal scorer, he was a strong skater, he was aggressive, and mean. He played more than one forward position, both center and wing, and looked like he could immediately make his presence felt at the next level. In his draft year in the OHL, Horton posted 33 goals, 35 assists to go with 111 penalty minutes. Oshawa’s opponents that year knew when Horton was on the ice.

Expectations were immediately thrust upon 19-year-old Horton when he signed a contract with the Panthers. An injury-riddled 55-game rookie season saw him score 14 goals and eight assists. He spent the following year recovering in the AHL with then-affiliate, San Antonio Rampage. When he finally did get back to the NHL, he established himself as a regular from then on. Playing a safer, more disciplined game, he had an exceptional sophomore season, falling just short of 30 goals with 28, and adding 19 assists for 47 points.

Anthony Stewart, RW (OHL – Kingston Frontenacs)

1st Round, 25th Overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 46

Stewart had NHL scouts in awe of his physical conditioning. An exceptional physical specimen, he showed time and again he was capable of dominating opponents of lesser stature. He had good enough hands, and seemed ready to explode on the scoresheet. Stewart’s numbers shot up for Kingston leading up to the draft. He made sudden gigantic strides to become a point-per-game scorer, with 32 goals and 38 assists in 68 games.

With such lofty expectations for his follow-up, it was inevitable there would be some disappointment. In 2003-04, Stewart did slightly improve his goal total from the season before, but his point-per-game pace was unaltered. Then again, in his fourth year in the OHL, he for all intents and purposes repeated his draft-year performance, with near identical stats, not demonstrating the growth the Panthers had anticipated.  Some have questioned things like his hockey sense as a result. 

It has been slow going for Stewart since he debuted professionally. While it is still too soon for Stewart to have the title of “bust” bestowed upon him, he is running out of time to prevent that from happening. He made his NHL debut three seasons ago – the longest stay he has had since is 26 games, this last season, in which he had only one point.

Kamil Kreps, C (OHL – Brampton Battalion)

2nd Round, 38th Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 90

Kreps was perceived as the total offensive package. A quick, agile skater, adept stick handler, he saw the ice and moved the puck very well. The son of a coach, he was never afraid to roll up his sleeves and work, or educate himself about the various nuances of the game played outside of the offensive zone.

In his final tour of duty with the Battalion, Kreps had 19 goals and 27 assists, falling short of the output he generated leading up to the draft. Nevertheless, he made the move to professional hockey as a member of the Rampage. Seeming to be in over his head, he was sent down to the ECHL Texas Wildcatters to acclimatize himself to pro hockey.

2007-08 was Kreps’ rookie campaign. In 76 games, he scored eight goals and 17 assists, and is still improving. A jersey will be waiting for him again in the Panthers locker room next fall.

Stefan Meyer, LW (WHL – Medicine Hat Tigers)

2nd Round, 55th Overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 4

Meyer scratched and clawed to make a name for himself in the WHL. Strong on the puck, though he wasn’t the best skater or the best playmaker, he was proficient at putting the puck on net. Meyer’s second-round draft position epitomized the differing philosophy of the time – physicality over finesse. Power was at a premium, and skating was a secondary skill.

In the season leading up to the 2003 draft, Meyer’s efforts added up to a 36-goal, 16-assist season. Though his skating remained awkward to a degree, and he was never one to make the spectacular pass, Meyer again scored over 30 goals in each of his remaining two years with Medicine Hat. And he added to that a more impressive accomplishment: over 40 assists in each of those seasons as well.

Meyer managed to make himself into a more balanced scoring threat. In three seasons in the AHL, he has been a consistent performer. He received one very brief taste of Panther hockey in 2007-08, and he’ll be looking for more in 08-09.

Martin Lojek, D (OHL – Brampton Battalion)

4th Round, 105th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 5

The Panthers couldn’t resist the lure of Martin Lojek in Round 4; an imposing figure, standing 6’5 and tipping the scales at 220 pounds, he had the size scouts crave in a defenseman. But Lojek was a gentle giant, whose size didn’t translate to success. He was taken on as a project with good potential.

In pro hockey, Lojek’s experience never evoked any leadership characteristics, and he sometimes had difficulty staying in playing shape. Last season, he was victimized on an AHL-worst Rochester Americans team. Now Lojek is under contract with HC Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Extraliga. Though the Panthers retain his rights, he has multiple years on that Czech contract.

James Pemberton, D (NCAA – Providence College)

4th Round, 124th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

In 2003, the Panthers had in their minds a very clear picture of what they wanted in their future defense core, and their team identity. Again in the fourth round, just 19 picks after Lojek, the Panthers took another defender with good size, James Pemberton. But they also saw him as having a little “something extra” to go with it – offensive instincts.

Those instincts weren’t enough, though.  They never translated into big point production once he was drafted. Pemberton was not offered a contract upon finishing his four years in the NCAA. He is currently a member of the Trenton Devils of the ECHL.

Dan Travis, RW (Mass H.S. – Deerfield Academy)

5th Round, 141st Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Eager for power forwards, the Panthers used their first of two fifth-round picks to select Dan Travis. Coming out of high school, Travis had an ideal build and decent skills. Headed to a top NCAA program, the University of New Hampshire, Travis was a high-risk, high-reward choice.

He saw very limited playing time in his first two seasons. In 2005-06, Travis was inactive as he transferred from UNH to Quinnipiac University. The change of scenery served him well, no longer buried on the bottom of a strong Wildcat depth chart — that is, until an injury ended his season early.  He finished his NCAA career in respectable, but not overwhelming fashion, and is unlikely to be signed by the Panthers to a contract before his rights expire.

Martin Tuma, D (Czech – Litvinov Jrs.)

5th Round, 162nd Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Panthers then continued nabbing defensemen, dipping into the Czech talent pool again to select the 6’4 200-pound Tuma. Unlike his fellow countryman Lojek, however, Tuma wasn’t afraid to use his physical attributes to his advantage. Other than that, Lojek and Tuma had several individual weaknesses in common, one of those being a lack of strength on the puck.

Tuma mustered up one strong season in the OHL in 2004-05 when he scored, far beyond expectations, a surprising 10 goals and 13 assists. He went on to the ECHL Florida Everblades a year later and promptly returned to his old form. Whatever progress he had shown began to wane, and he never recovered.  Tuma has since traveled back to his home country, and is a member of HC Litvinov of the Czech Extraliga.

Denis Stasyuk, C (Russia – Novokuznetsk Metallurg)

6th Round, 171st Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Like a lot of Russian draftees, Denis Stasyuk was a proficient skill player. A deft puck handler, what set Stasyuk apart was his size. At 6’3, he had a larger frame than the average prospect. He never quite grew into that frame, though, and he never quite lit up his opponents either in the Russian Super League with Novokuznetsk Metallurg. Since being drafted, he has scored a combined total of 11 goals and 4 assists (15 points) in 104 games over the course of four seasons.

Dany Roussin, LW (QMJHL – Rimouski Oceanic)

7th Round, 223rd Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Roussin spent the first half of his 2002-03 season in the QMJHL with the Sherbrooke Beavers before being traded to Rimouski Oceanic. Roussin had the look of a budding offensive talent – good hands, good vision, he could shoot well, pass well, and he was fast. He wasn’t big, and his play away from the puck and in his own end was lacking, but the Panthers appreciated his other talents enough to take a chance on him.

The following season, Roussin found himself a new linemate — Sidney Crosby. His production skyrocketed, goal totals nearly tripling, from 20 to 59, finishing the year with 117 points, and then again, the following year, finishing with 116 points. Unable to come to terms with the Panthers, Roussin re-entered the draft in 2005-06, and was taken by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round. He has been a regular with the King’s ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, each of the past two seasons.

Petr Kadlec, D (Czech – Slavia Praha HC)

8th Round, 234th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Looking for a defender they could quickly plug into their lineup, the Panthers chose 26-year-old Petr Kadlec in Round 8. He was signed that July. A smallish defender who heavily relied on finesse play, the Panthers decided before the start of the 2003-04 season Kadlec no longer fit into their plans, and released him. He returned to Slavia Praha HC, and has remained there ever since.

John Hecimovic, RW (OHL – Sarnia Sting)

9th Round, 264th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Panthers’ utilized their second-to-last selection of 2003 to acquire the gritty John Hecimovic. Hecimovic had a solid work ethic, and a lot of character. He did all the little things, skated hard, finished checks, battled for loose pucks, and dropped the gloves on occasion. He also had 30 goals and 32 assists in 2002-03, all in all making him an attractive option in the final round of the draft.

After splitting an overage year with Sarnia and Mississauga, Hecimovic was not offered a contract by the Panthers. He then signed a contract with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. He is currently playing in the Netherlands with the Den Haag Wolves.

Tanner Glass, LW (BCHL – Nanaimo Clippers)

9th round, 265th Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 41

It was Glass’ playing style that drew the Panthers attention to him from the BCHL.  Glass was a leader who led by example; he wasn’t a spectacular talent, but he was physical, fearless, and took punishment to make good things happen for his team.

These same qualities made him an asset to Dartmouth College. He was an assistant captain for the Big Green as a junior, and a captain as a senior. After graduating, he signed a contract and joined the Rochester Americans. It wasn’t long before he found himself on the Panthers as an injury call-up. Glass fit in well this past season as a checking forward, which is his spot to lose in 2008-09.