Panthers 2008 draft review

By Ian Bross

Florida became the new home for Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, who were acquired for Panthers captain Olli Jokinen along with a second-round pick. That pick was then packaged with a fourth-round pick in 2009 to allow the Panthers to climb three spots and draft defenseman Colby Robak of the Brandon Wheat Kings. 

The Panthers did not own a first-round pick. When all was said and done, with their five selections, the Panthers had acquired one goaltender, three defensemen, and a forward.

Jacob Markstrom, G

2nd Round, 31st Overall – Brynas (SWE-Jr.)

It was a longer-than-anticipated wait for the goaltender from Gavle, Sweden. Most expected Jacob Markstrom would be taken in the first round on Friday night. Instead, the 18-year-old goaltender, rated No. 1 among his European counterparts by Central Scouting, was taken by the Panthers with the first pick on Saturday.

According to Scott Luce, Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting, offers had been made for the No. 31 pick on Friday night. After conducting a staff meeting, the decision was made to keep the choice to themselves, and solidify their depth at the goaltending position. “We were ecstatic to get Jacob Markstrom with that selection,” said Luce. “He has elite, top-end, No. 1 upside in the National Hockey League.”

At 6’3, Markstrom possesses a sizeable frame for a netminder, and utilizes that build in a way comparable, perhaps, to former Panther Roberto Luongo.  Markstrom uses his body to cover the net well, and plays with a lot of confidence. A butterfly-style goalie, he has a tendency to go down too quickly, but he also possesses an impressively quick glove-hand.

Markstrom posted a 2.00 goals against average and a .931 save percentage with his hometown club Brynas in 22 games last season, best among all European goalies in his draft class. Luce raved about his performance.

“One thing I liked about [Markstrom] is, on an under-18 team, as a goaltender, he was a leader of that team. That just shows that he’s got tremendous character, and to me, that shows mental strength — moving forward as a goalie, you have to have that.”

Colby Robak, D

2nd Round, 46th Overall – Brandon (WHL)

Robak was talked about as a possible first rounder as well, but the native of Dauphin, Manitoba fell to 46th overall before the Panthers traded up and finally put an end to the drama.

“We had to move up a couple picks to make sure we could get him because we felt the teams ahead of us could possibly select him,” said Luce. “It was another opportunity to get a guy that we felt could be a top-four defenseman in the National Hockey League.”

After scoring six goals and 24 assists last season, Central Scouting ranked Robak 13th among North American skaters and seventh among North American defensemen in 2008. With good size, at 6’3 and 194 lbs, as well as very good skating ability, Robak’s upside is high. Luce sees Robak’s learning environment in the near future as one that will do nothing but augment his development and help tap into that potential. “He has more of an opportunity to play a more offensive role next year in Brandon, getting great, quality coaching there.”

Robak’s offensive game is what makes him an attractive player. Robak initiates the rush well from his own end, whether making a clean outlet pass, or carrying the puck, with a reputation for making few mistakes. For the Panthers, such an addition to the system is a welcome one.

All in all, Luce spoke glowingly of Robak. “He’s a good kid,” said Luce. “He’s proud to be a Panther.”

Adam Comrie, D

3rd Round, 80th Overall – Saginaw (OHL)

The Panthers then continued their hunt for defensemen; after picking up the offensive-minded Robak, they sought out a steadier, more flexible blueliner. They chose Saginaw’s Adam Comrie

Born in Ontario and raised in Virginia, Comrie began his junior career in the USHL. In 2007-08, he then joined the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL and fit in well, totaling 10 goals and 18 assists.

Standing 6’4 and 205 pounds, Comrie is a big defender (one of the biggest of the draft class) with a powerful shot from the point. Most of all, he is a competitor who brings some bite to his game, but he is more than just a one-trick pony.

“He’s a guy that we feel can really be a good complementary defenseman moving forward and play in any type pairing situation, because he brings that grit dimension, and good skill,” Luce said.

Comrie will remain in Saginaw next season.

A.J. Jenks, LW

4th Round, 100th Overall – Plymouth (OHL)

Born in Detroit, Jenks models his game after his favorite player, Henrik Zetterberg. He is a versatile forward who the Panthers believe, at this juncture, to be well suited for the NHL. However, he can also play the pivot position effectively too. Built solidly at 6’2 and 206 lbs, Jenks is strong on faceoffs, and overall, a very good two-way player. He’s a competitor with strong hockey sense who makes good decisions with the puck.

Jenks had 26 goals and 29 assists last season, but what piqued the interest of Luce and the Panthers’ was his off-ice demeanor. “It was a hell of an interview, a high-character kid,” said Luce.  “He’s got some offensive upside,” Luce added, “but we project him more as a guy who can be a shutdown center, or a defensive guy that can bring some offense as well.”

Luce wasn’t the only one pleased to see Jenks become a member of the organization.

“Peter DeBoer, our new coach, is quite familiar with both [Adam] Comrie and A.J. [Jenks], so he was happy to see we brought those guys into the fold.”

Matthew Bartkowski, D

7th Round, 190th Overall – Lincoln (USHL)

With their final selection in 2008, Jacques Martin and company continued to recruit American talent, three complete rounds after Jenks in round 4. This time, they again looked to strengthen their backend, selecting Matthew Bartkowski.

Bartkowski’s production shot up favorably from this season to last. After a meager nine-point scoring total in 2006-07, Bartkowski had four goals and 37 assists in 2007-08 for 41 points. Scoring aside, Panthers scouts were looking for character with their late-round selection, and Bartkowski they considered to be a leader of his team in the USHL.

Though he stands a very average 6’1, he is a tremendous hitter in the open ice. “They had to tell him to lay off on the physical play this year,” Luce said about Bartkowski’s coaches in Lincoln, “so he could focus more on being a hockey player.”

Similar to Comrie, he has a big shot from the point and a lot of grit as well. His skating could stand to improve. The 20-year-old is the only 2008 Panthers draftee who will be playing in the NCAA this upcoming season, attending Ohio State in the fall.

“He is a guy that when he gets close to graduation or graduates, will be more of a complete package,” said Luce comparing Bartkowski’s path to that of Luke Beaverson and Jason Garrison. “They get some more time to be later-developers,” said Luce, “And then from there they can make the transition to the pro game.”