Panthers 2004 draft evaluation

By Ian Bross

Behind Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, there was a drop-off in talent in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.  The Panthers made just seven selections in 2004, six fewer than in 2003, but managed to get the most value out of the 2004 draft class, with 60 NHL games per pick.

Even with a reduced allotment of choices, they managed to pluck two serviceable players, who have worked their way into the lineup. And still there are others with the potential for some success.

Rostislav Olesz, C – 1st Round, 7th Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 227

With their first selection, the Panthers took Olesz, who was perceived at the time as a possible top-five pick. After Ovechkin and Malkin, the consensus top two at the forward position, Olesz was arguably the top European forward. The Czech center owned an appealing combination of power and skill. He possessed considerable offensive upside.

Olesz headed into NHL play directly after leaving for North America. In his rookie year, at the age of 20, he also represented his home country in the Winter Olympics. In the seasons that have followed, now 23 years old, Olesz has established himself as a regular on the Panthers.

Though never yet fully hitting his stride offensively, Olesz has still been an asset to the Panthers because of his smarts and two-way ability. Florida made a substantive commitment to Olesz, when they offered him a multi-million dollar contract as a restricted free agent at the end of the 2007-08 season. He is set to remain with the team through 2012-13. Olesz has not yet reached his full potential. His development certainly wasn’t expedited any as a result of frequent nagging injuries.

David Shantz, G – 2nd Round, 37th Overall
Status:  NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Shantz was the fifth goaltender drafted in 2004. Before him, Al Montoya, Marek Schwarz, Devan Dubnyk, and Cory Schneider were taken in the first round. Leading up to the draft, Shantz was fairly well thought of.

From the OHL, his integration to professional hockey has been rough. He hasn’t been able to nail down a steady spot in the rotation with Rochester, Florida’s the AHL affiliate, never mind challenge to be a starter. Shantz has instead been bouncing around the ECHL with Florida, Dayton, and most recently, the Elmira Jackals.

To date, Shantz has been a disappointment, considering his draft position. Not quite a bust yet, Shantz will need to make widespread improvements if he is to salvage a hope of an NHL career.

David Booth, LW – 2nd Round, 53rd Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 193

Booth was 19 years old going on 20 and halfway through a four-year NCAA stay, when he was taken by the Panthers. Playing in his home state for the MSU Spartans, Booth was an able, but not dominant offensive force.

After a brief stint in the AHL, he emerged as a prominent scorer for the Panthers, and easily their most fruitful selection in the 2004 draft. On teams that struggled for offense, Booth has grown into one of their most dependable point producers. This past season, Booth eclipsed 30 goals for the first time in his career, in only his second complete NHL season.

He has a combination of great speed and strength, and can finish around the net. Booth is a high character player who displays plenty of grit and wears his heart on his sleeve, leading on the ice and off it as well. Booth will likely be a cornerstone of the Panthers going forward.

Evan Schafer, D – 4th Round, 105th Overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Schafer was a defenseman who loved to get involved physically and utilize his size and strength. Otherwise, he was somewhat of a one-dimensional prospect, with little skill to speak of, sticking to what he did best. He was never expected to be a factor offensively.

As a member of the WHL’s Prince Albert Red Raiders, Schafer demonstrated his propensity for physical play. But for all his involvement in the rough stuff, he was never a consistently effective shut-down player. He was rarely matched up against opposing teams’ top players. Schafer struggled with discipline, piling on penalty minutes year after year.

An underwhelming junior career which was concluded with an overage year with the Red Raiders, saw Schafer go from the WHL to the CIS. It was then that Schafer’s NHL fate was likely sealed. He moved to his native province, and enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, where he has remained since.

Bret Nasby, D – 5th Round, 152nd Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Standing 6’3 tall, Nasby was drafted with good size and good reach at his disposal. The Oshawa General was also able to hold his own on the offense. Nasby had the upside of a two-way defenseman. In lieu of an overage year in the OHL, he signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers. He made a somewhat unexpected move to the ECHL for the 2006-07 season, playing in 31 games for the Florida Everblades.

Then in an even more unexpected move, Nasby left hockey, opting out of his contract to explore other career opportunities. He eventually re-entered competition at the collegiate level in the CIS with the University of Prince Edward Island. In 2008-09, his first year of eligibility, he skated in 14 games with the UPEI Panthers.  

But whether he had the talent or not, pro hockey is not in his plans any longer. He is enrolled in the Bachelor of Science Nursing program, according to his bio on the UPEI athletics site.  

Spencer Dillon, D – 9th Round, 267th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Playing for the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Dillon was unranked by Central Scouting heading into the 2004 draft. The defenseman had plenty of size, standing 6’4 and weighing 195 pounds. Strong, with good balance on his skates, Dillon was of the stay-at-home mold. In his two years in Salmon Arm, he had no goals.

In the season after he was selected by the Panthers, Dillon played in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, before joining the Northern Michigan University Wildcats for 2005-06. He never played out his NCAA career, however, as he was gone — discharged from the team — before the conclusion of the following campaign.

The event of his removal from the roster severely reduced his already slim chances of an NHL career even further. Dillon never received a legitimate opportunity to prove himself, nor did he make any adjustments to allow himself to do so. A late pick, the odds were stacked heavily against Dillon regardless.

Luke Beaverson, D – 9th Round, 283rd Overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Panthers’ modus operandi in the late rounds of prior drafts was to seek high character prospects. It was along these lines that Beaverson was chosen. A durable defender with good size, a team-first philosophy and leadership qualities, Beaverson left the USHL to embark on a four-year journey with the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Upon completion, he promptly signed a professional contract with the Panthers.

Beaverson hasn’t managed to stick with AHL just yet, and has played primarily in the ECHL. This is somewhat problematic for Beaverson, considering his relatively late entry to pro hockey. As a 24-year-old rookie with a fair amount of experience, he will need to elevate his play, but should still be considered a prospect for the time being.