Panther Training Camp Preview

By Mark Fischel

2000-2001 Panther Training Camp Report

The upcoming 2000-2001 Panther season will be very reminiscent of the 98-99 season when rookies Mark Parrish, Oleg Kvasha, Jaroslav Spacek, and Peter Worrell all played meaningful roles on a rebuilding team. 98-99 was also a season that saw the arrival of Pavel Bure who became the first superstar on the Panthers, and quickly upgraded the skill level on the team. In the 99-00 season, there were fewer spots for rookies to play on, and the only notable rookie to play for most of the season was Ryan Johnson.

In the 2000 draft, Bryan Murray shocked the hockey world (especially Islander fans) by trading solid sophomores Parrish and Kvasha for #1 ranked prospect, Roberto Luongo and the once highly touted prospect, Olli Jokinen.

The offseason also saw the departures of forwards Cam Stewart, Ray Sheppard, goalies Mike Vernon and Mikhail Sthalenkov and the FA addition of Igor Larionov. All these roster moves have given the Panthers the potential to have 3 rookies competing for open roster spots, and the potential of some more trades might free up another 2-3 spots.

In this article, Hockey’s Future will hopefully shed some light on what could be some intense battles for some very deserving prospects. While the Panthers are no longer in a re-building mode, there is some drama that will unfold in the fight for those few coveted open roster spots on the Florida Panthers for the 2000-2001 season.

It all starts here……………

Rookie Camp September 2nd through September 8th

( Rookies with automatic invites are in bold red )

Centers: Aaron Goldade (ATO), Mike Green, Benoit Morin (ATO), Serge Payer.

Right Wing:Travis Eagles, Eric Godard, Ian Jacobs, Morgan McCormack,
Sean O’Connor, Denis Shvidki.

Left Wing:Eric Beaudoin, Mike Cirillo (ATO), Ryan Jardine, Josh Olson,
Matthew Sommerfeld.

Defenseman: Chris Eade, Daniel Passero (ATO), Michel Periard, Kyle Rossiter,
Philippe Roy (ATO), Rod Sarich, Brad Woods, Kyle Dafoe (ATO)

Goalies:Alex Auld, J-F Laniel, Davis Parley.

In the rookie camp, the only real drama present could be watching to see what additional players earn the right to be invited to the main training camp. One notable player present on the rookie camp roster is Denis Shvidki, who almost won a spot in the NHL for his fine play in pre-season last year. Along with Shvidki, Kyle Rossiter is the only other player from this list that has an outside chance for extended call-ups to some NHL games this year.

Two other newcomers to the Panther system worth noting are also being welcomed to rookie camp. Michel Periard was in the Ottawa Senators system last year, and was a first-team defenseman selection in the Memorial Cup this year. Eric Beaudoin was acquired from the Tampa Bay before the draft and is noted for his bruising play and has some potential to develop

Another story to watch is the amateur try-outs of Dan Passero, Benoit Morin, Kyle Dafoe, Aaron Goldade, Mike Cirillo, and Philippe Roy. These 6 players are fighting to earn roster spots on the Louisville Panthers of the AHL and the Port Huron Border Cats of the UHL.

In a late-breaking development: Due to a recent trade for Brent Gretzky to the Border Cats, the Asheville Smoke of the UHL also get the rights for 5 Panther prospects to play in Asheville for the upcoming season.

It gets serious here…………….

Main Training Camp September 9th through September 30th

(rookies in training camp are highlight red)

Centers:Len Barrie, Eric Boguniecki, David Emma, Mike Green, Olli Jokinen,
Victor Kozlov, Igor Larionov, Rob Neidermayer, Serge Payer,
Mike Sillinger.

The weakest area in the Panther prospect pool is by far the center position, and there is simply no prospect in the system that will be competing to earn a spot this year. The pool is so thin at this position, that unless some trades or FA signings occur, it will be a long time before any prospects push the NHL veterans for a spot.

Eric Boguniecki, the Louisville Panthers leading scorer, was able to see some action last season due to injuries on the Florida club. This year, Eric might not get any call-ups due to Florida’s acquisitions of Mike Sillinger, Olli Jokinen, Len Barrie, and Igor Larionov. This gives the Panthers 6 natural centers and Bryan Murray has said the club will play Jokinen and Neidermayer on the wings for the upcoming season.

BOTTOM LINE: No rookie will make any impact at the center position this year, or many years to come.

Right Wing:Paul Brousseau, Pavel Bure, Travis Eagles, Eric Godard, Paul Harvey,
Ian Jacobs, Paul Laus, Scott Mellanby, Ivan Novolseltsev,
Denis Shvidki, Rocky Thompson (also listed at D)

Due to the high level talent of the two players who will be competing, one of the more interesting competitions in training camp will revolve around the Russian wingers, Ivan Novoseltsev and Denis Shvidki. Both players are being penciled in by management to contribute this season, and there is the likelihood that they won’t both be in the right wing position. Pavel Bure plays about 26 minutes a game on the right side, and Bryan Murray has shown the reluctance to have rookies sit on the bench when they could be playing in the AHL.

Ivan played in 14 games last year and had a few solid games and then a streak of about 11 games where he was invisible, but the time is now for Ivan to make the jump and he should be given Parrish’s 2nd line right wing spot.

Shvidki almost earned a spot last year with his excellent play in pre-season, and he excelled in another season for the Barrie Colts. He has shown superior offensive skills, and is more of a playmaker than a scorer. He hasn’t shown the willingness to play a physical game, but neither does Bure, Larionov, or Kozlov.

BOTTOM LINE: Unless Novo really struggles, expect him to play in the NHL for the whole season, and it could be in the right wing spot. While Shvidki is probably ready, he might not get the ice time needed unless a player like Paul Laus or Robbie Neidermayer is traded. If some veterans are traded, Denis will get his chance most likely at the left wing, where he will have to be paired up with a physical line-mate to handle the play in the corners.
In addition, Shvidki and Novo will have to be on the top two scoring lines to really justify their playing in the NHL and not further developing in the AHL.

It will not be unreasonable to say that there is the remote chance that one of these players will not play the whole season in the NHL, and their spots could go to David Emma or other role-players with NHL experience. Besides Shvidki and Novo, none of the other rookie wingers on the right side will be realistically competing for a chance to make the NHL this year.

Left Wing:Eric Beaudoin, Dave Duerden, Ryan Jardine, Marcus Nilson,
Ray Whitney, Peter Worrell

Marcus Nilson and Dave Duerden both saw brief call-ups las
t year. Nilson was called up for injury relief and played in 9 games, and Duerden was rewarded for his strong play in the AHL with a brief two game call-up. Ryan Jardine’s rapid development will earn him a look, but it will only be for a full-time spot in the AHL. Eric Beaudoin is only in the main camp to give the coaching staff an accurate idea of what kind of player he is. Of all the left wingers, Marcus Nilson is probably the most ready to contribute in a 4th line role and will see some spot duty when needed.

BOTTOM LINE: Novo and Shvidki are further ahead in the competition for spots this year, and one of them will be on the left wing. This won’t give players like Nilson or Duerden a realistic chance to play for more than 10-15 games each next season.

Defense:Chris Allen, Dan Boyle, Curtis Doell, Brad Ference, Bret Hedican,
John Jakopin, Michel Periard, Lance Pitlick, Peter Ratchuck,
Kyle Rossiter, Todd Simpson, Jaroslav Spacek, Robert Svehla,
Joey Tetarenko, Brent Thompson, Rocky Thompson (also listed as RW), Mike Wilson.

If you were to assign Richter scales to some of the competitions in training camp, the forward competition could be described as a 3.9 earthquake that knocks your mama’s good china out of the dining room display. Whereas the competition for the open defense positions will be a 9.1 earthquake that knocks over your mama’s china, destroys the factory that makes the china plates, than takes out the Chinese restaurants and than heads over to the actual country of China.

The Panthers defense is in clear need of both types of defenseman. An offensive minded puck-carrying d-man is needed to share some of the burden of Robert Svehla, who tends to wear down near the end of the season. Bret Hedican is fast and smooth, but has little to no offensive instincts, and Mike Wilson has bouts of great play, but then follows it up by being invisible for games on end.

On the defensive side, Todd Simpson wasn’t the complete answer for the bruising player needed, he was inconsistent and he spent too much time in the penalty box. Lance Pitlick was signed to be a hard-hitting 3rd line d-man, but he struggled with early-season injuries and never seemed to regain any form.

So while there is a distinct need for help on the blue-line, the question is can a rookie make the team and make a significant impact, ala Brian Rafalski or Brad Stuart, or will a trade have to occur to give the defense the impact player it desperately needs?

Heading into the few days before camp starts, newspaper interviews with the management and previous call-ups, it can be determined that Brad Ference and John Jakopin will compete for the defensive d-man position, and Dan Boyle and Peter Ratchuk will compete for the offensive d-man slot.

Unless one of the 6 current Panther d-men is traded, only one spot realistically remains. The question is which type of defenseman will get that slot? Or will both types be kept up in the NHL, with the style of the opposing team determining which rookie d-man gets scratched?

Defensive Defenseman:

Both John Jakopin and Brad Ference each played 12+ games last season and did not look out of place. John is a huge physical player whose best work comes in the corners and in the crease, but his range and speed hold him back from being a more complete defensive player. John made the roster to start the season but missed the remaining 67 games due to various back injuries. John has had a few chances to crack an NHL lineup and if he can’t beat out Brad Ference for this role, look for him to be a career minor-leaguer or traded to a weak defensive team to give John the opportunity to make it in the NHL.

Brad Ference came over from Vancouver in a prospect swap (Mike Brown went to Vancouver) as part of the Bure deal. He was called up near the end of the season to be paired up with Bret Hedican and fit in quite nicely. Brad brings a steady two-way game to the Panthers and can contribute some offense. Brad’s main attribute though will be a warrior mentality when it comes to protecting his teammates and the threat that his temper might just “explode” causing mass hysteria and chaos on the ice. Brad is a physical player but his thin frame still needs to put on some muscle and weight to be comparable to John Jakopin’s physical presence.

Offensive Defenseman:

Peter Ratchuk and Dan Boyle represent two players who had very brief but promising call-ups for a few games three and two years ago, respectively. The hopes for these players were high, but upon further call-ups they both were major disappointments. It is upon these two erratic enigmatic players that the Panther’s hopes for an adequate offensive defenseman rest, unless a major trade or FA signing happens.

Peter Ratchuk is coming upon what probably his last chance to make it with the Panthers before being labeled a “career minor-leaguer”. Peter has been playing in the AHL where he has been an adequate player. In order for him to make the team, he really has to become more consistent in the defensive zone and choose his moments to pinch more effectively.

Dan Boyle is a carbon copy of Peter Ratchuk in terms of style of play and skills, but Dan is a better point producer and decision-maker at this point in their respective careers. Dan has been given every chance to stay in the NHL, but he is basically his own worst enemy with his penchant for being too aggressive on the offensive side of the ice. If he can rein his attitude in and play the same system that the other Panther defenseman are playing, than Dan will succeed in earning the roster spot he believes rightfully belongs to him.

BOTTOM LINE: Having 4 defenseman competing for what could be at most, 2 roster spots, is only going to be beneficial for all involved. There is the distinct need to have at least two of these players step up and show that they can stick in the NHL. Time is running out for Ratchuk and Jakopin especially, and if Boyle and Ference make the team this year over them, then you can probably say their future with the Panthers is bleak at best. If no veteran defenseman is traded, then look for the winners of each category to stay up for considerable amounts of time and be inserted into the line-up according to the Panther opponents.

Goalies:Ryan Bach, Sean Gauthier, Trevor Kidd, Roberto Luongo,
Richard Shulmistra.

A team doesn’t trade away two promising forwards to acquire a potential franchise goalie to sit him in the minors. There will be no drama when it comes to Roberto Luongo, he will head into training camp as the back-up goalie and will probably leave as the back-up goalie. As to what can happen in the regular season won’t be discussed in this article, but will be discussed throughout the year.

In some minor league movements, Ryan Bach and Richard Shulmistra started last season as the Louisville Panthers main goalies. At the end of the season, Bach ended up playing in Wilkes-Barre and then the UHL, while Richard was shipped off to play with the Orlando Solar Bears. The reason? The emergence of 99-00 FA signee Sean Gauthier. His strong play made the other goalies almost expendable and he provided an instant upgrade to the Louisville nets. Look for the training camp to be a battle of where the minor league goalies end up being relegated.

BOTTOM LINE: If you haven’t heard of the potential of Roberto Luongo, then you either:

1.Don’t live on Long Island

2.Are a basketball fan.

3.You are nothing more than a Panther fan wh
o doesn’t pay attention to the 29 other NHL teams, only follow the hockey you can see in the NCRC, and don’t subscribe to THN.

The end of the 99-00 season was one of disappointment for many fans. The regular season Panthers was the best team in its history, and the rebuilding of the team from expansion era rejects to a fast, highly skilled team was evident in it’s play. But the harsh reality of facing the eventual Stanley Cup Champ Devils was a quick reminder that the Panthers aren’t completely an Eastern power-house.

Ironically enough, the 2000 playoffs was the first time in 3 years that the Devils were able to get out of the first round, and their success can in part be attributed to a few factors that the Panthers hope to emulate for the next season. We now have that potential franchise goalie, much like Martin Brodeur. The Devils also were rejuvenated by the strong play of rookies Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, John Madden, and Colin White.

If New Jerseys rookies who started out the season as prospects and unknowns can ignite their team to the Stanley Cup, then there is hope for the Panthers. Panther rookies like Brad Ference, Ivan Novolseltsev, Denis Shvidki, Roberto Luongo, Dan Boyle, and others might help the Panthers achieve their goal. One day soon Lord Stanley’s cup might be gleaming in the bright South Florida sun.

For those who have written me letters, I thank you for your questions and comments. If you have questions about the prospects, please feel free to post them on the message board for all to see, and I will answer them for you in a timely matter. In addition, The Panther site will be fully completed with updated profiles, depth charts, new surveys, and full rosters of all Panther prospects. This will be updated by the end of the pre-season.

Thanks for reading!