Panther Draft History Analysis

By Mark Fischel
After having what might have been their worst season in History, the Panthers are entering the new phase in the life of an Expansion team. After relying heavily on veteran players to help sell the sport to a fickle South Florida to great success, the Panthers have been drafting late in the draft several times. While teams like the Avalanche and the Devils can seemingly find gems in all rounds, most NHL teams are lucky enough to have all their first round picks play in the NHL. The Panthers are one of those teams.

The Panthers have taken part in 8 drafts and have had 6 first round draft selections, of which over half of them have been out of the top 10 (20th twice, and 12th once). Drafting this late generally goes to the better performing teams, and the Panthers veteran team might have caused the Panthers to miss out on some good young players when they should have been stock-piling high draft picks. Such is the nature of being a victim of your success.

To follow is a comprehensive analysis of the Panthers draft history, which has been under only Bob Clarke and Bryan Murray. While the drafting of 17 year olds is hardly an exact science, an analysis of the Panthers picks can show that they have been an above average team in the yearly crap-shoot known as the Entry Draft.

1993 Draft

5th – Robbie Neidermayer
41st – Kevin Weekes
47th – Chris Armstrong
67th – Mikael Tjallden
78th – Steve Washburn
83rd – Bill McCauley
109th – Todd MacDonald
135th – Alain Nasreddine
161st – Trevor Doyle
187th – Briane Thompson
213th – Chad Cabana
239th – John Demarco
265th – Eric Montreuil

Heading up his first and only Panther draft in the inaugural year, Bobby Clarke made speedy Robbie Neidermayer the first Panther draft selection at the 5th pick. Robbie has had a solid, if unspectacular career with the Panthers, and it is this career that has no doubt infuriated many Panther fans to no end. Robbie never quite lived up to his billing as a solid scorer, he has become a commodity in his role as a versatile defensive forward who will contribute 10 to 20 goals per year. While his skills are NHL level, his intensity and desire will always be under question. Robbie was selected over players like Jason Arnott, Victor Kozlov and Adam Deadmarsh.

Kevin Weekes was picked to be the goalie of the future, but his future will not be with the Panthers, Islanders, Canucks, and possibly the Lightning with the arrival of Khabibulin. A key component in the Bure trade, Weekes seems destined to be a solid back-up or stopgap goalie with NHL level skills. Steve Washburn spent a few years shuttling back and forth between the minors and the Panthers, but was eventually traded to the Flyers system, where he appears to be on the short list of minor league centers for call-up. Chris Armstrong is currently in the Wild’s system, where he played in 3 games this year.

Of all the players selected, with the exception of John Demarco, are still currently plying their trade in various minor leagues. 2 out of the 13 selections can be considered bona-fide NHL’ers, while 2 of the players from this draft class appear to cling to an outside chance of getting called up to fill roster spots on NHL rosters.

1994 Draft

1st – Ed Jovonovski
27th – Rhett Warrener
31st – Jason Podollan
36th – Ryan Johnson
84th – David Nemirovski
105th – David Geris
157th – Matt O’Dette
183rd – Jason Boudrias
235th – Tero Lehtara
261st – Per Gustafsson

This draft year was a slightly different Modus Operandi for a team picking in the draft. Bobby Clarke returned to Philly as their new GM, and ex-Detroit GM Bryan Murray was named as the new GM right after the draft. All the players selected in this draft were probably done with some input from both Clarke and Murray. Due to losing the coin-toss for position in the 93 draft with the Mighty Ducks, the Panthers won the right to select first overall and selected Eddie Jovonovski over Oleg Tverdovsky. While Eddie stayed with Windsor that year, his physical play and youthful energy was a component for the Panther’s unlikely Stanley Cup run in 95-96. After a strong rookie year, Eddie was given too much responsibility the following years, and his play suffered as a result of this. Jovo was traded to Vancouver as THE key component in the Pavel Bure trade, and only this year has he finally matured and shown that he is capable of becoming a true #1 defenseman of the future.

Another player not to be overlooked in this draft was Rhett Warrener at the 27 spot. His quick maturation into a 3rd line d-man also gave a veteran heavy Panther squad enough depth to compete for the Cup in 95-96. Rhett seemingly fell out of favor due to commitment concerns by Bryan Murray, and was traded to Buffalo for the disappointing Mike Wilson. The trade sent a wake-up call to Warrener and he emerged as one of the stalwarts on the Buffalo defense. Jason Podollan contributed some solid years in the minors with the Panthers, as well as 19 games in the NHL before he was traded to Toronto. While with the St Johns Maple Leafs, Podollan had some great years statistically, but was never able to crack the deep Leafs NHL lineup. He currently is still playing in the IHL.

One player who had tons of offensive skill, but was notoriously lazy and uncommitted to the game was David Nemorovski. After playing 82 NHL games in 3 years, David was traded to Toronto where he was playing St. Johns, and is seemingly out of competitive hockey. Ryan Johnson is currently playing as a 4th liner in the Tampa Bay organization, where he was traded for Mike Sillinger. Ryan has NHL caliber heart, speed, defensive and checking ability, but any consistent scoring ability has not materialized to this point. An intriguing player was Per Gustafsson, who made an unspectacular but steady impact two years after he was drafted. Per still has the talent to be an NHL’er, but he always wanted to return to Sweden for personal reasons and the Panthers traded his rights to Toronto for Mike Lankshear.

Of the 10 players selected, none are with the Panthers anymore, and 3 are still playing in the NHL for teams other than the Panthers, with the first two defenseman picked are considered top line players.

1995 Draft

10th – Radek Dvorak
36th – Aaron MacDonald
62nd – Mike O’Grady
80th – Dave Duerden
88th – Daniel Tjarnqvist
114th – Francois Cloutier
166th – Peter Worrell
192nd – Filip Kuba
218th – David Lemanowicz

The 95 draft was the first draft that Bryan Murray presided over as the full time GM. It also is the last time the Panthers selected in the top 10 until the 2001 draft (4th overall) due to a heavily veteran laden team that was very competitive. With the first pick, Radek Dvorak was selected 10th overall and was envisioned to be a “Sergei Federov” type player with great speed, defensive minded play, and scoring potential. Radek jumped right into the NHL and was a key player on the Stanley Cup finals team. While he always showed great speed and an eye for the puck, Dvorak simply could not finish his scoring chances for the 5 years as a Panther and never went over the 19 goal mark. Upon a trade to the Rangers (through San Jose for Mike Vernon) , Radek achieved great chemistry with the “Czechmates” and finally was able to obliterate the 20 goal mark with 31 goals this past season. If he can keep it this up, Radek can be considered as finally arrived.

The 4th round for the Panthers unearthed two solid players who still have a chance to make the NHL. Solid scoring winger Dave Duerden has seen a few call-ups to the Panthers, and is still a solid minor-leaguer currently on loan to the Hartford Wolf Pack. Daniel Tjarnqvist was traded to Atlanta two years ago as a component in the Trevor Kidd deal, and this year in the SEL Daniel became the league’s best defenseman. While he still hasn’t played in the NHL, he definitely seems to have the talent and potential.

Rounds 7 and 8 also unearthed two solid NHL players, Peter Worrell and Filip Kuba. The development of Peter Worrell was quite dramatic, going from a pudgy kid who couldn’t skate backwards to one of the more feared NHL enforcers in the game. While his skating will always hold him back, Peter was able to see some time this last year on the first line with the Panthers. It is heavily debatable if Peter can truly stick in this league with his limited skills, but his enforcer status will always give him the benefit of the doubt, especially for a 7th round pick who has played currently 3 full NHL seasons. Filip Kuba was never able to consistently crack the Panthers line-up, he has become a solid player for the Expansion Minnesota Wild and led the rookies in ice-time this past season.

Of the 9 players selected in this draft, 3 are playing in the NHL. Radek Dvorak is approaching 2nd tier-star status with the Rangers and Peter Worrell can probably still play in the NHL as an enforcer for several more years. Filip Kuba found his niche with an expansion team, and time will tell if he can stick with that team as the talent level around him improves. Daniel Tjarnqvist also has great potential to earn a spot with the Thrashers as soon as next year. Of the remaining picks except Duerden, the rest of the picks are no longer with the Panthers and are kicking around on various minor leagues.

1996 Draft

20th – Marcus Nilson
60th – Chris Allen
65th – Oleg Kvasha
82nd – Joey Tetarenko
129th – Andrew Long
156th – Gaetan Poirier
183rd – Alexander Couture
209th – Denis Khloptonov
236th – Russell Smith

The first draft after the Panthers went to the Stanley Cup Finals, they earned themselves the 20th pick in an overall weak draft. (only 10 out of 30 first round picks can be considered NHL Caliber players at this point). The Panthers went with Swedish pest Marcus Nilson at the 20th spot, and this year it finally paid off as wise pick. Marcus was a question mark before this year, but his attitude and commitment to Hockey enabled him to earn a full-time roster spot and end the season on the #1 line with Bure and Kozlov. Of the players remaining in that first round to select, only Marco Sturm would have brought the same value and return.

Another player that is turning into a solid mid-round pick is Joey “Lil bag O’ Hortons” Tetarenko, a physical and tough character player from the Portland Winter Hawks. Tetarenko made his NHL debut this year as a forward and quickly brought a mature play to the Panthers, while providing the enforcer role in the place of the injured Paul Laus, whom he will be expected to eventually replace. Chris Allen showed some promise, most notably a booming slap-shot, but his sub-par skating has quickly relegated him to the AHL-UHL level of a player.

Oleg Kvasha is one of those players than reminds some of a young Alexei Kovalev. All the skills to be a great player, but the lack of heart will quickly get himself on the bad side of the fans and the management of the Islanders. A major enigma that still can prove the Luongo trade to be only a minor robbery, instead of the current downright mugging and 1st degree assault that this trade so far is.

4 of the 9 players selected are still in the Panthers system, and 1 has developed into a top line player. 3 of these picks can be considered NHL caliber players, and 2 are out of hockey all together. Andrew Long is sadly known as the player on the receiving end in a sickening stick-swinging incident that got national press and put a blemish on the sport of Hockey. (the guilty player’s name isn’t even worth mentioning)

1997 Draft

20th – Mike Brown
47th – Kristian Huselius
56th – Vratislav Cech
74th – Nick Smith
95th – Ivan Novoseltsev
127th – Pat Parthenais
155th – Keith Delaney
183rd – Tyler Palmer
211th – Doug Schueller
237th – Benoit Cote

Again, being the victim of an Expansion team being too competitive way too fast, the Panthers had the luxury of selecting 20th in the first round and selected tough-guy Mike Brown, who was soon later swapped for Brad Ference in the “prospect” component of the Bure trade. Mike Brown is considered an up and coming heavyweight, but to this date has only played in one NHL game, and it might be another year or so before he can crack the Canucks line-up full time.

The real gems in the 97 draft potentially lie within the European scouting for the Panthers coming through big time and unearthing some two players with good potential. Ivan Novoseltsev was tabbed as one of the next solid Russian scorers when he had a breakout season with the Sarnia Sting in 98-99. While the Panthers were relying on Ivan too heavily to add some scoring punch to the roster this year, he instead had a miserable campaign in Louisville for the past two seasons. A player with all the physical tools that Ivan has will be counted to get his head into his career this upcoming season, or he will be judged a never-been.

Kristian Huselius is also going to be a player the Panthers will rely on heavily to supply points to the anemic Panther offense this season. After turning down a contract offer prior to this last season and electing to stay in the SEL, Kristian emerged as the most dominant player statistically by sweeping all 6 offensive categories this year. His offensive prowess cannot be denied, and the big question is to whether he will be able to handle the smaller ice and physical play of the NHL.

Of the remaining picks, Nick Smith and Doug Schueller’s rights are still held by the Panthers while the others are with other organizations or out of hockey altogether.

1998 Draft

30th – Kyle Rossiter
61st – Joe Dipenta
63rd – Lance Ward
89th – Ryan Jardine
117th – Jaroslav Spacek
148th – Chris Ovington
176th – B.J. Ketcheson
203rd – Ian Jacobs
231st – Adrian Wischser

Starting at around the 3 years past mark, judging the drafts can start to be a bit premature. It seems to be around this time when most of the picks reach their development phase where they can start to show dividends. While it is too early to call a prospect as a never-was after 3 years, some players do make their first impression at the NHL level. Of these players, Lance Ward was a former first round pick of the Devils
( 10th overall-96 ) who re-entered the draft and was selected in the 3rd by the Panthers. Lance played in 30 games with the Panthers, and quickly was put on the top line with Robert Svehla. The roster spot will be his to lose next year.

Kyle Rossiter had 4 rough and tumble years with the Spokane Chiefs and brought his rugged style of play to Louisville in the AHL this season. If he continues maturing and providing solid rearguard play, the NHL still is a realistic goal in several years. Joe DiPenta took the same route as Mike Van Ryn and exploited the loophole for College players, and is currently in the Flyer’s organization where he played with the Phantoms.

A trend that has developed is to draft older European players who can contribute right away to the NHL and don’t need as much development time. Jaroslav Spacek was drafted in the 5th round and immediately paid dividends with his solid 2-way play, playing in 63 games in his rookie year. Jaro just ended his 3rd year in the NHL, and as long as he doesn’t bolt back to Europe, will provide the Blackhawks a steady play on their blueline. 4th round pick Ryan Jardine played three years with the Soo Greyhounds and just finished his first year as a pro, where he was able to score 26 points in 77 games.

Ian Jacobs and Adrian Wischser right’s are still owned by the Panthers while the remaining players are out of the system currently. At the current time, 1 player is a bona-fide NHL’er, while Lance Ward has seen substantial time as a rookie and will probably play a full season next year.

1999 Draft

12th – Denis Shvidki
40th – Alex Auld
70th – Niklas Hagman
80th – JF Laniel
103rd – Morgan McCormick
109th – Rod Sarich
169th – Brad Woods
198th – Travis Eagles
227th – Jonathon Charron

Denis Shvidki is projected and appears to be a sure-fire top 6 forward in the NHL. After having some very solid years in Barrie, Denis was being projected as a #1 overall possibility, but overly high expectations caused him to drop to the 12th spot where the Panthers were very glad to scoop him up. Played in 34 games in the AHL, where he scored 26 points and lost out the AHL All-star MVP award to a feel-good story player. Had some struggles adjusting to the tumultuous Panthers, but came on strong to end the season in the NHL. Niklas Hagman was a banger type player who this last year developed an adept scoring tough and has earned some rave reviews from Panthers mgmt. Look for him to make the jump to the minors very soon to continue development.

At the June 1st deadline, the Panthers elected not to extend offers to Sarich, Eagles, Laniel, McCormick Woods, and Eagles. Having not been able to come to terms with Alex Auld, they traded his rights to Vancouver for two draft picks (2nd in 2001, 3rd in 2002)

2000 Draft

58th – Vladimir Sapozhnikov
77th – Robert Fried
82nd – Sean O’Connor
115th – Chris Eade
120th – Davis Parley
190th – Josh Olson
234th – Janis Sprukts
253rd – Matt Sommerfeld

Just this Friday, the Panthers submitted qualifying offers to the following four players: D Chris Eade, G Davis Parley, RW David Morisset, and LW Mathew Sommerfeld. The Panthers now have all players from this draft still in the system. To note, Davis Parley was tied for first in with a .907 SV% with Dan Blackburn while seeing roughly 400 more shots, all in front of a very young Blazers team. Having Alex Auld traded away basically makes Davis currently the #1 young goaltender prospect in the system.

Overall, the Panthers have completed 8 drafts in their short tumultuous existence. They have selected 77 players and 23 (29.9%) of them have played in NHL games, while 18 (23.4%) of them of them have played for the Panthers. 7 Panther draft picks currently play for the Panthers, and account for 30.4% of the roster. Of these 77 picks, 24 (31.2%) of them are still in the Panther system and this doesn’t include other teams first round picks that play for the Panthers, such as Anders Eriksson and Kevyn Adams.

Most teams scouting departments usually only get judged on the impact of their 1st round picks. While drafting 17 year olds is a very risky business, selecting a player in the first round and having him go completely bust is a scenario all teams have nightmares over. Florida has had a total of 6 first round picks, and all but one of them has gone to play in at least 40 NHL games (Neidermayer, Jovonovski, Dvorak, Nilson, Shvidki, and Mike Brown) Most teams can’t even claim that all of their #1 picks have even made it to the NHL, but the Panthers can make that claim so far (granted, the team is only 9 years old!)

Coming up in the 2001 Draft in Sunrise, the Panthers will have their 2nd lowest selection in their history. In a very strong draft year, the room for error will be a bit larger than usual, and potentially having 5 picks in the top 50 gives optimism that the Panthers success at the drafting table over the years will have an impact for years to come.