Florida Panthers 2001 Draft Review

By Mark Fischel

Panthers Draft Review

By Panthers Editor Mark Fischel with commentary from Jes Golbez

Going into the draft, the Panthers had 4 of the top 50 picks, and it wasn’t an issue of if they were going to make a deal, but rather what kind of deal will they pull off? Needless to say, the Panthers didn’t disappoint the 8000 fans in attendance. Pulling one major deal to acquire Valeri Bure, and another in which they traded up to the first round, the Panthers ended up the draft with making 2 first-round selections and ensuring next season will be an easy one for the marketing department.

Going into this draft, areas of attention were as follows: Defense, Defense, and more Defense; Center of Attention,; Tending the Nets; and Speedy Defensive Forwards with Heart. It is a comforting that the Panthers scouting department on draft day fulfilled 75% of those needs, with some smart picks heavy on skilled players, tough players, a overage Euro-veteran, and a Elite level prospect.

Before the draft, all differing opinions had the Panthers trading up, trading down, trading the pick for defensive help, or having a fire sale of players to rid themselves of high priced players like Pavel Bure and Trevor Kidd. But the Panthers mainly stayed the course and got what they wanted. Tim Murray, the Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting, felt the day was a successful one “We actually got guys a full round later, 2 rounds later than we thought we were going to get them”

Panthers Draft Selections

1st Round, 4th overall: Stephen Weiss, Center

Lost in the endless debate of who was better, Kovalchuk or Spezza, was the opinion of some teams that Weiss might have been a better prospect than Spezza, a feeling that the Panthers Tim Murray shared “In the OHL, we had him and Spezza, Spezza and him, that is the way it has been all year…..there was a concern that Ottawa was going to take Weiss after the trade.” While it will never be known if the Panthers would have taken between the two, taking Weiss at #4 was a sure thing. Weiss was “the highest guy on the list at number 4, unanimous pick of the staff.”

Taking Weiss meant the Panthers drafted a young man with an amazing array of skills, top notch skating, strong play on both ends of the ice, and a good face-offs center. Weiss also possesses solid one-on-one play, great playmaking skills with his teammates, and a quick accurate wrist shot. His leadership qualities was a key selling point as well, and Weiss also impressed Bill Torrey “ Stephen had a great interview, he is a very impressive young man. On the ice, he is smart and very impressive, and his playoff performance was great.”

Similar talk among scouts and people who have followed Stephen’s career, noted that he may be the smartest player in the draft, possessing an almost cerebral approach to the game and an impeccable vision of the developing play.

Accolades earned by Stephen: Ninth in OHL scoring; OHL player of the month for October; Western Conf. Smartest player and Best stick-handler in the OHL coaches poll; Finalist as best playmaker in the same poll; finalist for the OHL’s rookie of the year.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Stephen Weiss was the best player available, and perhaps the most complete player in the draft. Weiss gives the Panthers a bona-fide prospect at center, something they need badly. His leadership and grit will be welcome to the Panthers.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Stanislav Chistov, who was picked 5th, is arguably the most skilled player in the draft. Weiss is a safer pick than Chistov, and Chistov may rack up more points than the more balanced Weiss.

1st Round, 24th overall: Lukas Krajicek, Defense

The first big move of the day for the Panthers was them trading their 2nd round pick (44th overall) they acquired in the Todd Simpson trade and the 2nd compensatory pick (48th overall) from Vancouver for Alex Auld, to the Devils for their first round pick. With that pick, they selected Lukas Krajicek who was ranked 6th among North American skaters. With the smooth skating offensive defenseman sitting on the board, the Panthers had to make a move to upgrade their overall skill on defense and try to find that piece of the puzzle that has eluded them for years. Bill Torrey on the pick “ Outstanding offensive player, great skater, moves the puck offensively and on the blueline, he is something we don’t have”

Numerous accolades were handed out to Krajicek as well. He was named to the first OHL All-star team, played for Team Cherry in the prospects game, was a finalist for best skater in the Eastern OHL conference coaches poll, and was selected as the Petes rookie of the year

Tim Murray on Krajicek “Very highly skilled, one of the most poised guys on the ice, nothing rattles him. Very skilled, very natural….knock on him is his physical play and defensive game.” So looking at the makeup of most elite teams, most of them have players that fit this mold, upper end offensive skills and adequate defensive skills. Is the lack of defensive play a major worry for an 18-year-old kid? Not according to Murray; “What he has, you can’t teach” on the widely held assertion that defense is easier to learn than offense, and some feel that you can’t teach offense.

While the defense isn’t up to par with his offensive game, the CSB states that Lukas “Reacts very quickly in defensive situations….plays a sound professional game…constantly strives for improvement”. If this is true, Krajicek will seem very eager to learn how to improve his overall defensive game, and most likely will make the most out of being in the Juniors and Minors. Overall, one of the better skaters in the draft and has world-class abilities in this regard.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Krajicek is the most skilled defensive pickup for the Panthers since Ed Jovanovski. Lukas gives the Panthers a legitimate offensive threat on the blueline, and his ability to make break-out passes will compliment the swift-skating offensive forwards who have had trouble starting rushes with the lack of passing skills from the current Panthers defensive corps.

Skilled players can learn defense easily, just look at Mike Modano, Joe Sakic, and Kris Draper. The best defensive players were usually first offensive players. Their high skill levels allowed them to change and easily adapt to the defensive game.


Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Krajicek is soft. Soft defensemen can be more of a minus to a hockey club than a plus. If Krajicek doesn’t learn to get physical, he will find himself digging a lot of pucks of his own end. Offense is a great asset to have on the blueline, but not at the expense of increased goals against.

2nd Round, 34th overall: Greg Watson, Center

Looking at the bare cupboard of centers, it is no surprise that the Panthers selected Greg Watson from the Prince Albert Raiders, a team that had several players get drafted this weekend. Watson is a very strong and gritty center-man who is a complete checking force along the walls and loves to punish opposing players. Solid skating abilities with a good stride and straight ahead speed, Watson excels in the face-off circle and took every single important draw for the team. Great passion and loves to do the dirty work needed to win, competes hard every shift and every game.

Greg also has a good hockey sense and makes the most out of his opportunities, and possesses an accurate, quick wrist shot. Envisioning a future role for Greg, Tim Murray sees him as a “power forward, good along the walls and in the corners, big body and can play Left Wing and Center”

Accolades: Second on the Raiders in scoring with 50 points; Played for Team Orr at the prospects game and was team MVP with two goals and a helper; played for under-18 Team Canada at the 4-nations tourney and the under-17 World Hockey Challenge.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Watson gives the Panthers another solid 2-way center, although Watson will likely be pegged as a defensive 3rd line center. That being said, the Panthers need any type of bona-fide center prospects in the organization, and have not had a good checking center since Brian Skrudland was a Panther. Watson’s defensive ability, size, and grit will be a welcome addition down the road. He’s also known for being good down low on the Power Play, something the Panthers lack now that Mellanby is gone.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Watson needs to mature mentally more than most top prospects. He doesn’t assert himself as often as he should, and he is known for losing confidence in himself if things do not go well. His moodiness is comparable to Keith Primeau. A top defensive center needs to have confidence in his abilities, especially when playing against the Joe Sakic’s and Mario Lemieux’s of the NHL.

3rd Round, 64th overall: Tomas Malec, Defenseman

Comparable in some regards to Lukas Krajicek, Tomas Malec is a big offensive defenseman with very good skating and speed. Possessing good hockey sense and the ability to lead the ruse, Malec has strong puck-handling skills and playmaking ability according to Murray; “Tomas can really handle the puck and shoot the puck, and competes hard and tries”.

Malec is not without his physical play, and is a solid open-ice checker, also effective with the poke check. Might need to control him emotions a little bit better and is known to make some questionable decisions away from the puck. A good Power-play QB, Malec anticipates the plays well and has a fairly solid shot, and can be considered an offensive threat at the level he is at currently.

Accolades: Finalist for QMJHL Defensive player of the Month and QMJHL Rookie of the Month honors for November; was a member of the Conference All-Star team at the 2001 CHL All-Star Cup; 4th in team scoring, ranking 8th among QMJHL defenseman, and 1s among rookie defenseman; Finished 4th in the rookie scoring race; Was named QMJHL Defensive Rookie of the year and named to the All-Rookie Team.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Malec is one of the better skating defensemen in the draft. Comparable to current Panther Bret Hedican, the one trait that Malec possesses is great playmaking. His exceptional passing skills will compliment the speedy Panthers forwards much like Lukas Krajicek, perhaps much more. To go together with the great skating is a mean streak, which will ensure that he can handle the rigors of the NHL. A great all-around defensive pick.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Malec is a year older than most prospects (Not drafted, but eligible, in 2000), so perhaps he had a breakout year, and has a bit less upside than prospects younger than him. A rather weak reason, but Malec was not a bad pick at all at this position. He does need to improve his shooting, however, as like most European players, he prefers to pass, rather than unleash his cannon.

3rd Round, 68th overall: Grant McNeill, Defenseman

”Extremely tough….maybe THE toughest guy in the draft; one of the best fighters in the draft”. When a scouts eyes bulge when describes a pick that way, you get the feeling that he is glad his team took that player, and not another team in the same conference. Looking at his 280 Pim’s, one gets the idea that Grant loves to fight and defend his teammates, and it is this prowess that makes him the best fighter this year. This prowess makes his teammates a little bigger, and he has earned respect from his opponents on every level.

On a defensive standpoint, McNeill is a defensive defenseman who worries mainly about his zone. He seldom joins the offensive rush and prefers to pass it out of the defensive zone. He is very adept at defensive zone coverage and is strong along the walls and in front of the net. Tim Murray describes him as a “stay at home defenseman, skates pretty well and is extremely tough”

Accolades: Ranked 3rd in the WHL with 280 PIM’s; respected by teammates and opponents.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: The Panthers got pushed around a lot last year, especially the defensemen. With Paul Laus soon to be on his way, and Joey Teterenko looking at being switch to a full-time forward, McNeill is the kind of defenseman the Panthers could really use, especially if he pans out.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: They missed out on Kladno’s Tomas Plekanec, one of the most skilled players in the draft (He went #71 to the Habs). The Panthers showed their lack of scouting dimension by selecting ANOTHER WHL ‘Character’ player with this pick. The Panthers also have similar type prospects such as Kyle Rossiter and Joey Teterenko who haven’t panned out too much. McNeill’s lack of upside means that he has to develop to his full potential in order to be a positive impact player.

4th Round, 117th overall: Michael Woodford, Right Wing

Like fellow Panther prospect Robert Fried, the Panthers have a tendency to select a prospect from the prep school ranks, as Michael Woodford plays at Cushing Academy. Seemingly driven by the desire to succeed, Michael has been a scoring winger at every level and was something Tim Murray saw; “Quite Skilled, real competitive character kid, wants it so bad”. This desire was what prompted the Panthers to take the gritty and tenacious kid with the mean streak.

Like most of the prospects picked by the Panthers, Michael is a strong skater with above-average acceleration, and the willingness to play a physical game. Chicago and Columbus scouted Michael heavily as well, who were no doubt attracted to his playmaking skills, hockey sense, and strong accurate shot.

Michael will be attending the University of Michigan on a full ride hockey scholarship come this fall, where his strong gritty play and scoring touch will no doubt improve an already strong program up in Ann Arbor.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: A good skater with a good attitude, he has the makings of a 3rd line winger. The Panthers are dearly short of speedy wingers who want to play the physical game. Woodford has the upside of a 2nd liner, and seems like as safe draft pick for this late in the draft.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: The Panthers, by selecting Woodford, missed out on Tomas Surovy and Egor Shastin, players who have more skill than most picks above them in this round. The selection of Woodford could look awfully bad if either of those 2 pans out. Taking the safer pick this late isn’t always the wise choice, as the riskier picks have more NHL potential.

5th Round, 136th overall: Billy Thompson, Goalie

Needing to replenish the system with goalies, even though with Luongo it doesn’t become a dire need, the Panthers selected Billy Thompson. He is a big goalie with good quickness, a good glove hand, and very quick feet. Plays more of a standup game than a butterfly game, and he is considered a project prospect. Billy does have the talent to develop into a solid NHL goaltender. Thompson was rated 13th in North America among goalies by Central Scouting.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Only the fact that the Panthers needed a goaltending prospect of any sort. Goaltenders are always projects, but the Panthers need a bonafide goaltending prospects to develop, and not just a shot in the dark.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Stand-up goalies are a dying breed, and Thompson is not a huge beast by any means. If the Panthers wanted a good goaltending prospect, they should have selected the more mature and capable Tomas Duba (who slipped all the way to the 7th round). Hopefully, Thompson turns into another Davis Parley, and has a breakout season next year. We won’t know for many years whether this was a good pick or not.

6th Round, 169th overall: Dustin Johner, Center

Dustin Johner is a teammate of fellow Panther prospect David Morisset, and the two of them together in Seattle must bring an amazing amount of speed to the Thunderbirds. Johner is a very good skater who can flat out fly and provide quickness, he also has good playmaking skills, puck handling skills, and good hands.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Johner has similar attributes to Ryan Johnson, who made himself into a decent 4th liner with the Panthers. Johner is a boom-or-bust pick, and being picked this late, the Panthers don’t have much to lose. Johner will either become a Top-2 Line player, or he’ll be an AHL All-Star. There is generally no in-between for smaller players like this, unless he can turn his game around and become a defensive player, much like Mike Sillinger has tried to do.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Ho hum, another pick from the WHL that doesn’t exactly excite me. Can the Panthers pick from anywhere else other than the WHL, OHL, or Finland? I would much rather the Panthers picked Peter Punchochar, Jan Tabacek, or big defenseman Andrew Alberts. All 3 have higher upside and more NHL-potential than Johner seems to have.

7th Round, 200th overall: Tony Koivisto, Left Wing

Projected to be a high energy guy who can potentially develop into a 3rd line NHL’er, Tony’s game is one of superb skating. Tim Murray stated that his skating is his major strength; “ He could be a 5 skater on a 1-5 scale. Very good skater and fast, played on the Finnish Jr. team” Also was a teammate of fellow prospect Janis Sprukts with Lukko Raumu Jr.. Potentially worrying might be the inconsistency; “Tony is the type of kid has good tournaments and some poor tournaments” But through all of that, the Panthers project him to be a high energy guy who can shoot well and possesses overall good skills.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: I predicted that the Panthers would take a character player from Finland, although that pick was Ville Hamalainen. Koivisto has much better skating than Hamalainen, and is also younger, with potentially more upside. The Panthers obviously got a good look at him, as he played with Sprukts last season. So what if he had a bad tournament or two, anything can happen in a short time frame. What happens over the long-run is more important.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Then again, any ‘inconsistent’ tag on a prospect doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence. They could have had Tomas Duba at this pick, but since Duba didn’t play in Finland last season, they must have had no clue that he exists.

8th Round, 231st overall: Kyle Bruce, Right Wing

Projected as a eventual 3rd line player, Kyle Bruce is a good skater who plays a gritty game that is defined by his character and physical presence. Tim Murray states that he has some tangible benefits; “We like him for the energy he brings, he plays like he is 6 -2 ”. Bruce is the kind of player that brings a lot of emotion to the ice and a strong character. When the Panthers selected Bruce, that made him the 3rd player from the Prince Albert Raiders added to the prospect pool this weekend.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Again, the Panthers need a lot of gutsy prospects with good skating. Unlike past ‘character’ picks, the Panthers have finally realized that skating is an important tool for defensive players to have.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: Another WHL character pick with seemingly little upside. The Panthers have had boatloads of these types of picks before, and never bothered to sign them because they had no hope. I certainly hope Bruce is not another one of those.

9th Round, 263rd overall: Jan Blanar, Defenseman

A big mobile defenseman with the potential to develop into a solid defensive player. At this point in the draft, the Panthers European scout was given free reign to take a chance on two European players that might be a welcome addition to the talent pool. Don’t have too much information on this player, so maybe my cohort Jes does?

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Wow, the Panthers went with a real unknown, selecting Blanar. A product of the strong Dukla Trencin system, Blanar has typical European skills to go with his large frame. Blanar wasn’t even the highest ranked defenseman on his own team (Sloboda and Granak had higher rankings, but are both quite small). Since Slovakia is so poorly scouted, the Panthers could have a late-round steal on their hands.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: I almost had a heart attack when I learned that the Panthers had selected a prospect playing in Slovakia (this is an organizational first). Blanar is a very unknown commodity, and will likely have many years of develop ahead of him. His stats were also pretty poor for the talent that surrounds him: 35GP 3G-6A-9PTS and +5. Of all of the Trencin Jr’s, I would think Sloboda would be a better choice.

9th Round, 267th overall: Ivan Majesky, Defenseman

Of all the players in the draft with the exception of Stephen Weiss, Ivan Majesky is the one player that is ready to potentially step right into the NHL. Selected as an overage European, Ivan was born in 76, giving him around 6 more years of development than most of the prospects taken in this draft. Called by Tim Murray “A good skater with a good first pass”, Ivan possesses some solid skills that might be of benefit sooner than later.

A strong physical defenseman with more offensive prowess than defensive skills, Majesky is a very mobile player who runs the PP, has a strong point shot and loves to take chances to score goals. But sometimes he can neglect his defensive duties in his own zone while trying to make the home run pass or create an offensive chance.

Why the pick was a good pick: Jes Golbez: Majesky is a monster! Big body and a big shot, Majesky is not going to quarterback a NHL Power Play, but he could be the trigger-man the Panthers have desperately been looking for. Ivan can provide an instant upgrade to the Panthers defense corps, and his passing is great for such a big guy. He tends to be a bit tentative with his size, but he’s capable of carnage when he’s in the mood. Ivan has not been drafted until now due to his lack of presence in international tournaments, but a few other NHL teams (Phoenix, Anaheim) have expressed interest in Ivan in the past.

Why the pick was not a good pick: Jes Golbez: It’s only a bad pick if the Panthers have no intention of brining Majesky to the NHL.


With the 12 picks the Panthers made, 5 were defenseman, 1 was a goalie, and 6 were forwards. Two of the picks have the chance to make the NHL next year if everything goes their way, while some have the potential to become gritty power forwards and character players. One of the big themes in this draft, was the selection of several players with above average skating skills. Early Panther teams were built on great skating, character players, and a no-quit attitude, which are several of the traits of several of the chosen prospects this weekend.

The Trade

Besides making some very good picks this weekend and an aggressive trade to nab Krajicek in the first round, the Panthers also bid good-bye to original Panther Robbie Neidermayer in exchange for Valeri Bure and Jason “Rob” Weimer. Part PR move and part filling of a need, this transaction elicited the most cheers out of the excited Draft crowd.

Using the 2nd round pick acquired from Philadelphia for the rights to Jiri Dopita, the Panthers finally pulled the trigger on the long known deal that eluded them at the trade deadline last year. The Panthers are losing a strong centerman who lead the team 2 consecutive years in hits by a forward, and he provided a steady defensive conscience to a team full of players who ignored defense. Under-appreciated by the fans and valued by coaches, Robbie never developed his scoring touch and some fans were merciless in the booing of the hard-working and mature player from B.C.. It is agreed upon by practically every fan and pundit that Robbie really needed a change of scenery and the knowledgeable fans in Calgary will come to appreciate what Robbie can bring to the table.

Coming to the Panthers is Jason Weimer and Valeri Bure. Bure will potentially replace the scoring lost by the soft, high maintenance Ray Whitney, and provide the Panthers with the most obvious marketing tool this side of naming your band “Free Beer” (picture the ad flyer: “TONIGHT ONLY AT THE EDGE: FREE BEER!!!”). While the Bure’s won’t be playing together full-time, expect to see them on the PP together and on the media guide cover.

To replace Neidermayer, Jason Weimer will also be crunching bodies and terrorizing opposing centers as a Panther. Like Valerie, Weimer also had a major difference of opinions with the Flames and a change will likely do him good as well. A tough player who loves to hit, former coach Brian Sutter firmly believes that if Weimer was on the top line with Pavel, that “He would get you 25-30 goals guaranteed”. While it is doubtful that Weimer will play on the top line, he will be employed in the same role that Robbie was, a defensive minded forward to shut down the other teams top players. Only downside is, Neidermayer was more of a point producer than Weimer is, but the local fans seemed to already decided to overlook that.

From having the draft in the home arena, grabbing a potential franchise player in Stephen Weiss, increasing the skating level of the prospects, and pulling the trigger on a deal that will make marketing easier and scoring more abundant, it is widely believed that the Panthers put behind them a nightmare season and emerged as one of the winners of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.