Florida Panthers sign Filip Novak and Byron Ritchie

By Mark Fischel

Sunrise, FL – Florida Panthers General Manager Rick Dudley announced today that the club has signed D Filip Novak to an entry-level contract. Dudley also announced that the team has agreed to terms with C Byron Ritchie on a multi-year deal. As per club policy, terms of the deals were not disclosed.

“Filip is a highly skilled defenseman who makes an extremely good first pass,” Dudley said. “He has a legitimate chance to develop into a solid player at both ends of the ice.”

Novak, 18, was acquired by the Panthers on March 18, 2002 from the New York Rangers, along with Igor Ulanov and the Rangers’ first- and second-round draft picks in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft and New York’s fourth-round pick in 2003. In exchange, the Rangers got RW Pavel Bure and the Panthers’ second-round pick in this June’s draft. Had the Panthers not signed Novak by June 1, he would have been eligible to re-enter the NHL Entry Draft.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound native of Budejovice, Czech Republic played 60 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League this season, scoring 58 points (12 goals, 46 assists) with 125 penalty minutes this season, finishing fourth in WHL plus/minus (+31). He added four points (two goals, two assists) with 19 penalty minutes in six WHL playoff contests. Novak represented his native Czech Republic, as it hosted the 2002 World Junior Championships. He notched two assists in seven games in the tournament. He also participated in the CHL Hershey Cup All-Star Series for the WHL Eastern Conference and was named to the 2002 WHL Eastern Conference All-Star First Team.

Ritchie, 25, completed his third NHL season and first with Florida this year. He was acquired from Carolina, along with Sandis Ozolinsh on Jan. 16, 2002, in exchange for D Bret Hedican, C Kevyn Adams, D Tomas Malec and a conditional second-round draft pick. In 31 games with the Panthers, Ritchie scored 11 points (five goals, six assists) with 34 penalty minutes, after going scoreless with two penalty minutes in four games with the Hurricanes. He scored his first NHL goal with the Cats on March 8 vs. Edmonton.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound native of Burnaby, British Columbia has played in 64 career NHL games, scoring 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and totaling 53 penalty minutes. Ritchie also played in 43 games with the Lowell Lock Monsters of the American Hockey League in 2001-02, and was leading his team in scoring at the time he was recalled by Florida. Ritchie finished with 55 AHL points (25 goals, 30 assists) and 38 penalty minutes in just 43 games.

Note: While it hasnt been officially announced yet, it seems the Florida Panthers will let goalie Davis Parley, Defenseman Chris Eade, and forward Matt Sommerfeld re-enter the draft.

Winger Robert Fried is currently enrolled in college and doesnt need to be signed, while Janis Sprukts could be considered a “defected” player, therefore eliminating the need to sign him by the deadline.

Currently signed from the 2000 Draft as of 3:30 EST today are Josh Olson, Vladimir Sapozhnikov, Filip Novak, and Sean O’Connor.