2002 Panthers Draft Review

By Mark Fischel

Just like he routinely did in Tampa Bay on draft day, new Panthers GM Rick Dudley wasted no time in creating a buzz at the annual guessing game called the NHL Entry Draft.

For the second time in league history, Rick Dudley traded the #1 pick on a draft day, but unlike the last time when he traded the top pick in 1999, Dudley opted to keep his pick in the first round.

Like a experienced poker player, Dudley kept a poker face as to which player the Panthers were looking to select at the top, and that silence only caused Doug MacLean, GM of the Blue Jackets, picking 3rd overall, to seek a trade to the top spot to grab the player they openly coveted, Forward Rick Nash.

“I thought we would be taking Joni Pitkanen” Doug MacLean said, “That is what I thought would be happening. I was convinced that Bouwmeester and Nash would be gone.”

So in a deal that started going down around noon on the draft floor, Dudley and MacLean agreed to swap their 2002 first round picks so that the Jackets worries were alleviated.

Since Atlanta was receiving numerous offers to trade their 2nd pick, Doug MacLean felt the move was a necessary one. “I wanted to make sure I got Nash.” MacLean noted, “We just wanted to make sure we left here today with him, and there are no guarantees unless you have the pick, and that is why we did it.”

The second part of the deal was giving the Panthers the rights to swap first round picks in the 2003 draft, and than to ensure that Atlanta didn’t trade their 2nd overall pick or select Bouwmeester, Dudley threw a 3rd and 4th round pick their way and watched as Atlanta selected goalie Kari Lehtonen.

The scope of Dudley’s gamble won’t be fully known until next year, and the hope is that Columbus in their 3rd year of existence doesn’t go far with former backup goaltender Marc Denis and a general lack of scoring punch. But the Panthers gamble is one that Doug MacLean feels could pay off for Florida, “They can wind up with the number one pick next year!”

So essentially after dictating how the first 2 picks of the draft were to unfold and doubling the odds of getting the #1 pick again next year, the Panthers selected the player they might have picked first overall anyway, Jay Bouwmeester.

“We got the guy we wanted, we didn’t care where we picked them.” Dudley summed up, “We thought it was a worthwhile gamble to do that, especially since we are getting the player we wanted.”

In reality, the top 3 teams all have come away happy with their deals. Columbus got the player they openly coveted, Atlanta got two extra picks for just being at #2, and Florida got the player they said they were going to take at #1 anyway. But when next year’s draft lottery takes place, will Columbus be happy when it can potentially drop down a few spots, let alone maybe even the top spot?

In all, the Panthers selected 10 players on Saturday and Sunday, which included 4 defensemen, 1 goalie, and 5 forwards. In a departure from Dudley’s previous drafts as well, only two players this year were drafted from European leagues.

Jay Bouwmeester, Defenseman, Medicine Hat Tigers, 3rd Overall

Along with Jason Spezza, Bouwmeester has been one of the most talked about prospects to come along in some time, and invariably, the talk centers around the fact that Bouwmeester is a rare blend of size, speed and mobility.

“He is a thrilling skater with size. When he turns up the ice, he can vacates the zone before people can track him down.” Dudley stated, “In todays game with all the pressure, somebody can get back and get the puck, and be heading up the ice that quickly, its invaluable.”

For a team that struggled in the transition game for as long as one can remember, the addition of Bouwmeester, even as an inexperienced rookie, will only improve this aspect when Ozolinsh isn’t on the ice. The mobility factor also holds an advantage for the young defenseman, who will have the recovery skills other defenseman might not yet have.

“His skating gives him time to make mistakes, because he is such a good skater, he can recover. There is not a lot of players that can do that. You look at some of the guys, they can make a mistake and recover very quickly.” Dudley said, “At 18 years old, that is important because every mistake he makes will not end up in our net, because he will be able to track down who he turned it over too.”

Another aspect of Bouwmeester’s game that has been heavily analyzed the lack of physical play, and head coach Mike Keenan says Bouwmeester will rely more on positional hockey, comparable to players like Niklas Lidstrom, who despite not being a physical player, still finds himself excelling against top opposing forwards.

“The best players, Lidstrom the best example recently, who can play 32 minutes a game, are not physical players, in what we would describe as prototypical, hard-nosed defenseman would look like. He obviously played against the best players the opposition could give Detroit and is physical enough in terms of his positioning and his size and strength, and Bouwmeester will have those same attributes.”

For Panther fans seeing a player who stands 6’4’’ and has the frame of a young Chris Pronger, it will be easy to demand that Bouwmeester goes out and acts like a gorilla knocking every player to the ice with monster checks, but it will be a disservice to a player with such skill to sacrifice stronger points of his game due to the perception that he must dominate the game physically.

As for Jay’s shy demeanor, Rick Dudley told several stories about a young player that he played with in Buffalo, a player that came into the league as a extremely shy French-Canadian who grew into one of the more outgoing and gregarious individuals on the team near the end, Center Gilbert Perreault. What Dudley was saying, was essentially it might be an issue to some people, but it isn’t an issue to him or the Panthers.

The next step is for Bouwmeester to make the Panthers this season, and it is an opportunity that is very likely heading into training camp. “He has a legitimate chance to play for the Panthers this season, and he will be given the opportunity to stay in Florida.” Keenan said, “Obviously he’ll have to earn that opportunity, but he’ll be given a great opportunity to do it.” He later added, “We will not do something that would be counterproductive to his development.”

But what can realistically be expected of an 18 year-old rookie defenseman making the step right out of junior? Eddie Jovonovski came right out of the Windsor Spitfires in 1995 to earn a spot on the Finals-bound Panther team, but he had the advantage of playing on a team full of veterans that were extremely disciplined in adhering to playing the trap, and that strong support system allowed Jovonovski to keep his game as simple as possible, allowing him to excel in certain situations.

After the Bure trade last season, the Panthers saw a return to a more disciplined overall team game, and that can be beneficial for a young defenseman in his first season. But the expectations probably won’t be there for Bouwmeester to be a savior.

“Do I expect him to jump in and be a dominant player? I don’t expect that from any 18 year old. But I do expect him to be on the team for a couple of reasons.” Dudley responded when asked about Bouwmeester’s impact, “He has got the skating ability that makes it a much easier transition for him, and secondly I see no purpose in him going back to jr, he has been there long enough.”

So the only question remaining is not whether Bouwmeester will be on the team, but rather will he be so vital to the Panthers season that he will not be released to play on a record breaking 4th Canadian World Junior Squad?

Petr Taticek, Center, Ste. Sault Marie Greyhounds, 9th Overall

When the Minnesota Wild just picked at the 8th spot, the Panthers saw that a player they had ranked higher than 9th was still on the board.

“At 8, when Taticek was still there, we said we have to guarantee that we get him now.” Dudley pointed out, “We just didn’t want to lose him at that point.”

In getting Petr Taticek, the Panthers shore up their shallow depth at the center position with a prospect that has 3rd line potential, with the possibility of developing into a 2nd line player. Taticek is more of a playmaking center than a scorer, possesses good speed with strong puck-handling skills, and plays a thinking man’s game (much like Stephen Weiss).

Strong at both ends of the ice, Taticek is also relied on for his prowess with his skill in the face-off circle and with some weight gain and increased strength, should be able to increase his chances in the NHL. But one area he will be strong in is knowing what is needed to excel, as Petr’s father was a former player in the German Elite League, and is currently the head coach of Kladno in the Czech Republic.

“Taticek is good at both ends of the ice, has high character, and he is everything we were looking for.” Dudley said, “He plays with a little jam.”

While Playing for “Team Tiger” at the Top Prospects Game in Saskatoon, Taticek scored the game winning goal on a penalty shot, and was named OHL rookie of the month in December by going 6-9-15 in 9 games. He also was 3rd on team scoring and finished 4th in OHL Rookie scoring, and won the Greyhounds Face-Off Award.

Rob Globke, Right Wing, University of Notre Dame, 40th Overall

Coming into this draft, it was noted by the Panthers former Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Murray, that they felt one of the deepest leagues in the draft was in the NCAA ranks. So it was just a matter of time that the Panthers would go the college route, and select a player that was just coming off of his sophomore season at Notre Dame, Center/Right Winger Rob Globke ( Pronounced Globe-Key )

Globke had a strong season with Notre Dame by being the fourth leading scorer on the team, and has played on the past two WJC’s for Team USA. A solid scorer, Globke can excel in one-on-one situations and possesses solid puck-handling skills, with a very accurate shot and offensive instincts. He is the type of player that can be as good as he wants to be.

Hailing from Michigan, one would think that his decision to attend the rival Notre Dame school would upset his parents, but that wasn’t too much of a concern for his mother who actually was a Michigan State fan. Still, some of Rob’s friends didn’t see his school choice as a good one.

“A lot of people didn’t expect me to go to Notre Dame, so I got a lot of razzing because of that.” Globke told Hockey’s Future.

Regardless of what school he attended, being able to select Globke with the 40th pick was something Dudley was very happy about.

“We like the size, we like the speed, and we like the wonderful hands.”

Greg Campbell, Left Wing, Plymouth Whalers, 67th Overall

The skeptical humorist can quickly state that the Panthers selection of Greg Campbell, son of NHL disciplinarian, was a calculated move to lighten the punishments handed down from the league.

But Rick Dudley sees a player that has begun to blossom when given more responsibility. “Greg went from 14 points to 53 points, and while doing that was also one of the smartest two players in the OHL.”

It was that improvement shown in one season that caught the eyes of the Panthers. An intelligent player that is strong on all ends of the ice, Greg Campbell has added offense to his already strong defensive and positional game. Because of his solid work ethic, his desire to compete and improve can’t be questioned.

“Campbell is just a very good, gritty two-way hockey player,” Dudley said, “He could be a guy who ends up being good at both ends of the ice, a penalty-killer, maybe quite a bit more than that.”

Topi Jaakola, Defenseman, Karpat, 134th Overall

A player who might be considered a project pick, Jaakola was teammates with Joni Pitkanen, and played last year on the Under-20 team and the Under-18 team before that. Describing himself as a defensive defenseman, or “somewhere in between”, Jaakola has one more year left on his contract in Finland, and will need to fulfill his 6 month Finnish military obligation before he is 30 years old.

Jaakola has decent all-around speed for a defenseman, and can play an aggressive game if needed to. He can start the rush with a solid first pass out of the zone, but he will need to add muscle as he develops in order to keep developing his physical game.

Vince Bellissimo, Center, Topeka Scarecrows, 158th Overall

Born in Toronto, but opting to play in the United States Hockey League and will be attending Western Michigan next year, Vince Bellissimo is an offensively gifted player who led the Scarecrows in scoring and finished second in the league in scoring. Was named the USHL’s top forward and set a record for goals scored on an expansion team.

Bellissimo is a fast skater with good balance in traffic, and is strong at handling the puck at top speed. A very patient player, he is considered a scoring threat with the talent needed to make the NHL one day, but like all young kids, he will need to work on his strength and consistency.

Jeremy Swanson, Defenseman, Barrie Colts, 169th Overall

The aggressive and strong Jeremy Swanson completed his first season with the Barrie Colts after being traded two years from the Soo Greyhounds. A solid defenseman with a very strong shot from the point, Swanson was able to contribute offensively to the Colts, but he is more of a defensive defenseman.

“He is a hard working kid,” Dudley stated, “Probably stronger than most kids his age, but he isn’t a big defenseman, so he will have to maximize everything he has.”

Mikko Vuorio, Goaltender, Lukko Ruomo, 196th Overall

The Panthers European Scout, Pavel Routa saw the young Finnish goaltender play several times, so the Panthers took a chance by selecting the candidate for next years Finnish WJC team. A quick goalie with a strong glove hand and solid lateral movement, Vuorio probably will be allowed to develop at a leisurely pace in Finland before being brought over.

Denis Yachmenev, Right Wing, North Bay Centennials, 200th Overall

The younger brother of the Predators Vitali Yachmenev and teammate with Panthers prospect Vladimir Sapozhnikov in North Bay, Denis Yachmenev has good speed and is a solid puck-handler. He is able to supply an offensive game, but will need to work harder along the boards and be more consistent overall.

Peter Hafner, Defenseman, Taft High School, 232nd Overall

Hafner is the second player out of high school the Panthers have ever drafted, and he will be attending Harvard University in the Fall (Panthers prospect Robert Fried will be a teammate). Rick Dudley scouted him during the Hockey Night in Boston and took a chance on the physically imposing youngster.

“I just saw a big kid with a chance to be very, very big, who could move pretty well.”

Right now, Hafner is a good skater who Dudley feels could see some improvement in his skating, especially when playing at Harvard where the practice/game ratio is higher, and where he can work on his overall strength to go along with his puck movement and good first pass.

Panther News and Notes

The Panthers have announced the creation of a new position for former coach Duane Sutter, who will be the Panthers first ever Director of Player Development. Sutter will take a hands-on role in guiding and advising Panther prospects in the NHL, CHL, and AHL.

In addition, current Asst. to the GM Brent Flahr has been named as the Director of Hockey of Hockey Operations of the new AHL Affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. Taking the reins of the coaching job in San Antonio will be John Torchetti, along with asst. Coach Scott Allen.