Panthers 2001 draft evaluation

By Kyle McMahon

The 2001 NHL Entry Draft saw the Florida Panthers pick 12 players, and a solid five of them have played NHL games to this point. The majority of Florida’s selections were from Canadian major junior teams, with five of those coming out of the Western Hockey League. Three alone came from the Prince Albert Raiders. The Panthers picked up six forwards, five defensemen, and a goaltender. Seven players can still be considered prospects, while three are regulars in the NHL.
Ironically, it was the team’s last pick, Ivan Majesky, at 267th overall who has played the most games in the NHL to date.

Overall, it was a very good draft for Florida, and it still remains to be seen just how good their top two selections will become. The 12 picks have played a total of 515 NHL games, for an average of 43 games per pick.

Stephen Weiss, C – 1st Round, 4th Overall (Plymouth Whalers, OHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 175
DOB: 04-03-83 HT: 5’11 WT: 183

Stephen Weiss was a standout junior player in the OHL. The 17-year-old rookie posted better than a point per game in 1999-00, and followed it up with a superb sophomore campaign that saw him bang home 40 goals and 87 points. The shifty centerman possesses explosive acceleration and is a threat to score whenever he’s on the ice, which prompted Florida to draft him highly in 2001. Weiss started out the 2001-02 season with the Panthers, and saw action in seven games where he scored his first NHL goal. Florida decided it would be better for Weiss’ development if he returned to junior for one more season, so he was sent back to Plymouth and proceeded to score 70 points in only 46 games. He also played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. The next season, 2002-03, he played in nearly every game for Florida, scoring six goals and adding 15 assists in addition to playing in the NHL Young Stars Game during the All-Star break. The next year saw Weiss marginally increase all of his offensive totals, but he also saw some action in the American Hockey League.

The lockout meant that his entire 2004-05 year would be spent in the minors. He put up 54 points, and was loaned by San Antonio to the Chicago Wolves late in the year, where he gained valuable playoff experience as the Wolves made it all the way to the Calder Cup final. The first half of the most recent season was moving along nicely for Weiss, who had nine goals and 12 assists at the halfway point, but a wrist injury sidelined him for the remainder of Florida’s schedule. Weiss has the makings of a good second line center in the NHL, but next season could be a make or break campaign. He needs to bulk up a little to fight through tough defenders and start providing the offense the Panthers expected when they drafted him.

Lukas Krajicek, D – 1st Round, 24th Overall (Peterborough Petes, OHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 90
DOB: 03-11-83 HT: 6’2 WT: 182

Lukas Krajicek is an offensive-minded defenseman who the Panthers hope will develop into someone who can rush the puck up ice from his own zone. The Czech native has a tremendous skating stride which enables his to jump into the rush as well as strip attacking forwards of the puck. Krajicek is not overly physical is his own end, but his quick stick work can often surprise opponents and turn the puck over.

Krajicek elected to come over to North America to play junior hockey, and provided Peterborough with excellent blue line production. In 168 games with the Petes, the precision passer tallied 130 points, leaving the Panthers hopeful that they may have found the scoring defenseman they have lacked for much of their history. Krajicek had a couple of brief professional looks in the NHL and AHL before arriving in the pros to stay for the 2003-04 season. That season was spent mainly in San Antonio (AHL), where he put up 17 points in 54 games. In 18 games with the NHL club, the skillful defender had a goal and six assists. The lockout allowed Krajicek to work on his game with San Antonio for all of 2004-05, and he performed well with 24 points recorded, and even fought on occasion. A full time NHL player in 2005-06, Krajicek had a modest 16 points, hardly overwhelming, but certainly a solid foundation to build off of.

Greg Watson, C – 2nd Round, 34th Overall (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 03-02-83 HT: 6’2 WT: 198

Gritty centerman Greg Watson had a breakout 2000-01 junior season with the Prince Albert Raiders (22 goals, 50 points) which got him taken early in the second round by Florida. Watson followed up with a repeat 22-goal performance the next season, but a disappointing 2002-03 campaign saw his goal and assist totals drop. The Panthers decided he was no longer in their future plans, so Watson was shipped to Ottawa to play with their affiliate in Binghamton. The Senators knew they were getting a pivot that was not overly skilled, but rather a player who gives a big effort every night and uses his strength to make things difficult for opponents. Watson was a serviceable role player in his first two seasons in Binghamton, seeing mostly fourth line duty.

In 2005-06, the grinder seemed to have rediscovered the offensive spark that had been absent since his junior days. He had six goals and 12 points in 28 games played, but a back injury ended his campaign prematurely. At this point an NHL career looks doubtful, but effort has never been a question with Watson, so expect him to work his hardest to try and make it to the next level.

Tomas Malec, D – 3rd Round, 64th Overall (Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 45
DOB: 05-13-82 HT: 6’2 WT: 193

When the Panthers drafted Tomas Malec in the third round in 2001, they thought they might be getting a more physical version of Lukas Krajicek, who had been taken a couple rounds earlier. Malec had an outstanding North American debut in 2000-01 with Rimouski. He had 13 goals and 50 assists, which ranked him highly in defenseman scoring. Malec’s lofty penalty totals (362 PIM in 115 games of major junior) indicate a physical blueliner who’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with opponents. The Carolina Hurricanes also thought highly of Malec, so they traded Sandis Ozolinsh to Florida to acquire to skilled Slovak. Malec played half of his rookie pro season in Carolina where he had two assists and 42 penalty minutes, while spending 30 games with Lowell in the AHL.

After an impressive 2003-04 season played mainly in Lowell (20 points in 74 games), Malec was again traded, this time to Anaheim. He provided Cincinnati, the Mighty Ducks’ farm team, with physical play, as well as respectable offensive numbers. This led to a free agent contract with Ottawa for the 2005-06 campaign. Malec made it back to the NHL for two more games in Ottawa, while enjoying his best AHL season yet, with 28 points to go with 118 PIM. Ottawa’s blue line could be overhauled this offseason, and Malec has proven himself capable of play at the highest level, so expect him to get another serious look at training camp in the fall.

Grant McNeill, D – 3rd Round, 68th Overall (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 3
DOB: 06-08-83 HT: 6’2 WT: 210

After taking two offensive defensemen in earlier rounds, the Panthers decided to draft a guy who focused more on taking care of his own end. Grant McNeill was a defensive fixture on Prince Albert’s blue line during a four-year major junior career in which he was known much more for his physicality and fighting ability than his offensive prowess. After compiling nearly 1000 PIM in the WHL, McNeill was signed by the Panthers and made his pro debut in San Antonio of the AHL in 2003-04. He picked up right where he left off, spending 110 minutes in the sin bin while failing to register a point. That season also saw him play his only three NHL contests to date. Naturally, he dropped the gloves in one of those appearances.

The next two seasons have seen the enforcer shuffled between the AHL and the ECHL. He can outmuscle forwards along the boards and move them from in front of the net. McNeill’s game is much more suited to the minor leagues than it is the NHL, so that is where he will likely spend a good portion of his career.

Mike Woodford, RW – 4th Round, 117th Overall (Cushing Academy, US High School)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 10-04-81 HT: 5’11 WT: 183

The Panthers selected Mike Woodford out of high school. Woodford was an outstanding offensive talent while at Cushing Academy, averaging over a goal per game and registering 143 points during a two-year, 67-game high school career. His efforts did not go unnoticed, as he was recruited by the powerful Michigan Wolverines to play college hockey. Woodford started out well in Ann Arbor, with eight goals 19 points as a freshman in 2001-02. He only totaled 17 points in his next season, but his improved physical play made up for the drop in production. However, 2003-04 and 2004-05 were very lackluster outings for Woodford. He saw his effectiveness decline and only managed four goals and 13 points during those two years, not nearly good enough to land an NHL contract.

The chippy forward took his game to Long Beach of the ECHL for the 2005-06 season, recording a pedestrian 11 points in 50 games. Woodford needs to become the player he was during high school and his early university career if he is ever to have a shot at the NHL.

Billy Thompson, G – 5th Round, 136th Overall (Prince George Cougars, WHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 09-24-82 HT: 6’3 WT: 188

Florida used their fifth-round pick in 2001 on goaltender Billy Thompson. After brief stints with Prince George in the previous two seasons, the lanky netminder became the Cougars’ full-time stopper in 2000-01. He was good but not great, though showed enough potential to warrant selection in the draft. The next year was much better for Thompson, who posted an excellent .913 save percentage while shutting out opponents on two occasions. The Ottawa Senators noticed the goaltender at a mini-camp, and decided he was worth trading for in October of 2002. He would be returned to junior for one more season before graduating to the AHL to start the 2003-04 campaign. In 34 games with Binghamton, Thompson had a .906 save percentage and a 2.89 GAA. 2004-05 was much better statistically (2.44 GAA, .920 save %), and saw the Saskatchewan native go 19-8-2 as Ray Emery’s backup. Things looked bright heading into 2005-06, but Thompson, who has been knocked for not using his size to his advantage, struggled and saw his GAA balloon to 4.14. If he can improve the technical aspects of his game, Thompson still has the potential to become a backup in NHL, but he must rebound from this lousy season.

Dustin Johner, C – 6th Round, 169th Overall (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 03-06-83 HT: 5’11 WT: 170

Dustin Johner is small in stature, but he makes up for that with his swift skating and agility. A good passer, Johner used his offensive skills to post four consecutive 50+ point seasons in the Western Hockey League. His best years were 2001-02 and 2002-03 where he netted over 30 goals both years while compiling 81 and 77 points respectively. At the end of his final junior season, 2003-04, the center played four games with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in which he scored twice and added four assists. Johner spent the 2004-05 campaign in the Calgary Flames’ farm system. In 23 AHL games he managed a respectable 12 points, and was a big contributor in his 51 ECHL games with 22 goals and 48 total points.

During the most recent season, the Panthers reacquired the shifty pivot, and he continued his success in the ECHL with 36 points in his 36 games with the Florida Everblades. He also made it to the AHL for 16 contests, but his limited ice time saw him tally only two points. This has at least got Johner back on Florida’s radar, and in a league that has begun to favor the smaller, skilled player, he may yet have another crack at the NHL, though an AHL career is a more realistic goal.

Toni Koivisto, LW – 7th Round, 200th Overall (Lukko Rauma – Finland)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 11-05-82 HT: 6’0 WT: 189

Winger Toni Koivisto seemed to score at ease during his junior career with the Lukko Rauma junior squad in Finland, in which he represented the Finns in international junior tournaments. During his draft year of 2000-01, he played almost exclusively with the senior team in Finland’s top division, recording five goals in 47 games. While with the juniors he was explosive, netting nine goals and 24 points in just 16 appearances. But for years, Koivisto was unable to repeat his junior production in the professional league. In the three years following his draft, the young winger could only come up with 39 points in 162 games. Then finally in 2004-05 Koivisto broke out with 17 goals and 10 assists in his 56 game campaign. He transferred to Ilves Tampere for 2005-06 where he continued to improve, this time potting 19 goals and 32 points in total. This has brought Koivisto, who must have been almost forgotten, back to the attention of the Panthers. They may attempt to bring the Finn, still only 23, over to North America for next season.

Kyle Bruce, RW – 8th Round, 231st Overall (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 03-30-83 HT: 6’0 WT: 181

Kyle Bruce was an abrasive, role-playing winger during a five year major junior career in the Western Hockey League. He was drafted by Florida after his first full season, 2000-01, in which he had eight goals and 16 points to go along with nearly 200 PIM. The next two years were largely anonymous for Bruce, and he went unsigned by the Panthers and re-entered the entry draft. His was not reselected and decided to play one last junior season with the Vancouver Giants. This was easily his best WHL campaign, as he set career highs for goals, assists, and points, while also playing in 11 post-season games. This was enough to earn a contract with the ECHL’s Columbia Inferno. He had scored five goals to compliment five assists through 23 games when the UBC Thunderbirds (CIS) came calling. In only 16 games with UBC, Bruce impressed with 10 goals and 20 points, earning him nomination for the Canada West Conference outstanding freshman award. Bruce returned to UBC for 2005-06, where his point totals dropped, but his physical presence increased.

Jan Blanar, D – 9th Round, 263rd Overall (Dukla Trencin, Slovak Jr)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 06-06-83 HT: 6’3 WT: 185

A big Slovakian defenseman, Jan Blanar enjoyed several quality campaigns in the Slovak junior league with Dukla Trencin. Blanar developed early on, making his junior league debut at just 14 years old. He played in 22 games that first season, 1997-98, assisting on two goals. The defender continued to improve his play as he matured, his best junior season coming in 1999-00 when he fired home eight goals and added seven helpers. He was also had spectacular +25 rating in 47 games played. But since being drafted and seeing his junior career end, Blanar has failed to develop into dependable pro. He has bounced from team to team in several lower level professional leagues. His last top division action came in 2003-04, after attending Panthers training camp, with Liptovsky of the Slovak League, where he was pointless in 13 matches. In 2005-06 Blanar had a solid season with Hradec Kralove of League 1 in the Czech Republic, totaling 16 points in 36 games. Playing lower level European hockey is no route to the NHL, so don’t expect to see Blanar in a Panthers uniform anytime soon.

Ivan Majesky, D – 9th Round, 267th Overall (Ilves Tampere – Finland)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 202
DOB: 09-02-76 HT: 6’5 WT: 224

The Panthers used their final pick of the 2001 draft to grab a defender they suspected capable of making the jump to the NHL quickly. Ivan Majesky was 24 years old when Florida selected him out of the Finnish league. The towering rearguard had played several years of hockey in the Slovakian league before transferring to Ilves Tampere where Panther scouts noticed him. Majesky made the jump to North America for the 2002-03 season. He played in all 82 games that year, putting up four goals and 12 points.

The Panthers turned their ninth-round investment into a second-round pick, acquired from Atlanta in exchange for the sturdy blueliner. Majesky was serviceable in the Thrasher defense corps, appearing in 63 games that saw him bag 10 points. After returning to the NHL with Washington in 2005-06 after spending the lockout year in the Czech league, Majesky had his best season so far. Though a knee injury limited him to 57 games, he chipped in nine points, and was a -2, which was certainly not bad on the last-place Capitals. For a ninth round pick, 202 games played to date is remarkable.

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