Panthers 2006 draft preview

By Chris Leary

Panthers Top 10 Prospects

1. Rostislav Olesz, C
2. Kenndal McArdle, LW
3. Anthony Stewart, RW
4. Stefan Meyer, LW
5. Tyler Plante, G
6. Greg Campbell, LW
7. Rob Globke, RW
8. Kamil Kreps, C
9. David Booth, LW
10. David Shantz, G

Team Needs

More than any specific personnel need, the future of this organization will remain in limbo until the question of where Roberto Luongo will suit up for the next five years is answered. With the top goaltending prospects in the system still several years away from making any significant impact for the Panthers, either they must figure out a way to keep Luongo in the fold, or make a drastic trade.

The critical nature of the eventual decision on Luongo’s future in the red and gold highlights the most glaring holes in the current Panthers lineup. The Panthers rearguards, as a group, have struggled to play league-average defense over the past several seasons in front of one of the best goaltenders in the league. While Jay Bouwmeester is developing into the type of defenseman that the franchise can build around, that construction project is still in the works. As there is very little cause for excitement currently manning the blue line in the system, the organization could desperately use more NHL-caliber defensemen.

Organizational Strengths

The emergence of Nathan Horton as one of the best young power forward prospects in the league coupled with the continued development of Olli Jokinen into a top NHL pivot to provide the highlights of a season that may be the bridge to a dangerous offensive attack. This past season also saw the debut of 2004 first round pick Rostislav Olesz, who projects to eventually be a top-six forward for the team. Behind Olesz in the system are a number of intriguing young, versatile forwards who could eventually make an impact with the big club.

With the majority of the top prospects currently in the system up front, the Panther offense appears to be pointed in the right direction. Of particular interest are a very physical group of wings, led by last season’s first-round pick Kenndal McArdle and 2003 first-round pick Anthony Stewart. In the mold cast by team architect Mike Keenan, both of these players have the physicality and temperament to graduate onto the second or third in Florida.

Organizational Weaknesses

Should the Panthers and Luongo fail to put the benefits of another six years together over other concerns, the goaltending situation in Florida would shine a bright spotlight on the state of the Panther defense.

With, in essence, a bare cupboard in the system on the blueline, the Panthers will most likely need to buy their way out of the black hole that has been their defensive unit. The system has not been particularly adept at identifying and developing NHL-caliber defensive prospects, as evidenced by the lack of a defenseman in the top 12 prospects in the organization. The silver lining to this particularly dark cloud is the presence of head coach Jacques Martin who, given some time to apply his principles to the entire system, should be able to right the ship regardless of who suits up in goal for the team.

As dire as the situation on the blue line has become in Florida, the absence of any immediate answers in goal behind Luongo may be the more pressing concern. While youngsters Tyler Plante and David Shantz may both develop into impact goaltenders down the road, neither can be viewed as a short-term solution in the net should the Panthers be forced into finding alternatives for Luongo.

Draft Tendencies

The 2006 Entry Draft will be the second for Florida under the guidance of GM Mike Keenan. Last year, the Panthers grabbed a gritty, hard-working physical forward in McArdle, who had been projected to develop into what could best be described as a “Mike Keenan” type of player. In well over ten NHL drafts as part of an organization, Keenan has never drafted a European player in the first round, overwhelmingly preferring Canadian forwards and defensemen (the lone exception being Sergei Krivokrasov, selected by the Blackhawks on Keenan’s way out the door in 1992). Last year saw a continuance of this trend, as the Panthers tabbed British Columbia native McArdle with the 20th pick of the draft (sandwiched, ironically, between Detroit’s selection of Jakub Kindl at 19 and Toronto’s pick of Tuukka Rask at 21). It would be something of a small shock if the Panthers don’t grab the best available North American player on the board with the 10th selection this coming weekend.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Kyle Okposo, RW, University of Minnesota. The dearth of NHL-caliber defensemen in the Panther system may draw Keenan’s eye towards Owen Sound rearguard Bobby Sanguinetti, but if a forward with the upside of Okposo falls to the Panthers he would be difficult to pass up. A big, strong physical forward who projects to eventually grow into an NHL-caliber finisher, Okposo has been a popular dark horse prospect to move into the first ten picks of the draft. While he may not see NHL action for several seasons (as he is ticketed for the Golden Gophers next year), Okposo looks like the kind of player who could eventually lock into place alongside Horton down the road.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.