Florida Panthers 2000 Entry Draft Review

By Jes Golbez
As the old and often used adage goes, “Pick the best player available. If you have an extra asset in one area, deal it for help in another area.” The Florida Panthers did just that during the 2000 Entry Draft in Calgary, as they picked up perhaps the best prospect in all of hockey: Roberto Luongo.

Before the Entry Draft got under way on Saturday afternoon, Panthers GM Bryan Murray and Islanders GM Mike Milbury pulled one of the most surprising trades of the day, as the Panthers sent RW Mark Parrish and LW/C Oleg Kvasha to the Isles for franchise-goalie-in-the-making Robert Luongo and disgruntled center Olli Jokinen. With this trade, the Panthers nabbed themselves the #3 and #4 picks from the 1997 draft, while dealing away 2 of the many scoring wingers within the Panthers organization. With Kristian Huselius, Denis Shvidki, Ivan Novoseltsev, and fiesty Marcus Nilson all knocking on the door, the Panthers could afford to trade Kvasha and Parrish, in the expectation that one or more of these prospects will make an impact next season.

It had been well known to Panthers fans that Mike Milbury had craved Oleg Kvasha for some time. In fact, Kvasha had been involved in trade talks that almost brought Mariusz Czerkawski and Kenny Jonsson to the Panthers, before previous Islanders ownership nixed the deal late last season. Milbury finally got the player he coveted, as well as Mark Parrish, a productive scoring winger.

Parrish will be missed, he was productive, and he was becoming a favorite in Florida. Mark had begun to play solid defense, and was great in front of the net, much as his mentor Dino Ciccarelli was. Parrish was a master of deflections and will be a solid 30-35 goal scorer for years to come. Parrish was maddeningly inconsistent and streaky, but those kinks can be worked out with Mark’s upbeat attitude.

Kvasha, on the other hand, will not be missed by many in Florida. Kvasha personified inconsistency and frustrated Panthers coaching staff all of last season, in which he scored a whopping 5 goals. There is no doubt that Kvasha has all of the raw skills almost anyone would be jealous of. He is a great skater, a shifty stickhandler, and can undress most any defenseman 1-on-1. Despite his plethora of raw skills, Oleg has never been a big point producer any time during his career. never producing more than 29 points in a pro season (he did that while in the AHL).

Whether Kvasha can produce or not will be the key to this deal. Parrish is basically guaranteed to produce 30 goals a season, but Kvasha will have to be the player Milbury envisions in order for the deal not to be utterly lopsided. Oleg is a nice 6’5″, but still a wispy 210-215 pounds. His high centre of balance, combined with his lack of arm strength has been a big reason that Kvasha has been perhaps the worst NHL face-off taker of all time. With 28% and 34.9% faceoff winning percentages during his 2-year NHL career, it’s a wonder why Milbury would want to continue playing Kvasha at center like he seems to claim. Throw in Kvasha’s total lack of passion and competitiveness, and the fact that Oleg likes to talk to himself during pre-game warmups, and you have the master of all enigma’s. Even his solid defensive play that he showed during 1998-99 seemed to disappear like Kvasha did so many nights. So, while the Islanders coaching staff worries about Kvasha, the Panthers will be busy working on Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo.

In getting Jokinen and Luongo, the Panthers addressed two of their biggest needs. A need for a prospect goaltender to groom, and a big center with skill and potential. Jokinen is a project within himself, but has shown signs of becoming a 2-way force. The Panthers will move Niedermayer to the wing (or trade him) and groom Jokinen as the 3rd line center to start next season. He should provide 15-20 goals and physical play if all goes according to plan. At worst, Jokinen and Kvasha will wash out.

Where the real potential of the deal lies is Robert Luongo. The only prospect given a 5-star rating by The Hockey News, Luongo will give the Panthers the franchise goaltender-in- waiting that the Panthers have never had. In fact, Luongo could be the #1 goaltender next year depending upon what happens to Trevor Kidd. Kidd is expected to be dealt to another team to give Luongo more playing time, and to dump salary. If not, Kidd and Luongo will battle for the #1 spot. Shtalenkov will provide a good backup who can play 30+ quality games and help groom Luongo. All in all, this trade was a pleasant surprise, and if Luongo becomes the Vezina-quality goaltender that is expected of him, the Panthers will have pulled off one of the biggest steals in recent history (Since the Bure deal).

After Murray had pulled up the surprise deal of the day, the Panthers got back to the business at hand of drafting more talent to help build the Panthers into a winner. With the 58th overall pick as the Panthers first pick, depth and small building-blocks were the order of the day, as the Panthers used 6 of their 8 draft picks to pick North American ‘character’ players. (The Panthers traded their 9th Round pick to Columbus for a 9th Round Pick in 2001). With only one full-time European scout within the Panthers organization, the Panthers simply do not spend enough time scouting Europe, as almost all of their draft picks have been North American players ever since the Panthers entered the NHL. This hasn’t hurt them yet, as the Panthers have been competitive through a large part of their history, but this will hurt in the long run.

Here is a rundown of the Panthers picks in the 2000 Entry Draft: (Note, all picks are one position lower than reported in the Pre-Draft Article.)

1st Pick – 58th overall (2nd Round): Vladimir Sapozhnikov, D
Ranked 24th by CSB for European skaters. A solid, mobile skater who dominates the defensive zone and plays aggressive hockey. 6’3″ 205 and great at clearing the crease. Little offensive potential.

2nd Pick – 77th overall (3rd Round): Robert Fried, RW
Ranked 61st by CSB, similar to Michael Rupp is that he’s a big player with good skating, and comes from a US High School league. Was named Sports Illustrated’s ‘Old Spice High School Athlete of the Month’ for November 1999. His team won 2nd place in New England High School Championships.

3rd Pick – 82nd overall (3rd Round): Sean O’Connor, RW
6’3″ 211lbs. Very aggressive and very big. Racked up 20 fighting majors last year. Loves to hit and rough up opposition. 4th line ‘energy’ player type.

4th Pick – 115th overall (4th Round): Chris Eade, D
Ranked 49th by CSB, Eade is a hard-working mobile defenseman who moves the puck well. A positional player with a good work ethic, he is known for having great hockey smarts. Perhaps a bit of a steal at 115th.

5th Pick – 120th overall (4th Round): Davis Parley, G
Ranked 5th among goaltenders for CSB. Named Kamloops Blazers ‘Rookie of the Year’ this season. Won Best Goaltender accolades in the Western Canadian Championships with Campbell River. Stand-up goaltender with great patience. Reads the play well, but needs to work on stickhandling.

6th Pick – 190th overall (6th Round): Josh Olson, LW
Another long-term project. 6’5″ 225lbs. Has a good shot. Another high-school pick from Murray.

7th Pick – 234th overall (8th Round): Janis Sprukts, C
Defensive Center, not much known about him right now.

8th Pick – 253rd overall (8th Round): Matthew Sommerfeld, LW
6’2″ 192lbs. A fighter with decent skating. Murray compares him to a faster skating Peter Worrell, with a lot less size.

All in all, these draft picks leave a lot to be desired in terms of excitement. Murray took quite a few projects, and went with ‘safe’ character picks. There is no doubt that the Panthers need a great deal of character within the organization, but perhaps choosing a couple of offensive-talented players would have helped stocked the system a lot better for the future.

Panthers fans, however, will talk about this draft for years to come. The big trade for Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen is truly a franchise turning point.