With the announcement on that the Winter Classic has officially been cancelled, thinking of material to hold your interest can get difficult. However it’s also a time where I can sit back and write about some things that I normally wouldn’t have time for. This will be a series called “He Coulda Been A Florida Panther” that will examine the Florida Panthers first round draft picks, and who they “could’ve” drafted instead. It’s easy to look back and analyze, especially with what is known after the fact, but we need some fun. Although I think in a few cases, we’ll shed some tears.
First up is the inaugural entry draft by the Florida Panthers in 1993. Their very first selection as an expansion team found them sitting with the fifth overall pick. Of the 26 picks that year, only three first rounders didn’t make it to the NHL. The 16th overall pick taken by the Edmonton Oilers, Nick Stajdujar, the 24th overall pick taken by the Chicago Blackhawks, Eric Lecompte, and the last pick taken at #26 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Stefan Bergqvist. The number one overall pick that season went to the Ottawa Senators, as they pinned their future on Alexandre Daigle. Daigle turned out to be the perfect example of a player who never lived up to the hype……or his contracts. Coming off a 137 point season with the Victoriaville Tigers in the QMJHL, Daigle had a decent rookie season potting 51 points in 84 games. He would tie that number twice, while never surpassing it remaining one of the biggest enigma’s that the game has seen.
The Florida Panthers that year chose a good-sized centerman by the name of Rob Niedermayer. Drafted from the Medicine Hat Tigers, Robbie had 77 points in 52 games in his final junior year, and made the jump to the Panthers immediately. Playing in 65 games his rookie season for a club that was coached by the late Roger Nielson, the Panthers posted the best record for an expansion team, going 33-34-17 for a total of 83 points. As defensive as Nielson was, the Panthers scored 233 goals that season. They also gave up the same amount while frustrating the dickens out of almost every team they played. Much like last years version, there weren’t too many games that those Panthers weren’t in, and they managed to win a few they likely shouldn’t have.
Niedermayer was expected to continue the scoring clip in the NHL that he showed in juniors, but it just wasn’t meant to be. While his best season came during the Panthers run for the Stanley Cup in 1995-1996 when he scored 26 goals and had 35 assists, his was never quite able to duplicate those, or surpass them. As his production steadily decreased so did the patience of the organization as well as many of the fans. Niedermayer had the “bar” set high for him, and after only one more time numbers that were acceptable, his play was lacking. Points were down, his effort seemed to be missing, and the boo birds (yes Florida has boo birds) voiced their opinion. He would be traded in 2001, at the draft in the package that brought the Panthers Valeri Bure. Niedermayer went on the have a respectable career as a defensive forward for Calgary, Anaheim, and New Jersey before retiring after one season with the Buffalo Sabres.
As I look down the list of players drafted after Niedermayer, there seem to have been two, maybe three players that could have been taken other than Niedermayer. Easier said than done since we know how things panned out, but how much different could things have been if the Florida Panthers had selected Jason Arnott instead? Big at 6′ 5″ and 244 lbs, Arnott is still playing today (well not right now), and has consistently put up very solid numbers in both goals and assists. He’s scored more than 20 goals in 12 NHL seasons, won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2000, and is 5th among all active players in power play goals. Arnott has always played the game with just enough sandpaper to go along with his skill. While he may not posses the hardest or most accurate shot, he has a nose for the net, and is more than willing to use his body and finish his checks. Playing a typical North American style, and being a leader on the ice and in the dressing room has made Jason an attractive part of any NHL team looking to upgrade their roster.
His rough and tough style of play has caused him to miss a few games throughout his career, but nonetheless, besides the lockout shortened 94-95 season, Arnott played less than 62 games only once in his 18 year career. His leadership skills have often found him to be either a captain, or one of his clubs alternates. To this day, Arnott can help any team that is making that playoff push, as he could be a very valuable player on either your third or fourth line. Arnott was taken just two picks after Niedermayer by the Edmonton Oilers, and while we will never know if this would have been a better pick or not, it’s fun to look back and ask what if.
Check back next time when I take a look at 1994.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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