With the announcement 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.
Today we take a look at the first round of 1994. The Florida Panthers who were coming off a very successful first season, landed the top pick in the draft and made a very solid choice with their pick. Ed Jovanovski, a big, offensively talented blue liner who could score, and pass in addition to playing with a nasty snarl was an easy choice. The Panthers who were a defensive minded team at that time, wanted to shore up their blue line, and by adding Jovo, they felt that found a player that could be built around for a very long time.
Jovo spent one more season in juniors with the Windsor Spitfires before making the jump to the NHL in 1995-1996 to help the Panthers make their first ever playoff appearance (sound familiar?). With his timely and crushing checks, to go along with the willingness to drop the gloves when needed, Jovanovski quickly became known as JovoCop by the faithful of South Florida. He played 70 games in that first season learning the trade of defence from guys like Gord Murphy and Terry Carkner, as the Cats defence continued to frustrate NHL teams. In addition to grabbing 21 points in the regular season, Jovo also accumulated 137 penalty minutes as he made sure that players like Stu Barnes, Ray Sheppard, and Martin Straka had space to display their offensive skills. Remember this hit on Eric Lindros?:
Jovo played for three and a half seasons in Florida, and when he unfortunately struggled as the team did during the 1998-1999 season he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Not sure what happened to his game, but it appeared that his confidence was shot, and his aggressive behavior was no longer trusted, and the booing that was delivered toward the end of his first tenure might have been a bit unwarrented. He was still under 25 years old at the time, and honestly was treated unfairly. The trade if you recall was part of the seven player deal that brought the Panthers Pavel Bure, as the Panthers who were searching for something to rejuvenate them, felt that the Russian Rocket was the answer.
Jovo played in Vancouver for six seasons and truly found his game, and made himself a valuable player on those Canucks teams. When he became a free agent in 2006 there was a rumor that he might be coming home again to Florida, however Jovo signed with the Phoenix Coyotes where he continued his solid two way play in the desert. But on July 1, 2011 Florida Panther general manager brought Jovo home again, signing the veteran defender to a four year contract. Jovo’s leadership, and knowledge of the game were brought back to the Panthers and more than outweighed the concerns of his age. Jovo was primarily the reason for the maturation of rookie defenceman Erik Gudbranson last season, as the skate is on the other foot now, with Gudbranson being the student, and Jovo being the teacher.
Still a physical presence as this video shows, Jovanovski came home and scored the first goal of the season last year for the Panthers on opening night at the Bank Atlantic Center (now named the BB&T Center). A perfect way to start the season as the Panthers went on to win the Southeast Division for the first time in their history, ending their decade long playoff drought.
Looking back at the rest of the draft pool that year, the first round had a few other solid options. Jeff O’Neill, Ryan Smyth, and Mattias Ohlund would also have been solid choices. There were a number of duds as well, as this pool of players wasn’t one of the best overall in round one. One player that was a first round pick that you may have forgotten about was Chris Wells. Yes, that Chris Wells. The Panthers who I know did not regret drafting Jovanovski, must have felt that they blew a chance at Wells who was taken at number 24. They later felt so torn about it, that they decided to trade Stu Barnes for him. And that started one of the many poor Panther trades that we’ve all lived with.
Other players taken in later rounds who went on to have some stellar careers were Milan Hejduk in round four. Marty Turco in the fifth round. And somehow, Daniel Alfredsson was taken in the sixth round 133rd overall. So as far as taking anyone else, I would have to say that the Panthers did just fine in this draft. Scouts do an enormous amount of work to try and determine if a prospects game will transition to the NHL or not. Many times it’s a hit, and many times it’s a miss.
Join us next time when we look at 1995, where the Panthers made a pretty decent selection, but oh how things could have been different if……..
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