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 back at the 1995 NHL Draft, and with that look comes an uneasy feeling. The Florida Panthers were able to choose Radek Dvorak with their 10th selection, and while that ultimately turned out to be a fine selection, it’s once again the players, and specifically one player that they didn’t take that one would find intriguing. Dvorak is second all time in games played for the Panthers with 613, which he accumulated in two separate stints in South Florida. Dvorak who made the jump from the draft right into NHL action in his first season, was part of the 1995-1996 team that went to the Stanley Cup final against the Colorado Avalanche. Dvorak played in 77 games in his rookie season, scoring 13 goals and adding 14 assists for 27 points. In 16 playoff games he had one goal and three assists.
Dvorak became very well known for his defensive play, and his penalty killing skills. Quick on his feet, a good puck handler with sharp passing skills, Dvorak has had a very respectable NHL career playing for the Panthers, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and the Dallas Stars. Dvorak is seventh all time on the Panthers scoring list with 268 points in his 613 games. He is 6th all time in goals with 113. Dvorak could typically be counted on for 15 goals, and 30 points per season, however one year in New York he scored 31 goals and had 36 assists, which has turned out to be his best season ever in the NHL. Likeable, respected, and a good teammate, Dvorak has been a solid citizen everywhere he’s played.
Going down the list of players that could have been selected instead of Dvorak, there was J.S. Giguere, Martin Biron, Jay McKee, and Petr Sykora. All who have had very respectable NHL careers, and any one of them would have looked good in a Florida Panther sweater. The number one pick in the ’95 draft was defenceman Bryan Berard, who despite an injury to his right eye in 2000, enjoyed a solid career himself. Berard’s only blemish was that he became the first NHL player to test positive for anabolic steroids.
If there was one player that could have changed the fortune of the Florida Panthers, it likely was to have come from this draft, and it was a player chosen immediately after Dvorak in the 11th spot. That player was Jarome Iginla who was taken by the Dallas Stars. Looking at his numbers in juniors and combining those with his size, I am amazed at how Iginla was not scooped up sooner by any of the 10 teams who picked before Dallas. Iginla has become one of the premier power forwards in the game today, and has scored 513 goals, won several awards such as the Art Ross Trophy, The Rocket Richard Trophy (twice), and the Mark Messier Leadership Award. The current captain of the Calgary Flames, Iginla has carved himself quite the career, and is extremely well respected both on and off the ice by his peers. A true gentleman and warrior at the same time, Iginla has embodied the type of player that every team would love having at least one of.
Despite not yet having won a Stanley Cup, Iginla is one of those players who deserves one more chance at a championship before he retires. A shoe in for the Hockey Hall of Fame, his career is one that many younger players can aspire to only hope they have. Imagine having Iginla skating up and down the right wing for the Panthers for the past 17 seasons. He is one of seven NHL players to have scored 30 goals or more in 11 consecutive seasons, and is also known for his generosity, and he donates to charity $2,000 for EACH goal he scores. A true ambassador of the game, I cannot imagine how different things might have been with Iginla here in South Florida.
Don’t feel too bad however, as we aren’t the only ones asking that question. Iginla never played a game for the Dallas Stars as he was traded to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk, who was in a salary dispute with the Flames at the time.
Join us next time as we look at 1996, a year that a player with the nickname “Bubba” was drafted.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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