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20 Years Ago: A Whirlwind Start

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
The Panthers management team following the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft (Credit: Bruce Bennett Studios).

Six months.

In just that short amount of time, the Panthers started to take shape.

From H. Wayne Huizenga being awarded an expansion team in December of 1992 to the selection of 24 players in the expansion draft in June of 1993, it was certainly a whirlwind for the men in charge.

In between those monumental dates, the newly named Panthers would put their management team together. They hired Bob Clarke as their Vice President and General Manager (March 1), named the great Bill Torrey as their president (April 19), named Dean Jordan as the Vice President of Business Operations and Alternate Governor (April 21) and put the final touches on the hierarchy as they named Roger Nielson as their first head coach (June 2).

For Torrey, being part of an expansion team wasn’t something new. He had been through the same situation with the Oakland Seals in 1967 and the New York Islanders in 1972, building the latter into a four-time Stanley Cup champion. The time frame for the Panthers however, is something he’ll never forget.

“At least in the case of Oakland the expansion was known for a year, year and a half ahead of time so teams had all kinds of time to prepare. The Islanders we were finalized in January and the draft was June,” recalled Torrey. “The Panthers was not finalized until April so we had nobody, nothing. We didn't even have a secretary.

“We had a very, very short period of time to get prepared, to get geared up. We got Clarkie (and myself) and then we went from there. That's the shortest period of time that any two teams came into the league and had an expansion draft was when Anaheim and ourselves came in.”

Heading into the expansion draft held in Quebec City, Quebec on June 24, 1993, Torrey and Clarke had a lot to do and with little to work with. With no time to hire a scouting staff, most of the initial Panthers team, would come do to their due diligence. Of course timing came into play once again on finding out about the available players.

“The league didn't come up with the expansion draft (list) until a month before so we had hardly any time to prepare,” said Torrey. “We didn't have a lot of time. We had to check and see if guys were healthy, what would they think about coming to Florida.

“There was a lot of speculation like "Florida, what the heck”.”

Put together by Huizenga, the combination seemed to work as Torrey and Clarke forged ahead on the same path. That was a far cry from the times they spent on opposing sides with Torrey heading the Islanders and Clarke in charge of the division rival Philadelphia Flyers.

“Clarkie and I worked really well together,” said Torrey. “Obviously over the years prior to that, we had been very competitive opponents.”

Having Nielson in place as the new bench boss prior to the expansion draft helped a lot as Panthers management team could select players that would fit into his system. Pouring over the list of players left available by other teams, something jumped out time and time again.

1993 NHL Expansion Draft
# Overall Player Team From
1. John Vanbiesbrouck Vancouver
4. Mark Fitzpatrick Quebec
5. Darren Puppa Toronto
7. Milan Tichy Chicago
10. Paul Laus Pittsburgh
12. Joe Cirella NY Rangers
13. Alexander Godynyuk Calgary
15. Gord Murphy Dallas
18. Steve Bancroft Winnipeg
20. Stephane Richer Boston
21. Gord Hynes Philadelphia
24. Tom Fitzgerald NY Islanders
25. Jesse Belanger Montreal
27. Scott Levins Winnipeg
30. Scott Mellanby Edmonton
32. Brian Skrudland Calgary
33. Mike Hough Washington
35. Dave Lowry St Louis
38. Bill Lindsay Quebec
40. Andrei Lomakin Philadelphia
41. Randy Gilhen Tampa Bay
43. Doug Barrault Dallas
46. Marc LaBelle Ottawa
48. Pete Stauber Detroit

“Once we got the list of players, there's one thing that hit us right away and it was the factor obviously in bringing Roger in here as coach, was that while there weren't a lot of goal scorers, there wasn't much offense there, there were a lot of very competitive, hard working good defensive type players,” said Torrey. “So that's what we did. We knew were going to get decent goaltending and we knew that the overall defensive abilities of the drafts were so that was a big help.”

With the way the expansion draft was set up, both Anaheim and Florida would rotate selections with each round flipping whom would go first. Florida selected first and with the goaltenders up, selected Vancouver netminder John Vanbiesbrouck.

“Vanbiesbrouck was a surprise,” said Torrey. “We thought he would be traded or moved off. We didn't think he would be there.”

After selecting the Nordiques’ Mark Fitzpatrick and then Toronto’s Darren Puppa (who was reclaimed by Tampa Bay), the defense was next. There, Florida selected players that would become fixtures in the early years, including Paul Laus and Gord Murphy. Selecting eight blueliners, the forwards finished out the expansion draft. There, Florida picked up Tom Fitzgerald, Jesse Belanger, Scott Mellanby, Brian Skrudland, Mike Hough, Dave Lowry and Bill Lindsay among others.

The two biggest forward surprises for Torrey were Skrudland, the Panthers first captain, who was left available by Calgary as well as Fitzgerald who was with the Islanders. He wasted no time in picking someone that he knew all to well, selecting Fitzgerald with their first available forward slot.

“I drafted him as an amateur on the Island and I was very surprised he was available because he was young and he was strong,” said Torrey. “He was a very competitive player. He wasn't a big goal scorer but like I said, there was none in the draft. Period.”

After going through Phase II in which San Jose, Tampa Bay and Ottawa could claim two players each, Florida and Anaheim were left with their initial rosters.

“The one thing Bobby and I, once we made this list, we knew that these were our guys,” said Torrey. “No. 1 our goaltending was going to be competitive. Second of all, defense was going to be good size, experienced and very competitive, physically. And we were good down the middle.”

There would be an Entry Draft, trades and signings before the Panthers would take to the ice for their first game on October 6, 1993 in which they tied the Chicago Blackhawks 4-4 at Chicago Stadium, but that Expansion Draft really got Florida going.

It was a start.

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