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Seeking the Right Path

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


Some players step right up, others need time.

A whole lot of time.

When the Entry Draft begins Friday night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, a handful of draftees may be able step into the NHL come the 2007-08 season. But those few players, if any, will be the rare exception among the 210 chosen this weekend.

Players like Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux and Panthers’ right winger Nathan Horton and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester successfully made the jump from the draft to the NHL. But for most, being selected at the Entry Draft is the first step in what can be a circuitous route to the NHL.

Consider Martin Lojek. Drafted by the Panthers in 2003, the 6-5 defenseman didn’t get his first taste of the NHL until Feb. 3. If you’re counting, that’s 1,129 days.

"There’s no set formula for every player coming out of the draft,” said Scott Luce, the Panthers’ director of scouting. “Each player is different and each player has a different timetable as to when he’s going to be ready to play physically and mentally in the NHL.”

And that’s the beauty and the beast of the NHL Entry Draft because the real work begins immediately after a player is selected.

“There’s sort of a combination of things that happen,” Luce said. “As soon as the player is drafted, that day, they’re introduced to the organization and provided contact numbers and they get an off-ice conditioning program.”

For those players who spend the following year in junior hockey, Duane Sutter, the Panthers’ director of player development, along with Luce and other scouts in North America and Europe will watch and visit the draftees numerous times throughout the coming season.

Luce figures Michael Frolik, the Panthers top pick (10th overall) in last year’s draft, was seen in Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior League a minimum of 10 times by Sutter and other scouts, and many of those visits were over several days.

Luce believes goaltenders have the longest development curve after being drafted. “Add to that the fact there’s only 60 in the league at one time,” he said. Defensemen, Luce said, usually need extra time because of the physical and mental adjustments moving from junior hockey to the NHL and having to defend faster, bigger and stronger players.

"Sometimes forwards will have an easier time assimilating, especially is there’s a specific dimension in their game a team needs them to contribute immediately,” he added.

The progress of Panther rookies will be evaluated the first week of September during Rookie Camp in Kitchener, Ontario. During that time, Luce said, “They hold their destiny in their hands.” Those who impress GM and coach Jacques Martin will be invited to Panther training camp.

Luce offered his evaluation of seven of the Panthers top picks from previous drafts.

On Frolik: “He had a real good season in Rimouski. He had come from the Czech Republic and he adjusted to North American life and his English is very good. His development is on course. If he does wind up going back to Rimouski he’ll be a well-rounded player and he would go to the World Juniors in his home country.

On Kenndal McArdle (20th overall pick 2005): “He had a good, strong finish for Vancouver (of the Western Hockey League), winning the Memorial Cup. What was great to see was his willingness to accept a different role in Vancouver (after starting the year in Moose Jaw). In Moose Jaw he was kind of the go-to guy. In Vancouver he was very effective in a different role. He turns pro and he seems to have a lot of momentum. He has lots of speed, character and tenacity. He’ll push the older guys (during training camp) to be better players.”

Anthony Stewart (25th overall pick 2003): “Anthony is still a relatively young man at 22. He’s had to work through some stuff, injuries and such. For a young guy, sometimes that’s a big, psychological barrier to come through. They never have trouble and then they need to adjust. That’s part of being a professional, of bringing your ‘A’ game. I think he wants to show the organization he can be the power forward we drafted him to be.”

Goalies Tyler Plante (32nd overall pick 2005) and David Shantz (37th overall pick 2004): “They’re both big guys. David is a technical goalie. Tyler is more athletic, very competitive. One will be in Rochester (in the American Hockey League) and the other in Fort Myers (East Coast League). It will be an interesting battle.”

Defenseman Derrick LaPoint (116th overall pick 2006): “He had a very good development camp. He’s going to the University of North Dakota but, for us as a staff, his upside is high right now. He’s a big, rangy guy who’s good offensively and defensively. With some added strength and coaching, we feel he’s a prospect who’s ceiling just keeps getting higher and higher.”
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