Celebrating the Cats 20th anniversary, I wanted to take a look back at three influential Panthers. The Draft is always important to a franchise, especially an expansion franchise. You really can't judge a player taken in a draft until many years down the road. The three Panthers who had big impacts on the franchise happen to be the first three 1st round picks in franchise history.
It was important for the Panthers to draft well right out of the gate to kick start the expansion franchise. The first ever pick was Rob Niedermayer, drafted 5th overall in 1993. Niedsy played seven years in a Panther uniform and though he didn't reach the lofty expectations many expected, he came in and was a steady contributor for the Panthers. His best year was the 1995-96 season when he had 28 goals and 61 points as the Cats made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. A very solid pick at No. 5, Robby went on to play 1,153 games for five clubs over 17 years, including a Stanley Cup with his brother Scott in 2007 in Anaheim. Definitely a resume worthy of a No. 5 overall pick.
In 1994, the Panthers had the first overall pick and it was critical to make the right choice. They got the "right guy" as defenseman Ed Jovanovski was taken above everybody else. In his second tour of duty with the Panthers, Jovo Cop is embarking on his 19th year in the NHL. It is year number six in a Panther uniform for the blue liner. Jovo spent his first four years in the NHL in Florida before being traded to Vancouver for Pavel Bure in the 1998-99 season. Jovo has played 1,091 NHL games and has been a 5-time All Star. It's awesome to see Eddie back home to finish his career with the team that drafted him first overall in 1994. No question looking back, the Panthers made the right pick.
In 1995, the Panthers had the 10th overall pick. That pick turned out to be forward Radek Dvorak. 36-yrs old, Radek is in year number 18 in the NHL. He had two separate stops with the Panthers and played nine years in a Cats uniform. He is second on the Panthers all-time games played list with 613. In his 18 years Dvorak has played over 1200 games for eight NHL clubs. Pretty impressive numbers for Dvo.
You add it all up and you get a total more than 3400 games and 53 years of NHL hockey. Amazing numbers. The Panthers got off to a great start and established themselves quickly in the NHL. A big part were these three outstanding Panthers.