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Vaulted: Jovanovski Selected 1st-Overall by Panthers in 1994 NHL Draft

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

The Florida Panthers were never the same after "JovoCop" joined the force.

Just one season after entering the league, the Panthers made a franchise-altering move when they passed over several highly-touted forwards to select defenseman Ed Jovanovski with the first-overall pick in the 1994 NHL Draft at the Hartford Civic Center back on June 28, 1994.

"I think back then it wasn't so clear-cut on where you were going to be drafted," Jovanovski said in 2018. "I only met with the top-three teams that year. From the heart, I didn't know that I was going to be No. 1 before the draft. I think that made the excitement when my name was called that much more special. It really hadn't gotten out who was going first. It was a thrill, an honor."

Like Jovanovski, pundits were also surprised to hear his name called ahead of the likes of Radek Bonk, Jason Bonsignore and other top offensive talents in the draft. But, in the end, it was Florida that ended up getting the last laugh, as Jovanovski certainly lived up to his top billing.

[The Vault: Check out this vintage Jovanovski jersey from the '90s] 

Runner-up for the Calder Trophy in 1996, Jovanovski notched 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 70 games during his rookie season. That same year, he also posted nine points (one goal, eight assists) during the postseason to help propel the hard-nosed Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final.

"The organization did a great job of telling me to just play my game and do what got me there," Jovanovski said of his rookie season. "They weren't expecting me to get 15 goals and 40 points in the first year. There were no expectations on that front. I think the pressure came from within.

"It came from just trying to just get better every day. For me, being the No. 1 pick, I think people looked at me as a piece to get the franchise to where they need to be quicker. Thankfully, the Panthers did a great job curbing those conversations for me. The front office did a great job."

For Jovanovski, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1996 is one of his fondest NHL memories.

"I was just a piece of the puzzle," Jovanovski said. "We had John Vanbiesbrouck, who had a stellar year, and then we all as a group chipped in to do what we did. You look at our team and it really wasn't built around one guy. We were all just pieces of the puzzle. But having that opportunity as a young guy, going to the Finals, I couldn't have dreamt of it any better."

Appearing in 362 games over two stints in South Florida (he also spent time in Vancouver and Phoenix), Jovanovski recorded 102 of his 500 career points in a Panthers uniform. And during his final two seasons with the Cats before retiring in 2014, he wore the "C" as the club's captain.

Over 18 seasons in the NHL, he registered 137 goals and 363 assists in 1,128 career games.

[The Vault: Check out this classic photo of Jovanovski from Breakaway Magazine]

In the more than two decades since the Panthers drafted Jovanovski, the team has only ever used the first-overall pick one other time, selecting defenseman Aaron Ekblad back in 2014.

"It's an honor," Jovanovski said of being a top pick. "To be a part of that group is special. It's ironic that Aaron and I are in the same neck of the woods. He's a Bell River, Ontario kid and my parents are up in Belle River now, and he's a defenseman. I think it was 20 years exactly after I'd been drafted that he was taken. It's something that's never going to get taken away from me."

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