The 2nd year of transition has come and passed in Florida with success. After going for quick success, the Panthers started the rebuilding process in 1997 and 1998-99 looks like a success. After years of bust draft picks, traded away prospects, and terrible rookies (Washburn, for example), the Class of 1999 offers hope for the Panthers for many years to come.
The graduate class of 1999 includes the goal-scoring Mark Parrish, BIG Peter Worrell, the flashy Oleg Kvasha, and the most anonymous Czech Olympian: Jaroslav Spacek.
Here is a review of the 1999 graduates. They all performed well in certain areas, but also need a lot of work in other areas. 3 of the 4 had short AHL stints as their apprenticeship came to a completion. This is Part 1 of a 3-Part Panthers Prospects Review Series, the other 2 will come out early next month.
Mark Parrish – LW (73 games, 24g-13a-37pts 25pim).
A gifted natural goal-scorer, Mark Parrish wowed the Panthers brass with a scorching pre-season, and continued his hot streak into the regular season with a 2-goal effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His early season exploits also included a 4-goal game against the Blackhawks, and another 2-goal effort (Both goals in a 2-1 win) in Philadelphia.
Originally drafted by the Avalanche, he was traded for Tom Fitzgerald when Parrish and the Avalanche couldn’t agree to a contract. He had amassed 54 goals in 54 WHL games during the 1997-98 and possesses a nose for the net. He scored many of his goals on the rush as he likes to recieve passes from the wing (usually the left side), and fire the puck in the net. Parrish possesses good speed, but doesn’t carry the puck often, preferring to get into position to score. Mark also displayed good deflection ability and was good at fighting for position in front of the net when he tried hard enough.
It was somewhat shocking and disheartening to hear that Parrish had not been among the 3 Calder Trophy finalists. His 24 goals topped all rookies and his totals were good considering the prime ice-time given to other rookies like Milan Hejduk, Chris Drury, and Brendan Morrison. However, given the low amount of attention Florida gets, and his mid-season demotion, Mark’s chances at winning the Calder were low at best.
It was an up and down season for Parrish. His goals came in bunches and usually in pairs. He would dominate a game with his goal scoring, and then dissappear in others. In early January, Mark Parrish was a healthy scratch, and then was sent down to New Haven (AHL) for 2 games (Where he scored 1 goal) and was promptly called back when the injury bug hit the big club.
Panthers Coach Terry Murray was critical of Parrish’s play off of the puck defensively and wanted Parrish to improve in that area. In games Parrish didn’t score, he wasn’t making an impact in other parts of the game, appearing not to be on the ice at all. This was the main sticking point between Parrish getting regular 2nd line ice time and riding the pines. Parrish does not initiate a great deal of contact and will never kill penalties, but when the goals don’t come, the defense needs to be there.
It’s not as if Parrish has a bad attitude towards defense, in fact, as Parrish brings a refreshing enthusiam to the Panthers. He works hard and has a spunky, youthful attitude. His defense did improve some during the 2nd half of the season, and having Bure and Ciccarelli around will allow Parrish to learn different ways to score goals. After playing in the offensive-minded NCAA and the WHL, Parrish took his knocks and will continue to develop his defensive and offensive games. His confidence took a beating during long stretches without goals, and this will be something he will have to learn to cope with.
Parrish, like most offensive players, seems the most likely candidate to have a sophomore slump. He can be expected to score another 20-25 goals and Panthers GM Bryan Murray said room will be made for Mark Parrish to get more ice time. Parrish will be a solid goal-scorer for the years to come, and together with Dvorak, Kvasha, Novoseltsev, Bure, and Whitney, provides the Panthers with a good core of young, speedy, offensive weapons.
Oleg Kvasha – RW (68 games, 12g-13a-25pts 45pim).
A rather anonymous mid-round prospect, Kvasha came into the NHL with a bang, as he had 3 assists in his first 2 games. His first NHL goal was a thing of beauty, as he went 1-on-1 with Sabres Daryl Shannon, threaded the puck between Shannon’s legs, and then beat Dominik Hasek with a backhand shot. This flashiness is what brings people to believe Kvasha can be a major offensive threat in the NHL despite mediocre offensive numbers the last 3 years.
Oleg, like Parrish, had an roller coaster season as well. Oleg would find himself on the Power Play one night, and on the 4th line the next night. It was confusing to me why Coach Terry Murray was playing games with Kvasha like this. Perhaps he wanted to give Kvasha a taste of prime ice time to develop and showcase his skills, or perhaps Murray was just being himself :). But if there is one area that Kvasha excels at, it’s the Power Play.
Oleg is still adjusting to playing in the NHL and the North American game in general. Being 6’5″, playing in a tighter ice surface provides Oleg’s lanky body some problems. Oleg still has to learn to be a big player in tight quarters. On the Power Play, and in open ice, Kvasha’s talent comes to life as he is able to utilize his fast skating and shifty stickhandling. Kvasha needs space to operate and will always be a deadly threat on 4-on-4’s and other open-ice situations.
Oleg will always have problems as he does not like to go into corner traffic and will try and skate around people, rather than fight for position. This, however, does not apply to his play in front of the net. Kvasha will almost seem like a Kamikaze Pilot when the puck is near the net. Kvasha will skate hard to the net and put his body on the line for scoring chances. He often gets pulverized, but is willing to pay the price to score goals.
What made Kvasha’s entry into the NHL a lot smoother than Parrish’s is the fact Kvasha had already had one season in the AHL. Kvasha’s attention to the defensive side was evident with his consistent backchecking. Kvasha marked his man well and his defensive maturity was exceptional for one his age. Seeing this, Coach Murray tried Kvasha on the Penalty Kill and gave him some minor checking assignments throughout the year.
Kvasha’s skating is unique to say the least. It is evident that Kvasha has speed. For a 6’5″ player, he has exceptional speed, with powerful strides that eat up ice and allow him to cover long distances in a very short time. What differs Kvasha from others is that he is so agile…in a bad way. He is very shifty and quick on his feet, but has developed a style of skating on his edges. You combine this with his high center of gravity, and you get a skater than will get knocked down a lot.
At a wispy 205 pounds, Kvasha’s low weight and high center of gravity hurt him last year. Kvasha was put on the Penalty Kill, but lost an awful lot of faceoffs (he only won 28.1% of faceoffs taken) as he couldn’t generate enough quickness or power to win faceoffs. Kvasha was also easily knocked around and pushed off of the puck. The key for Kvasha is to gain around 15-20 solid pounds of lower body weight. Kvasha doesn’t need to gain a great deal of weight and be slowed down like Alexander Mogilny of the Vancouver Canucks, but Kvasha will need to lower his center of gravity and plant himself more firmly in the ice. He seems like a feather on the ice, graceful yet weak.
Kvasha is a solid young player with the potential to be a 2nd or 3rd line regular on any team. His point total was impressive, seeing as he only played about 12 minutes a game per average (Murray and his head-games again). His maturity and attention to the defensive side gained the praises of the coaching staff. He should score 30-40 points next season and his peak scoring limit will be based on how well Kvasha develops to playing in a small rink. His off-season development will be a big key to futute success, as he will need to bulk up and develop more balance.
Peter Worrell – LW/RW (62games, 4g-5a-9pts 258pim).
Peter Worrell was the big man on campus and made his presence known in the NHL right away. His 258 penalty minutes were the 3rd highest total in the NHL and he became a fan favorite in Florida with his pugilistic ability. Like Parrish, Worrell was sent down to New Haven (AHL) for a short time. He came back in the 2nd half and provided big hits, goals, and fights.
The main problem with Peter Worrell this season was his tendancy to depend on his fighting alone. He would be invisible and too passive. Worrell is at his best when he is shooting his mouth off, and laying players flat on the ice with one of his big hits.
At 6’6″, Worrell is an intimidating figure. He also has the potential to be an impact player that can spark his teammates with a big hit, a good scrap, or even a big goal. 2 of his 4 goals this year were Game Winning Goals, while his others provided obvious lifts of spirit to his teammates. Worrell is popular with his teammates and will protect them loyally.
Worrell possess a hard, accurate wrist shot, and has the potential to top out at 10 goals a season. This does not mean, however, that he should become like Donald Brashear, and think that he is a goal scorer. Worrell got to the NHL with scrapping and hitting, and that’s what will keep him there. His hard work and grinding, along with his good shot, will allow the goals to come naturally. Expect about 5 or 6 goals, 15 points, and 250+ penalty minutes from big Peter Worrell next season.
Jaroslav Spacek – D (63games, 3g-12a-15pts 28pim).
When I watched Jaroslav Spacek play for the gold-medal winning Czech Republic Olympic team, I was astounded to learn that he wasn’t drafted by an NHL team. Luckily for Panthers fans, Jaroslav was drafted in the 5th round of the 1998 draft the following summer. At 24, and with many seasons of Swedish and Czech League experience behind him, Jaroslav had the potential to make an immediate impact with the Panthers. His first season was solid.
Spacek is a smallish defenseman who plays a solid 2-way game. He was brought to the Panthers in hopes of providing offense from the blue-line, although that is the area where he struggled the most. His defensive smarts were most welcome, as his solid play earned him time with Panthers #1 defenseman Robert Svehla. Spacek led all Panthers with a +15 rating, and showed the ability to play a bit above his 5’11” frame.
Where Spacek didn’t shine was the Power Play. Despite his offensive prowess, he didn’t produce a lot with the man-advantage. He had 2 Power Play goals early in the season, and was then sent down to New Haven (AHL) for more Power Play practice. He produced 12 points (4 of them goals) in 14 games for New Haven and was quickly brought back up to the NHL. With Boyle, Svehla, Ratchuk, Jovanovski (before the big trade), and Viktor Kozlov manning the points, Spacek got very little Power Play icetime after his promotion.
What Spacek makes up for in size, he makes up in heart and defensive smarts. He plays angles very well and will ride his attacker into the corner or force a bad angle shot. He doesn’t lose his check often, and is very smart when he pinches in from the point. His +15 mark was a indication of his great Even Strength play, but his Penalty Killing and Power Play abilities remain weak.
Defense is a hard position to learn, and no doubt Spacek’s 15 points was solid for a rookie defenseman. If he can develop to be more of a threat on the Power Play, he would be an even better NHL defenseman. He has good passing, and offensive potential. With Murray looking for somebody to quarterback the Power Play, Spacek will get his fair share of Power Play ice time.
Spacek will no doubt be a solid NHL blue liner for years to come. His 78 Hits in 63 games was impressive for a smallish defenseman, and his skills are all above average. Coming into his sophomore season, Spacek will be expected to play more on the Special Teams, and will probably produce 20-25 points if all goes well.
Not only did the Panthers graduate 4 prospects into full time NHL duty, they managed to graduate 4 solid, impact players into the NHL. While they aren’t star quality, they will be part of the foundation being laid for the future. In Part 2 of the Panthers Prospects Review Series, I will be looking at future graduates, the possible Class of 2000. I will review and analyse players that are likely to make an impact into the NHL and become everyday players, such as Ivan Novoseltsev, Marcus Nilson, and Chris Allen.