1. Nathan Horton, 19, C
The third overall pick in 2003 moved straight from Oshawa of the OHL to the NHL for the 2003-04 season.
Horton played reasonably well while adjusting to the faster-paced game. However, his season was ended when he suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of January. Horton is a strong skater for a bigger player, and is extremely aggressive on the ice, loving to rough up his opponents, and make it unpleasant for opposing defenders to linger around him. Certainly built in the
power forward mold, Horton is versatile as well, able to play both center and right wing. His ability to stay healthy is a concern, however, as his style of play tends to result in him missing a significant amount of games. Horton certainly has the ability to be an effective top line player and rack up 75-80 points down the road, and he does enough beyond scoring to be a legitimate contender to be a “franchise” player for the organization if
everything comes together right for the youngster. Horton will be playing in the AHL for the first time this season once he has recovered from his injury fully, under permission of a special exemption for players who are underaged for the league but spent most of last season in the NHL. If the lockout does not come to an end, his time in San Antonio with the Rampage will only be interrupted by the World Junior Championships, which he
is still eligible to compete in for Canada.
2. Anthony Stewart, 19, RW
The Panthers “other” first round selection in 2003 was Anthony Stewart, yet another big, punishing forward with good speed and skills. Stewart is one of the most impressive physical specimens to be drafted in quite some time. He spent 2003-04 playing with the Kingston Frontenacs, as well as representing Team Canada in the 2004 WJC, where he won a silver medal and was one of the
team’s most impressive players. At the WJC he showed the world that he was more than just a big body, as his puck handling skills and cycling ability were truly showcased at the event. He plays a good all around game, not only excelling offensively, but dishing out punishing checks whenever he can, and playing proper positional hockey on the defensive end of the rink. Stewart has the potential to be a first line player, although some question his future offensive upside. His decision making is not the best, and GM Mike Keenan would like to see him use his huge frame even more. Stewart will return for another season of major junior in Kingston and is a lock to play on Canada’s WJC team.
3. Lukas Krajicek, 20, D
Lukas Krajicek split his time between the NHL and AHL last season, getting into 18 games with the Florida Panthers and 54 with San Antonio. While with the Panthers, Krajicek’s offensive production was sound, registering seven points in just 18 games, seeing limited
ice time in that span. Krajicek possesses very good offensive skills and a great work ethic, tirelessly working to perfect his game. He is a good skater in all directions and an excellent passer who can start every rush out of the zone off properly. He is undoubtedly a
power play quarterback in-waiting for the Panthers. There are some concerns about his willingness to be physical. He prefers to stick check and play positional hockey rather than take the body or deliver a hit. Despite that, he has shown that he will fight if the situation arises. He is well on his way into developing into a top pairing type of defender, although he would most likely play on the second set in Florida because of the presence of Jay Bouwmeester. If not for the lockout, Krajicek most likely would have split his time between the AHL and NHL once again. Krajicek probably will be a full time NHL player in 2005-06.
4. Rotislav Olesz, C, 19
Unfortunately for Rotislav Olesz, what most people will remember about his 2003-04 season is him laying on the ice after being destroyed by Dion Phaneuf in the World Juniors. However, he rebounded from that hit, recovered from the concussion, and ended up with a career best 12 points in 35 games while playing for Vitkovice HC of the Czech Extraleague. Olesz is described by many as a character player who possesses a good all around game. A shifty player, Olesz excels in the faceoff circle and can both pass and finish. He plays a hard-nosed game and isn’t afraid to skate into traffic. The big issue voiced by many right now is a concern over his offensive abilities. Some feel that he may have been an early developer and doesn’t have much more room to improve. Olesz plays the type of game that will get him into the NHL, but his offensive game must come around in North America if he is to live up to the expectations of being selected
seventh overall. Olesz signed a contract to play for Sparta in the Czech Republic, and after five games this season has one goal.
5. Rob Globke, 21, RW
Rob Globke spent 2003-04 finishing his college career as a senior with Notre Dame. He led the team in overall points for the second straight season, as well as goals, assists, shots, and game-winning goals. The successful senior season was just the icing on the cake of a very good collegiate career, which Globke will leave with his name all over the Notre Dame record book. At
6’2, 201 lbs, Globke is a very strong winger who possesses a good offensive game. He has a hard shot and has an uncanny knack to create a scoring chance out of seemingly nothing. He uses his reach very well while controlling the puck, and reads the ice well, using his very good acceleration to get involved in every developing rush. Globke’s biggest strength is probably his ability to play one-on-one against opponents, as he’s proven very difficult to contain in college. Globke probably will end up as a second line player in the NHL, although he most likely won’t see full time NHL action for at least two full seasons. He will spend all 2004-05 in San Antonio, and most likely will see spot action with Florida the year after.
6. Kamil Kreps, 19, C
A second round selection in 2003, Kreps finished the 2003-04 season with 46 points in 57 games with the Brampton Battalion in the OHL. The young Czech scored 19 times. During the summer he signed his first professional contract with the Panthers. At
6’1, 187 lbs, Kreps needs to bulk up a little bit to help him handle the physicality of the NHL. He has very good puck skills, and is an equally good skater, particularly demonstrated in his ability to sharply cut and change direction while handling the puck. His shooting needs a little work, but is on its way to being effective. He is continuing to work on his defensive game as he has shown he is committed to becoming an all-around player. Although 19 right now, Kreps turned 20 in late November, making him eligible for the AHL, where he will play with San Antonio this season. Kreps will need at least a pair of years on the farm to round out his game and physically mature.
7. David Shantz, 18, G
Picked 37th overall in 2004, Shantz was the fifth goaltender taken in a draft deep with netminders. His stock rose late in the season particularly due to his excellent play in the OHL playoffs, where he guided the Mississauga IceDogs to the Eastern Division Championship. He was selected to the CHL All-Rookie team as well. At
6’1, 192 lbs he is adequately sized for a goaltender, and was considered one of the best technical goalies available in 2004. He is a goalie who likes to play the angles and uses his body very well to restrict the shooting lanes of the opposition. His only real weakness at this point is that he is very green and will take a good deal of time to develop. He will be given all the time he needs, however, as Florida is in no great hurry with Roberto Luongo between the pipes. He returns to the IceDogs this year, and probably will continue to play in the OHL in 2005-06.
8. Filip Novak, 22, D
A second-round pick of the New York Rangers back in 2000, Novak was acquired as part of the Pavel Bure trade. An ankle injury in the
preseason of 2003 kept Novak out of the lineup for every game of the season. However, he is back for 2004-05.
Much like Krajicek, he is an offensive defenseman, but Novak has seen his rating slip due to the questions surrounding any player after missing an entire season due to injury. He’s smart in the offensive zone, and has the right tools to be a
power play specialist, but it may be difficult for him to establish himself with Krajicek also in the system. He’s a bit undersized, weighing only 194 lbs, but his offensive abilities should make up for that. Novak will be with the Rampage this year, and should contend for a job with the Panthers when the NHL starts up again.
9. Gregory Campbell, 20, LW
Campbell began his pro hockey career in 2003-04 by appearing in San Antonio, compiling 29 points in 76 games played, and finishing with a rating of -13, a bit of a disappointment. In October he got into two Panthers games, and was unable to register a point, although he did get into a bit of a scrap with Dan Lacouture at the end of a game against the Rangers. Campbell is a player destined to play on a checking line, and is very, very effective in his role. He is a speedy skater who has the ability to shift gears and turn quickly, wreaking havoc on defenders. The Panthers would like to see him add a bit more bulk to his upper body and be a bit more physical, as he is sometimes chastised for not being physical enough while forechecking. While not inept offensively, Campbell simply is better suited to play as a checking line player and future penalty killer. Campbell most likely would have spent 2004-05 with San Antonio
anyway, so the lockout does not effect him much more than the occasional call-up. He may be ready for the 2005-06 season if a roster spot is available.
10. Dany Roussin, 19, C
Roussin averaged nearly two points per game with the Rimouski Oceanic in 2003-04, scoring 117 points in just 66 games
played. Despite his excellent performance, Roussin received little credit or recognition of his fantastic season as many were critical of his numbers due to the fact that he spent much of the season playing with Sidney Crosby. Roussin is a smallish forward with very good playmaking skills, and an ability to finish. He has good, soft, hands and reads the ice well. It is difficult to project an expectation for Roussin because of
his top linemate, but he has shown that he can produce without Crosby as well. While nobody is expecting such monstrous numbers at the NHL level, Roussin has the potential to be a second line center. If he can continue to show the world he is not dependant on Crosby for his success, the Panthers will have stolen him in the seventh round. Roussin is back in the QMJHL this year, but will most likely most to San Antonio for 2005-06.
11. Stefan Meyer, 19, LW
Played with the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2003-04, making it to the Memorial Cup Tournament, where Meyer added two more goals to an already impressive season. During the regular season, Meyer
totaled 75 points. Meyer is surprisingly strong on the puck for not a large player, and is a
goal scorer more than a playmaker. He has good finishing skills and a knack for finding the net. He is a bit inconsistent, but is able to win a lot of battles for loose pucks with good body positioning. The biggest concern with Meyer is his skating, which looks awkward and he is very slow off the mark. During the
offseason Meyer was able to participate at Canada’s WJC Summer Development camp along with a host of other Panthers. Meyer is back with Medicine Hat this year and currently has nine points in seven games.
12. Jeremy Swanson, 20, D
Jeremy Swanson posted solid offensive stats in 2003-04 with the Barrie Colts, finishing with 6, goals, 28 assists for 34 points in 66 games played, good enough for sixth in team scoring. Despite the good numbers, Swanson is considered a defensive defenseman who simply possesses a good shot. Although not being tall,
he is extremely strong, and showed it last season dominating opposing forwards often with ease.
He is settling into a position as a role player on a team, and although he could be a top four defenseman, he most likely will end up on the team’s third pairing, depending on what happens with his offensive production and ability to physically dominate at a professional level. Swanson will spend the year with San Antonio.
13. David Booth, 19, LW
Picked in the second round, 53rd overall by Florida in the 2004 Entry Draft, Booth was drafted from the college ranks, having spent the previous two seasons with Michigan State University. Last year Booth saw his point total cut in half, dropping from 36 in his freshman season to just 18 as a
sophomore. However, part of the decline in points can be attributed to an early season knee injury that kept him out of a few games, as well as missing time to play for the USA WJC Gold Medal winning team. Booth is a developing
power forward to plays a straight ahead game. He is at his best when crashing and banging and driving to the net. He needs to be more consistent and establish himself physically in the offensive zone in order to make room for his teammates. Booth is back with MSU this year as a junior, and opens his season this weekend.
14. Mikael Vuorio, 20, G
Vuorio was picked in 2002, in the sixth round, by the Panthers, and has remained a bit of a mystery since. Last season, in 19 games played for Mikkeli Jukurit in the Finnish junior league he had an excellent record of 12-2-5 to go with a GAA of 1.87 and .917 save percentage. He is a goalie with good quickness and a very good glove. However, at
6’0, 165 lbs, he is very thin and frail, and may have difficulties dealing with the crash the net style at the NHL level. With Luongo established as a premier goaltender, Vuorio is going to be brought along at his own pace in Finland. This year he
is playing with Lukko in SM-Liiga.
15. Petr Taticek, C, 21
Taticek spent 2003-04 in the AHL playing with San Antonio, finishing up with 19 points in 63 games played. He was unable to earn a callup for any length of time to Florida. Taticek is a fairly tall man at
6’3, but is a little on the thin side right now, remaining under 200lbs. He has the frame to add the muscle on which he needs, though, so size may not be a factor if he gets in the weight room some more. Taticek is a playmaking center with good hockey sense and the ability to read the ice well. He is competent in his own zone and strong in the faceoff circle. Taticek appears to be on course as a third line forward, with the slight possibility of being a second line player. He may challenge for a job in 2005-06 in the NHL.
16. Vince Bellissimo, 21, C
Bellissimo led the Western Michigan Broncos in scoring last season with a combined total of 40 points in 38 games. He is a forward who loves to play right in front of the net and cause havoc for opposing goaltenders and defensemen. He is willing to stand in front of the net and take the punishment that goes along with that, and goes into corners to battle for all loose pucks, throwing his body around to keep defenders honest. In his own zone, Beillissimo is responsible, quick to get back, and sound positionally. Although he is fierce along the boards, and goes out of his way to lay the body, Bellissimo needs to add even more of a physical game to be effective at his style of play at the professional level. Bellissimo is a future grinder in the organization, who will probably spend all four years in college, and start playing in the AHL for the 2006-07 season.
17. Martin Lojek, 19, D
The Czech defenseman just completed his second season in North America, registering 14 points with the Brampton Battalion. He was, however, an abysmal -20 on the season. The hulking defender has a great deal of work to do on his game. At
6’5, 220 lbs, it is imperative that Lojek start to take advantage of his size and reach far more consistently on the defensive side. He is fairly disciplined with his play, but that could just be due to the fact that he is not physical enough. Overall his skating is poor and needs all-around work, and his demeanor on the ice must get nastier for him to be effective. Lojek is back in the OHL this season, and is headed in the direction of a depth defender. However, his size and strength still make him an interesting prospect.
18. James Pemberton, 20, D
Selected 124th overall by Florida in the 2003 Entry Draft, Pemberton spent the 2003-04 season with Providence College, where he recorded eight assists and 30 PIM in 37 games. At
6’4, over 210 lbs, Pemberton is a very big player who fits well into the mold of players Florida appears to be building for their future blueline. He was selected as a defender with offensive potential, but this has not developed in the past year or two at all. While he does possess, and has demonstrated, good puck moving skills, the numbers are not there. Despite the lack of offensive production last year, he did improve defensively a great deal, and played much of the season the team’s top pairing. Pemberton will continue to play in the collegiate ranks for the next two seasons.
19. Josh Olson, 23, LW
Another huge player in the system, Olson is a player who many hoped would evolve into a
power forward with his 6’5, 225 lbs frame. He spent most of last year with the Rampage, although he got into action in five NHL
games, scoring his first goal. Olson is a deceptively good skater, but does not use his frame enough, not just in initiating contact, but protecting the puck and battling for positioning along the boards. Olson has been a frustrating enigma for the Panthers, as he appears to have all the tools to be very successful, but is unable to get them all working at the same time. As a result Olson may be fortunate to stick in the NHL as a fourth liner. He did, however, receive a vote of confidence from the organization when GM Mike Keenan re-signed him in late July.
20. Victor Uchevatov, 21, D
Yet another monster-sized defenseman (6’4, 215lbs) in the organization, Uchevatov was a second round pick by the New Jersey Devils in 2001 and traded to the Panthers near the deadline last season. The big Russian spent most of the season with Albany, where he struggled mightily, notching just three assists in 52 games, and having a horrible -15 rating. However, upon arriving in San Antonio his game really stepped up as he finished with three goals and four assists and a
+2 rating in 22 games. He is a defensive specialist, and plays a very simple, but effective game. Like many youngsters, he needs to use his size more, as sometimes he is not aggressive or punishing enough on opposing forwards. His skating is bad, and sometimes this makes him look worse than he is in his own zone. However, as he gets used to his size and frame, his skating must improve or he will not go anywhere. Uchevatov could develop into a reliable third pairing defender. His offensive abilities are virtually unknown because he’s been used as a crease-clearing stay at home defenseman his entire career.
George Bachul, Aaron Vickers, DJ Powers, Robert Neuhauser, and Michael Conkey contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.