If you've already been paying attention, you know that we're counting the Florida Panthers down, one at a time, from 289 all the way up to number one. For a detailed description on how the list was built, follow this link.
Yesterday, we took a quick look at Florida's all-time leader in goals, current Winnipeg Jets center Olli Jokinen (567 games, 188 goals, 231 assists). Today, we run down the career of defenseman Robert Svehla, who comes in at number two on our list.
Svehla was a 6' tall center from the city of Martin, Slovakia, population 58,000. As such, it is currently the eighth largest city in Slovakia. After three seasons with Dukla Trencin of the Czech League (132 games, 43 goals, 40 assists), the Calgary Flames selected him in the fourth round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, with the 78th overall pick. Instead of joining the Flames, he elected to join Malmo IF of the Swedish League, for most of three seasons (109 games, 44 goals, 48 assists). It was during this time that the Flames sent him to the Panthers with Magnus Svensson for third (Dmitri Vlasenkov) and fourth (Ryan Ready) round picks. Svehla would never again play professional hockey outside of the NHL.
Svehla joined the Panthers near the end of the strike-shortened 1994-95 season as a 26-year old rookie. He scored his first goal in his second game for the Panthers, a 4-2 win over the Quebec Nordiques on April 22nd. In five total games that season, he scored one goal on six shots with an assist and a plus-3 rating as the Panthers posted a 4-1-0 record with him in the lineup.
Svehla scored eight goals on 146 shots in 1995-96, leading the Panthers with what would remain a career high 49 assists. He had a minus-3 rating with 94 penalty minutes through a team fourth-best 81 games. He had multiple points on 11 occasions, including three three assist efforts. First in a 6-2 Florida win over the Ottawa Senators on October 13th, then two weeks later in a rematch with the Senators, a 4-1 Panthers win. He repeated the feat on February 18th, in a 6-4 win over the Dallas Stars. In the playoffs, he collected six assists while appearing in all 22 contests, also accruing 32 minutes in the penalty box.
Bringing the voodoo vs. Mario Lemieux (courtesy of vinndigs/YouTube)
1996-97 would see Svehla make his only NHL All-Star team appearance. He had 12 multi-point games, including a season high three (one goals, two assists) in a 5-2 win over the Senators on October 23rd. He scored a career high 13 goals on 159 shots, leading the team with 32 assists, finishing the season with a plus-2 rating and 86 penalty minutes. In Florida's five postseason contests, Svehla led the team with five points on one goal and four assists as the Panthers were eliminated by the New York Rangers in five.
In 1997-98, Svehla totalled nine goals on 144 shots with a team leading 34 assists in 79 contests. He ranked fifth on the club with 113 penalty minutes and finished the season with a minus-3 rating. From November 6th through the 14th, he totalled seven points in four games (one goals, six assists). On December 10th, he scored a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. On December 26th, he equalled his season high by dishing out three assists in another 5-2 Florida win over the Canes. He totalled seven additional two point games over the course of the season.
Svehla scored a goal and two assists for a season high three points on November 28th as the Panthers defeated the Buffalo Sabres 6-2. He appeared in 80 games through the 1998-99 season, scoring eight goals on 157 shots with a team fourth best 29 assists. He also had a minus-13 rating and 83 penalty minutes.
1999-00 would see Svehla rank third on the Panthers last playoff team for over a decade with 40 assists and a plus-23 rating. He also scored nine goals on 143 shots, ranking first on the team with 24:33 per game while appearing in all 82 contests. He finished the season with 64 PIM. He scored two goals and four assists over a three game period from October 16th through the 22nd. On January 17th, he scored two goals as the Panthers outhustled the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1. In the playoffs, he contributed one assist in four games against the New Jersey Devils, who swept Florida in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
In 2000-01, Svehla's offensive numbers tailed off while his ice time actually increased to a team second best 25:34, as he again appeared in all 82 contests. His six goals (on 121 shots) and team fourth best 22 assists both represented career lows for the former all-star. On December 27th, he again scored twice on the Flyers, the only bright spot in a 5-2 Philadelphia victory. He finished the season with a minus-8 rating and a team fourth most 76 penalty minutes.
2001-02 would be Svehla's final season in Sunrise, as the defenseman closed his Panthers career with seven goals on 119 shots and a Panthers second best 22 assists. He had a minus-19 rating and 87 penalty minutes, averaging a career high 25:41 average TOI. On February 26th, he dished out a season high three assists in a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals. After the season, Florida traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Dmitry Yushkevich.
Svehla spent one season in Toronto, and scored seven goals with 38 assists through the 2002-03 season. He officially announced his retirement prior to the Leafs 2003-04 training camp.
Svehla showed remarkable resiliency during his tenure with the Panthers, missing six games over his seven full seasons with the club. Even playing all those games, he consistently ranked with the league leaders in ice time and hits (not consistently tracked until 2008-09).
All-Time Statline: Eight seasons (fourth all-time), 573 games (third all-time), 61 goals, 229 assists (third all-time), minus-18 rating, 603 PIM (fifth all-time), 51.3 APS.
Thanks for reading the penultimate issue of the all-time Panthers roster series. Make sure to check back Thursday for a recap of the list before Friday's article featuring our Number One.