As expected, the first round is where the Florida Panthers have mined the most gold in the NHL Entry Draft. Now, when picking as high, as often as they have, you could make the case that they should have done better over the years, but things are definitely looking up as of late, with youngsters like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Erik Gudbranson poised to lead this franchise to better days. Looking back over the last two decades, the first-rounder that stood out the most is the man who is about to put the wraps on what could be a Hall-of-Fame career.
Ed Jovanovski was the first overall pick in the 1994 draft held at the Hartford Civic Center, beating out the likes of fellow defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky and top-rated forward Radek Bonk. Jovanovski spent a second OHL season with the Windsor Spitfire before joining the Cats for the 1995-96 season, which turned out to be the greatest in franchise history.
In his first year with the Panthers, the ornery freshman scored 10 goals and 11 assists, while racking up 152 PIMs in 70 games, a performance that got him named to the league's All-Rookie team and nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy. He played in all 22 games of the Panthers' scintillating run to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
Jovanovski spent two and a half more seasons in a Florida uniform, not really adding much to the success of his rookie campaign, before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks as part of the package for superstar sniper Pavel Bure. After some adjustment time in the Pacific Northwest, the JovoCop really started to come on in his second full season with the Canucks, scoring a then career-high 47 points while maintaining his physical edge. That year marked the first of three-straight Babe Pratt Awards as the club's best defenseman.
Injuries limited Jovanovski during his last two years in Vancouver, and after six and a half seasons with Canucks, he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes as a UFA on July 1, 2006, despite also having received an offer for his original team, the Panthers. Jovo spent the next five seasons performing ably for the Desert Dogs, including posting a career-high 51 points in 2007-08, while appearing in 80 games. The troubled franchise made the playoffs during his final two season in Arizona.
On July 1, 2011, the veteran defender inked a four-year deal to return to the Panthers and was named the team's captain. Despite having lost a step, Jovanovski suited up for 66 games during the 2011-12 season, playing a part in the team's first Southeast Division championship. He appeared in every game of the club's seven-game playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils that spring. Jovo has missed a huge portion of the last two years, but he did manage to comeback from a radical hip resurfacing procedure last season and looks to be in the lineup again this season to play out the final year of his contract.
So why Jovanovski over other talented, productive candidates like Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss or Jay Bouwmeester? The JovoCop got the nod based on his lengthy and impressive overall body of work, which has seen him play in five NHL All-Star Games. The guy has been a warrior, logging 1128 regular season games and 76 more in the playoffs. He has produced offense from the back end, amassing exactly regular season 500 points; and we all know he has been physical, racking up 1,491 career PIM. He has done everything you could expect a big, nasty two-way defenseman to do. In addition to his nineteen years on the NHL beat, Jovanovski was a member of Canada's Gold Medal squad at both the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. He also won silver twice at the IIHF World Championships and took home a gold medal at the 1995 World Junior Championships. On top of that long list of accomplishments, I feel like over the course of his career, he played up to the potential expected of a player taken high in the first round, while the others, despite being in the midst of fine careers as well, never quite reached their max in the same way.