The Florida Panthers started to assemble its first roster in earnest on June 24, 1993 in Quebec City. The Cats and fellow new expansion team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, were allowed to pick 24 players each from the existing 24 NHL clubs. The Panthers and Mighty Ducks would choose three goaltenders, eight defensemen and thirteen forwards. A day later, a second phase of the expansion draft took place, where recent entries, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks,were allowed to pick two players from the two new expansion teams. Florida and Anaheim were allowed to protect one goaltender, five defensemen and ten forwards. The two clubs could lose one player per position.
After slaying it in the goaltender section and doing a pretty decent job with the defensemen, let's take a look at how then GM Bobby Clarke did assembling the Panthers' first group of forwards.
Tom Fitzgerald: The Ducks went first when it came to selecting forwards and took Steven King, leaving Fitzgerald, a member of the New York Islanders, for Clarke to grab. Fitzgerald had spent the last five seasons in the Isles organization after being a first-round selection in the 1986 Entry Draft, scoring 9 goals and 18 assists for the club in 1992-93.
Cats contribution: Fitzgerald scored 18 goals and added 14 helpers in 83 games during the Cats' inaugural season. He was a member of the 1996 club that captured the Eastern Conference Championship, scoring the decisive goal in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fitzgerald played almost five full seasons in a Florida uniform before he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in 1998. The gritty forward finished his Panthers' stint with 54 goals and 121 points in 353 games. Fitzgerald's seventeen-year career came to an end after the 2005-06 campaign.
Jesse Belanger: Immediately after taking the experienced Fitzgerald, Clarke tabbed the lesser-known Belanger as his next selection. The undrafted center spent most of the 1992-93 season with Fredericton of the AHL, scoring 51 points in 39 games, but he did suit up 19 times for the parent Montreal Canadiens, where he produced 4 goals and 2 assists. He also appeared in 9 postseason games, helping the Habs take home the Stanley Cup.
Cats contribution: Belanger made the most of his first real opportunity to be an NHL regular, posting 17 goals and a team-leading 33 assists for the Panthers in 1993-94. The next, lockout-shortened, season saw Belanger tie Stu Barnes for the team scoring lead with 29 points in 47 games. Belanger was productive again in 95-96, putting up 38 points in 63 games before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick that turned out to be Oleg Kvasha. After playing just 9 games with the Canucks. Belanger became a journeyman, bouncing around the minors and Europe, with a few short NHL stints mixed in here and there.
Scott Levins: The third forward taken by the Panthers was American-born grinder Scott Levins, who was plucked from the roster of the Winnipeg Jets. Levins played the first 9 games of his NHL career with the Jets, the team that drafted him, in 1992-93, producing just one assist. He spent most of that season in the AHL with the Moncton Hawks, where he notched 22 goals and 48 points in 54 games.
Cats contribution: Levins suited up 29 times for Florida in 1993-94, putting up 5 goals and 11 points, before he was traded to the Ottawa Senators in a multi-player deal that saw Bob Kudelski come to Miami. After playing 57 more games with Ottawa over the next season and a half, Levins became a vagabond, spending more time in the minors before heading to Europe. He retired after playing the 2003-04 season with the UHL's Columbus Stars.
Scott Mellanby: Clarke hit a home run when he selected Scott Mellanby from the Edmonton Oilers. The rugged right winger was a seven-year NHL veteran originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1984. Mellanby scored 15 goals and added 19 assists in 69 games as an Oiler in 1992-93.
Cats contribution: Mellanby led the Panthers in goals (30) and points (60) in Florida's first-ever season and bagged the first goal in franchise history. The best offensive season of his career came two years later, when he scored 32 goals and 38 assists in 1995-96. Mellanby put up 9 points and 44 PIM in Florida's Stanley Cup run that spring. Mellanby remained a Cat until February 2001, when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues. The inventor of the "Rat-Trick" lent his talents to one more Sunbelt team, the Atlanta Thrashers, for two seasons before calling it a career after the 2006-07 campaign. Mellanby accumulated 354 points in 552 games with Panthers, third-best on the club's all-time scoring list.
Brian Skrudland: Next up for the Cats was defensive specialist Skrudland, who was taken from the Calgary Flames, where he scored 6 points in 16 games after a late '92-93 season trade from the Montreal Canadiens. Prior to the deal, Skrudland put up 5 goals and 8 points in 23 games with the Habs. Skrudland spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with Montreal after going undrafted out of the WHL.
Cats contribution: Hot on the heels of the Mellanby selection, Clarke got his club's first captain in Skrudland, who scored 15 goals and 40 points in 79 games in 1993-94. Skrudland remained with the Cats for three more seasons before he signed with the New York Rangers in the summer of 1997. The Rangers traded the grizzled vet to the Dallas Stars, where he won the Stanley Cup a season later in 1999. Skrudland called it a career after playing just 22 games for the Stars in 1999-2000. After his playing days, Skrudland returned to Panthers and served as both Director of Player Personnel and Assistant Coach for his old club.
Mike Hough: Up next for the Cats was veteran winger Mike Hough, who was selected from the Washington Capitals. A longtime member of the Quebec Nordiques, Hough was traded to the Caps four days prior to the Expansion Draft, after scoring 8 goals and 22 assists for Quebec in 1992-93.
Cats contribution: Another sneaky good pick up by Clarke, Hough scored 6 goals and 29 points for the Panthers in 1993-94. He played three more seasons in South Florida and was a key part of the 1995-96 Eastern Conference Championship club, scoring a huge double-overtime goal (which turned out be the last marker scored in the Spectrum) in game five of Florida's second round win over the Flyers. He signed with the New York Islanders in 1997 and spent the remainder of his pro career with that organization.
Dave Lowry: Florida's torrid run of forwards continued with selection of Lowry off the St. Louis Blues roster. Originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, Lowry spent five seasons with the Blues, where he notched 5 goals and 18 points in 58 games during the 1992-93 campaign.
Cats contribution: Another key grinder for the Cats, Lowry scored 15 goals and 22 assists for Florida in its first season. After following that up with back-to-back 10-goal campaigns, Lowry struck for 15 again in 1996-97. He is best remembered for his 10-goal postseason performance during the Panthers improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. After suiting up seven times for the Cats at the start of 1997-98 season, Lowry was traded to the San Jose Sharks, along with a first-round pick, in a deal that netted the Cats Viktor Kozlov and, eventually, Jaroslav Spacek. After three seasons in San Jose, Lowry finished his career with a four-year run in Calgary, retiring after the 2003-04 campaign.
Bill Lindsay: Clarke plucked another very useful forward from the expansion scrap heap when he took William Hamilton Lindsay from Quebec after the Mighty Ducks selected Bob Corkum and Anatoli Semenov. The Tri-City Americans product scored 2 goals and added 4 assists in 44 games for Nordiques in 1992-93. He also spent 20 games with the AHL's Halifax Citadels that season, where he bagged 11 goals to go along with 13 helpers.
Cats contribution: Lindsay posted 6 goals and 12 points while playing in all 84 games of Florida's inaugural season. A fine defensive forward, he also managed to produce double-digit goal totals for the Cats over the next five seasons. The feisty winger is best know for delivering the spectacular series-winning goal against Boston that gave the franchise its first playoff win and set the stage for the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. After finishing his long career, that included stints with the Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and Atlanta Thrashers, with Germany's Cologne Sharks, the beloved Lindsay returned to the Panthers organization where he spent considerable time in the broadcast booth.
Andrei Lomakin: The ninth forward drafted by the Cats, Lomakin was taken from the Philadelphia Flyers to provide some much needed offensive punch. Lomakin produced 50 points in two seasons with Flyers after coming over from Russia. In 1992-93, he scored 8 goals and added 12 assists in 51 games.
Cats contribution: The speedy Lomakin did exactly what the Panthers drafted him for in year one, posting 19 goals and 28 assists to go along with a +1 rating in 76 games played. 1994-95 saw him produce just one goal and 7 helpers in 31 games during the lockout shortened season. Lomakin went back to Europe for good the next year, finishing up his career with the Frankfurt Lions in 1997. Sadly, Lomakin passed away at the young age of 42 on December 9, 2006. RIP Andrei...
Randy Gilhen: Immediately after taking the offensive-minded Lomakin, checking center Randy Gilhen was selected from the Tampa Bay Lightning's roster. Gilhen scored 3 goals and 4 assists and finished with a -14 rating in 44 combined games with the Bolts and the New York Rangers in 1992-93.
Cats contribution: The veteran Gilhen's tenure in South Florida did not last long. He produced 4 goals and 4 assists in 20 games for the goal-starved Panthers before he traded to Winnipeg for the offensive-minded (and younger) Stu Barnes. Gilhen played an additional two seasons for the Jets before finishing up his career in 1998 after a two-year run with the IHL's Manitoba Moose.
Doug Barrault: Selected from the Dallas Stars, Barrault was a prospect who had two seasons of experience with the IHL's Kalamazoo Wings under his belt. In 1992-93, he scored 32 goals and 66 points for the Wings. He played his first two NHL games for the parent North Stars that season, going scoreless in each.
Cats contribution: The right winger suited up in two games for the Panthers in 1993-94, producing no points and a -2 rating. He did, however, shine with the club's minor-league affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones, delivering 36 goals and 28 assists in 75 games. During the IHL playoffs, he produced 9 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Barrault followed that up with 20-goal, 60-point effort in his next season with the Cyclones. After leaving the Panthers organization, Barrault remained in the IHL for three more years, playing for the Atlanta Knights and Chicago Wolves before calling it quits after the 1997-98 campaign.
Marc LaBelle: A product of the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres, the Panthers took minor-leaguer LaBelle from the Ottawa Senators. LaBelle split the 1992-93 season between the Colonial League's Thunder Bay Thunder Hawks, the AHL's New Haven Senators and the IHL's San Diego Gulls.
Cats contribution: The tough-as-nails LaBelle never suited up for the Panthers, but he did spend three seasons with the Cincinnati Cyclones, producing a total of 27 points and 524 PIM in 148 games. The left wing spent the rest of his career bouncing around the minors, but did get a 9-game cup of coffee with the Dallas Stars during the 1996-97 season.
Pete Stauber: The last player chosen in the 1993 Expansion Draft, Stauber, who won the NCAA title with Lake Superior State in 1988, was a member of the Detroit Red Wings organization when he was tabbed by the Cats. He played just 12 games for the Red Wings' AHL affiliate in Adirondack in 1992-93, scoring 2 goals and 4 points.
Cats contribution: None. Probably the rarest name among the Panthers picks in the expansion draft, Stauber never played professionally again, retiring after the '92-93 campaign. He returned to his native Minnesota and became a policeman and also got involved in local politics. Good for you, Pete!