SBN NHL is the process of doing a league-wide Top 25 Under 25. As I was putting together my list of Cats to send in for this collaborative effort, I had the Florida Panthers draft history open on Hockey Reference and I noticed our local club has put together some real stinkers.
The absolute worst of the bunch has to be the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The Panthers stepped to the podium eight times and struck out hard. Six of the eight players selected never played even a single game in the NHL, while the two that did combined for a paltry 19 games. Yikes... What the heck was Bryan Murray thinking that June weekend in Calgary?
Now, to be fair, the Panthers entered the draft without a pick in the first round thanks to the Pavel Bure trade. Vancouver used Florida’s selection (23rd overall) on Nathan Smith who went on to play a whole 26 NHL games (whiff). A low number, but oddly enough, one that was good enough to outpace the Panthers entire draft class.
Round 2, Pick 58 Vladimir Sapozhnikov - Metallurg Novokuznetsk (Russian Superleague)
Round 3, Pick 77 Robert Fried - Deerfield Academy (USHS)
Round 3, Pick 82 Sean O’Connor - Moose Jaw (WHL)
Round 4, Pick 115 Chris Eade - North Bay (OHL)
Round 4, Pick 120 Davis Parley - Kamloops (WHL)
Round 6, Pick 190 Josh Olson - Omaha (USHL)
Round 8, Pick 234 Janis Sprukts - Lukko Rauma (Finland)
Round 8, Pick 253 Mathew Sommerfeld - Swift Current (WHL)
Who are these guys?
After sitting out the first round, Florida finally made its first selection in Calgary late in round two when they took Russian defenseman Vladimir Sapozhnikov 58th overall. Sapozhnikov came to North American after being selected and played two seasons in the OHL for the North Bay Centennials. In 82 combined games for North Bay, Sapozhnikov produced a total of 10 assists to go along with a -23 rating. The Russian played a whopping eight professional games in the AHL; four for the Utah Grizzlies in 2001 and four more for the San Antonio Rampage the following season. Sapozhnikov never scored a goal on North American soil and quickly faded into obscurity. This forgotten blueliner has to garner at least some mention when talking about the worst draft picks in franchise history.
Bryan Murray tabbed forward Robert Fried out of Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts as the Panthers first of two third round selections 19 picks later. Fried, who was born in Macon, GA, played four seasons at Harvard, scoring a total of 18 goals and 43 points in 129 NCAA games.
The Cats selected right wing Sean O’ Connor 5 slots after Fried after the youngster racked up 13 points and 166 PIM in his first season with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. After a surprise 34-goal season for Moose Jaw in 2000-01, O’Connor seemed to be on his way, but he never saw time on an NHL roster. The tough O’Connor did make 36 regular season (and one postseason) AHL appearances for the San Antonio Rampage and went on carve out a long career in the ECHL and Deutsche Eishockey Liga.
Defenseman Chris Eade was the first of Florida’s two fourth round (115th overall) choices. Eade had good size and some offensive ability, putting up 30 points in 58 games for North Bay in his draft year. Eade and the enigmatic Sapozhnikov were teammates the following the season for the Centennials. I wonder if the two Panthers draftees were ever paired up together on the North Bay blue line? Eade topped out at the American Hockey League, getting a brief four-game stint with the Louisville Panthers in the spring of 2001. He later played four seasons of college hockey for University of Western Ontario and also played some lower-level minor pro.
Goaltender David Parley was chosen 120th overall after making 26 appearances and posting a 3.21 GAA and 2 shutouts for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. After playing three more seasons in Kamloops, the lanky keeper went on to play six years of professional hockey, mostly in the ECHL. Parley won 31 games for the South Carolina Stingrays in 2006-07 and won his one AHL appearance for the Hershey Bears that season. He followed that up with his best pro campaign in 2007-08 when he went 24-9-2 and posted a 2.30 GAA for the Stingrays. Parley would play one more game in the AHL before finishing his career in 2008-09 splitting time with the UK’s Nottingham Panthers (EIHL) and Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.
Sixth-rounder (190th overall) Josh Olson was one of two players in the draft class to actually make it to the NHL. After being selected from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, the forward played another season of junior and then split the season after that between ECHL Jackson and AHL San Antonio. Olson’s peaked professionally in 2003-04 when he lit the lamp 22 times for the Rampage. He also made five appearances with the Panthers that season and scored his only NHL goal (and point) against the Montreal Canadiens. The native of Fargo, ND played three more seasons in the AHL before finishing his career in Europe in 2010.
The “gem” of Florida’s 2000 draft class, Latvian forward Janis Sprukts was selected in the eighth round (234th overall) from Lukko’s (Finland) junior squad. After playing another year in Finland, including 9 top-level games in SM-Liiga, Sprukts came to North America and amassed 38 points in 30 games with the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Sprukts spent the next three years in Europe before finally joining the Panthers organization. In 2006-07, he produced 54 points in 55 AHL games with the Rochester Americans and played 13 games with the Florida, notching his only NHL goal versus the Tampa Bay Lightning and added two assists. The following season saw Sprukts put up 47 points in 59 games with the Americans and play his final game in the NHL. Sprukts went on to play six years in the KHL before finally finishing his career with Ritten Sport of the Alps Hockey League in 2016-17.
Florida’s final pick of the draft was rugged left wing Matt Sommerfeld, who went in the eighth round (253rd overall). Sommerfeld played three full seasons in the WHL, two with the Swift Current Broncos and one with the Tri City Americans, where he racked up 745 PIM and 13 goals. He did not go on to play professional hockey.