The best fifth round draft pick in Florida Panthers history is Jaroslav Špaček
One of the few late-round gems for the Panthers, Jaroslav Špaček is the best fifth round draft pick in Florida Panthers history.
The year was 1998. President Bill Clinton was mired in a sex scandal, Jesse Ventura started his gig as Governor of Minnesota, Google was founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and the Florida Panthers selected the best fifth round draft pick in club history, taking Jaroslav Špaček 117th overall. Born in Rokycany, Czechoslovakia, the big defenseman's NHL career stretched from 1998 to 2012, starting with the Panthers and ending with the Cats' longtime division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes.
Špaček was a bit of a gem for the Panthers, as he was one of very few late round picks that actually turned in a long and productive NHL career. He played 880 games total (157 with Florida) and scored 355 points in that time, along with a +49 rating. He was not the most mobile player on the blue line, but was a great passer and played a very relaxed style of defense, rarely getting rattled. He was also known for his booming point shot, which helped him post 10 goals for Florida in only his second year in the NHL. The Panthers eventually traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Anders Eriksson, who played just a single season for the Cats.
He was also a member of the 2005-2006 Edmonton Oilers, who managed to make a Stanley Cup final appearance that season, losing in seven games to the Hurricanes. Špaček was tied with Patrick Marleau, Jason Spezza and Teemu Selanne at 14 points, good for second best among all defensemen in the playoffs, finishing second to teammate Chris Pronger. He would have limited playoff success after that point, playing in the postseason with Buffalo and Montreal, but he would never reach the Cup finals again during the remainder of his NHL career.
Špaček would finish out his pro hockey career overseas, playing one final season in his native Czech Republic for HC Plzen. He became involved in coaching since retirement, assisting with Plzen and eventually suiting up for the club again due to injuries. He was also involved in the IIHF World Championships in 2014, serving as an assistant coach for the Czech team. Spacek will likely continue his coaching work and it would not be surprising to one day see him as an NHL assistant coach, if he decided to return to North America.