Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, we look at the Florida Panthers draft, and their biggest boom and bust.
Florida Panthers Draft Boom and Bust
Biggest Boom: MacKenzie Weegar
Most would say that the title of “Mr. Irrelevant” is more of a National Football League title. Regardless, MacKenzie Weegar almost took that title in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. In the seventh round, 206th overall the Florida Panthers selected Weegar. Selected just five spots before the very last pick, one could easily argue he is the dark horse of the 2013 entry draft.
Coming from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Weegar was quite productive for the Halifax Mooseheads. In 123 games played, Weegar record 20 goals and 83 assists totalling 103 points with 155 minutes in penalties. MacKenzie made sure to make a name for himself before the draft. During the regular season, he finished 10th on the team in points with 44 through 62 games.
From there on Weegar never looked back. In the same season, Weegar also won a QMJHL Championship and a Memorial Cup with Halifax, in the same year. He played alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. During their Memorial Cup run, Weegar continued to shine. He ended seventh on the team in points through the tournament with four assists through four games.
Weegar would return to Halifax the year after being drafted to only improve more. During the 2013-14 season, Weegar posted 12 goals and 47 assists for 59 points with 97 penalty minutes. Finishing fifth on the team in points and only one of two defencemen to finish in the top-ten in points for Halifax that season. That ended his junior career on a very high note.
It took some time for Weegar to develop into the player he is today. It was all well worth the wait. More of a “late bloomer” indeed, going from a seventh-round draft pick to a top-four defenceman on a playoff-contending team should speak for itself. In his first year as a pro, Weegar bounced between the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage and the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones, with not much to show for it.
It wasn’t until the year after Weegar got his first full season in with the Portland Pirates in the AHL. Playing in 62 games, MacKenzie recorded 24 points in 62 games. Weegar finally found his stride during the 2016-17 season, along with a bit of luck. In March of 2017, defenceman Aaron Ekblad was knocked out of the game with a concussion, leaving an open spot on the back end. At that time, Weegar was the leading defenceman with 12 goals and 29 points in 51 games. Deserving of the call-up, it is interesting to think about what would happen if Ekblad wasn’t hurt. Playing in three games with the Panthers, Weegar gained a taste for “The Show” and craved more.
Weegar Made the Jump
Whatever Weegar did in those games did the trick. The following season, 2017-18, Weegar became a full-time member of the Florida Panthers playing 60 games. Continuing to the showroom for improvement each year, Weegar has backed up as well. Since then, Weegar has played in 172 games recording 41 points and 133 penalty minutes. Before the break, the silky-smooth offensive-defenceman has great vision and was not afraid to play rough. He had his best season yet. In 45 games played, Weegar scored seven goals, 11 assists for 18 points with 33 minutes in penalties and a Corsi For of 51.3 percent.
His stats may not jump out at you right away but this year MacKenzie was averaging 20:07 minutes on the ice, sixth-most on the team. His career average is 16:58. Weegar is also eighth on the team in point share with 3.4 and third in defensive point share with 2. As Weegar’s contract ends after this season, he will become a restricted free agent. It will be interesting to see what happens, let’s hope Dale doesn’t mess this one up.
Since 1993, the Florida Panthers drafts haven’t seemed to go according to plan. Whether their development program needs a kick in the butt, giving up on prospects to early, or the general managers just can’t catch a break. For example, in 2010 the Panthers had 13 draft picks. None of them play in the Panthers organization anymore. Guys like Zach Hyman, drafted in the 5th round never even dressed for the Panthers. Yet, now he is on the first line of the Toronto Maple Leafs with Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
Another player the Panthers gave up on too soon is Joonas Donskoi. A fourth-round pick, 99th overall, Donskoi is now on the second line in Colorado. Not the most productive player, Donskoi is a great role player with lots of size. Panthers fans have been complaining about lack of physicality, it’s possible he could have changed that.
Biggest Bust: Petr Taticek
Who? Yes, exactly.
A former first-round pick, Petr Taticek would go on to play in three NHL games and it did not come until the 2005-06 season. As much as it may seem like one, the Panthers drafting Taticek was no accident. Before coming to the NHL, Petr Taticek played in the OHL for the Soo Greyhounds and played well. In 114 games played, Taticek recorded 120 points with 76 minutes in penalties. Considered a smart two-way centre with good playmaking and skating abilities, he just never was able to take that next step.
In 2002, the Florida Panthers draft pick was Petr Taticek, ninth overall. Drafted before names like Alexander Semin, Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, and Duncan Keith, just to name a few. Before his three-game stint with the Panthers Taticek saw his fair share of American Hockey League games. With some decent numbers, in two seasons with the San Antonio Rampage Taticek played in 130 games recording 41 points. The Panthers saw something they liked, during the second season Taticek received his call up to the Cats.
Yet, it did not last long. After his three NHL games, Taticek was sent back down to the American Hockey league. Unfortunately, he was never able to recover from that. Between 2005-07, Taticek played for three different AHL teams. Playing in 62 games finishing with 39 points. Shortly after, Taticek went back over to Europe where he had some decent years in Switzerland and Germany but nothing that makes you wonder why he didn’t make it.
In the past, the Florida Panthers draft classes never seem to pan-out as expected. The Panthers have had many high-end prospects that have come up short. In 2005, the Panthers drafted left-winger Kenndal McArdle 20th overall. During his time in the Western Hockey League, McArdle showed he had a scoring touch with a lot of physicalities. Playing in 261 games, Kenndal scored 203 points with 443 minutes in penalties. Not something you see often. Regardless, McArdle dressed for 42 NHL games between the Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets. With only three points to show for it.
Another player who was unable to adjust to the NHL was forward Quinton Howden. After three World Junior Championship appearances and stellar numbers in the WHL. Howden was drafted by the Panthers 25th overall in 2010 before making the jump to the pros. Howden recorded 239 points in 244 games, showing real promise for the next level. He was never able to get over the hump. In 97 games, Howden recorded 17 points total while playing for the Panthers and Jets.
After battling in the minors for a few years he still was unable to make a real impact. Howden has found himself in the KHL, hoping to be able to make an impact and maybe one day return to North America. With some unlucky picks in the past, the more recent Florida Panthers draft shows many signs of good things to come in Sunrise, Florida.