After being drafted with the first overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, following the Florida Panthers‘ first season of existence, Ed Jovanovski became one of the first faces of the franchise. The team’s success seemed to mirror Jovanovski’s arrival, as it went from a 20-22-6 record in 1994-95, when Jovanovski spent another year in juniors, to making the Stanley Cup Final in his rookie season.
Jovanovski was one of the first great homegrown Panthers talents, and that showed in his rookie season. In 1995-96, he scored 10 goals and 21 points in 70 games, making the NHL’s All-Rookie team and finishing third in Calder Memorial Trophy voting and 16th in James Norris Memorial Trophy voting.
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Jovanovski added another goal and nine points in 22 games as a 19-year-old, leading the Panthers to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. This would be the only season in franchise history where Florida won a playoff round, with the team not making it past the first round ever since. They were swept in the Final by the Colorado Avalanche.
‘JovoCop,’ as Panthers fans call him, followed up his stellar rookie campaign with a seven-goal, 23-point season at 20 years of age, playing 61 games in 1996-97. He also established himself as one of the most dominant physical defensemen in the league that year, becoming an absolute force in the defensive zone. He didn’t record a single point in the team’s five-game first round loss to the New York Rangers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In his final full season during his first stint with the Panthers, Jovanovski recorded nine goals and 23 assists in 81 games, and Florida missed the playoffs for the first time in his career. In 1998-99, he played 41 games, recording three goals and 16 points before being shipped off to the Vancouver Canucks in a seven-player deal that sent Pavel Bure to Sunrise.
During Jovanovski’s first stint as a Panther, he played in 253 games and scored 29 goals and 83 points, all while being the physical defensive-defenseman the team needed to push itself into playoff contention. He returned for a second stint in the 2011-12 offseason, after signing a four-year contract to return to Florida.
Like 1995-96, Jovanovski was the piece that put the Panthers into playoff contention. Florida made its first playoff appearance since the 1999-2000 season, and he played a crucial role in that, scoring three goals and 13 points in 66 games while continuing to be the defensive-defenseman he was known to be. He didn’t record a single point in the team’s seven-game series loss to the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In his next two seasons, Jovanovski played just a combined 43 games, recording one goal and six points before retiring. The Panthers missed the playoffs the following two seasons, with their veteran defenseman and captain playing just six games in 2012-13, and 37 games the following season.
Jovanovski’s Panthers Legacy
While his career had been marred by injuries, and his prime years were spent in Vancouver following the Bure trade, Jovanovski is still one of the most iconic players in franchise history. His 362 games played rank 22nd in Panthers history, while he ranks fifth in goals (33) and 10th in points (102) among Florida defensemen. His impact was felt much more than it was on the stat sheet, however.
The Panthers had some of their most successful seasons with Jovanovski in the fold, with three of the team’s seven postseason appearances coming with the bruising defenseman on the roster. He was a leader on and off the ice, being the young, physical defenseman that put the team over the top in 1996, while also being the grizzled veteran that showed the young Panthers his winning ways in the 2012.
Every era of Panthers fan has an admiration and appreciation for Jovanovski, as he came in and helped the team make the playoffs two different times, and was a crucial piece to the roster that gave Florida its lone Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.