Check out the rest of the Panthers’ Best All-Time Starting Lineup series:
- Center – Aleksander Barkov
- Left Wing – Jonathan Huberdeau
- Right Wing – Pavel Bure
- Defenseman – Robert Svehla
- Goaltender – Roberto Luongo
With just two teams left chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup, the season is coming to an end. For the Florida Panthers, it ended weeks ago. With nothing but the offseason to look forward to, we are going to look into all things Florida Panthers.
The draft and free agency are the major dates coming up for the franchise currently, but what about looking into the history of a franchise that doesn’t get a lot of love?
One series will focus on the best players that have ever suited up for the Panthers, comprising the team’s all-time unit. The series will include two wingers, a centerman, two defensemen, and a goaltender, leading into a top 10 list of the greatest Panthers of all-time.
Next up in the series is a player that came in with all the hype in the world. And like many Panthers players, went on to greener pastures somewhere else. The other defenseman on our list is the third overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft, Jay Bouwmeester.
The 2002 NHL Draft
Coming into the 2002 NHL Draft, Bouwmeester had been on an interesting trajectory. For the previous two seasons, he had been earning prodigy hype. Some compared his skating to Bobby Orr and predicted that he would be the next revolutionary defenseman in the NHL.
But as the draft approached, his top status was usurped. Power forward Rick Nash and Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen would enter the discussion and leave many to wonder where Bouwmeester would wind up.
The Panthers held the first overall pick that season and, in a somewhat surprising move, swapped spots with the Columbus Blue Jackets (picking third overall). Columbus moved up to get Nash first overall and the Panthers watched Lehtonen come off the board second to the Atlanta Thrashers. In Bouwmeester, the Panthers felt as though they had found their franchise defenseman and got extra picks for it.
Why He’s on the All-Time Team
Though pundits predicted multiple Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman for Bouwmeester, it never quite turned out that way. Still, Bouwmeester evolved into a solid two-way defender during his time in Florida.
His best season was in the return from lockout, the 2005-06 season. His 41 assists and 46 points as a 22-year-old left many feeling that he was on the cusp of greatness. But that was the ceiling for Bouwmeester offensively.
Instead, he morphed into a solid defensive defenseman that could skate like no other. And yet, as has been the case for the Panthers for nearly 20 years, they struggled to find the right core. Following another season with no playoffs, Bouwmeester and the Panthers couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract. His rights were traded to Calgary in exchange for defenseman Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft.
Bouwmeester had developed into a solid top-four defenseman by the time he was traded to Calgary. What may have been for his time in Florida remains speculation, even if he didn’t turn out to be the second-coming of Orr.
Bouwmeester’s Legacy in Florida
When composing this list, it could be safely assumed that this wouldn’t be a list of all-time greats in NHL history. On defense, in particular, the Panthers don’t have the most recognizable names in league history.
Related: Glenn Anderson Trade Revisited
But Bouwmeester’s time in Florida helped to establish him as a solid, dependable top-four NHL defenseman for the duration of his career. He has gone on to bigger and better things (a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019), though his career may be done after a scary cardiac arrest incident during a game.
Though Bouwmeester may be replaced at some point down the line – Keith Yandle is making the most of his time in Florida – it is hard to picture another Florida defenseman skating down the ice as smoothly as Bouwmeester.
A long-time (and long-suffering) Buffalo sports fan. Sometimes optimistic, always weary. I write other stuff for a lot of other people.