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 – Jay Bouwmeester
- 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?
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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 not many expected to make an all-time team. Most tend to think of Ed Jovanovski, the first overall pick in the 1994 NHL Draft, but even he can’t match the totals of Robert Svehla.
How He Came to Florida
Svehla was originally selected as a 23-year-old by the Calgary Flames, going in the fourth round (78th overall) of the 1992 NHL Draft. Svehla had begun his career playing for Dukla Trencin, in Czechoslovakia, showing off his prowess as a smooth-skating, offensive-minded defenseman.
He chose not to sign with the Flames, instead opting to play in the Swedish Elite League for Malmo IF, making a name for himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league. Prior to the 1994-95 season – which was shortened by a lockout – Svehla signed with the Panthers, who were entering their third season in the NHL.
Why He’s on the All-Time Team
There are other names that tend to jump out for their individual contributions in Florida, but Svehla’s resume is hard to argue with. He was an unsung portion of the Panthers’ 1995-96 season, racking up 49 assists and 57 points in his first full NHL season (he played just 5 games the season prior). Most importantly, he helped lead the Panthers on a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final, where they would run into a steamroller known as the Colorado Avalanche. To date, it is the only Stanley Cup Final appearance for the franchise.
Svehla spent the next seven seasons playing for the Panthers, a consistent 40-point defenseman throughout much of his career. While the Panthers struggled with busted draft picks – Marcus Nilsson, Mike Brown, Denis Shvidki, Lukas Krajicek – Svehla was one of the few constants.
The 2001-02 season, his third consecutive full 82-game season with the franchise, would be his final stay in Florida. Just one season in Toronto marked the end of Svehla’s playing career. The 1997 NHL All-Star never matched up with the best in the game but was a reliable presence on the Panthers’ back end.
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It may come as a surprise to find that Svehla is on most of the all-time lists for the franchise. His 573 games played are third, his 229 assists are fifth, and his 290 points are eighth all-time for the franchise.
Svehla’s Legacy in Florida
Though only diehard Panthers fans may remember his name when discussing the best in the history of the franchise, Svehla’s place on the all-time list can’t be denied. There were other names in the discussion – Jovanovski’s being the most notable – but his numbers and steady demeanor are hard to overlook.
Svehla isn’t the sexiest pick in the world but he currently is the leading scorer among defensemen in franchise history, though Keith Yandle is rapidly working his way up that list. The pick of Svehla will no doubt spark a little bit of debate among Panthers’ diehards.