Jovanovski's father, Joe, keeps a tape of his son's big hits; presumably the tape is extended play. This season Jovanovski broke the Flyers' Rod Brind' Amour's nose, gave the Vancouver Canucks' Martin G�linas a concussion, creamed the Washington Capitals' Stefan Ustorf, banged around the bulletproof Lindros and, in Game 1 against the Penguins, smacked Nedved—all with legal checks. Unlike the old hip-checking defensemen, Jovanovski hits high, using his shoulder and keeping his stick down. He has a unique ability to stop himself, quickly gather momentum and then plow into an opponent's logo, pancaking him the way a blitzing linebacker would flatten a quarterback.
"There's one spot on the boards at Miami Arena, about 20 feet inside the blue line, where we should erect a monument to Ed Jovanovski for all the guys he's gotten there," MacLean says. "Guys coming down the wall aren't only thinking about getting around him. They're thinking about survival."
The primal thuds have caught the attention of the Florida crowds, whose chants of "Ed-die, Ed-die" are second in volume and frequency only to the "Bee-zers" lavished on Vanbiesbrouck. "The chants go right through your body," Jovanovski says. He chuckles on the ice every time he hears an "Ed-die," then reminds himself he is a professional and it is unseemly to skate with a grin on his face. Smiling whenever the building rocks with the sound of his name—just another rookie mistake.
Jovanovski should be accustomed to hearing his name called in front of large gatherings. The Panthers announced it at the 1994 NHL draft, when they made Jovanovski the overall No. 1 pick. Florida president Bill Torrey, who built the New York Islanders' dynasty in the early 1980s around a No. 1 pick, defenseman Denis Potvin in 1973, projected greatness for Jovanovski. The Panthers returned Jovanovski to juniors last year, and when MacLean, then Florida's player personnel director, went to Windsor to check on him over the course of the season, he saw a defenseman he believed could be among the top 10 in the NHL one day. When MacLean was named the Panthers' coach last summer, he decided Jovanovski would be on the club in 1995-96, unless the Canadian courts decided otherwise.
In February 1995 Jovanovski and two Windsor teammates were charged with sexually assaulting a 24-year-old woman. The case appeared headed for trial, until Crown Attorney Denis Harrison dropped the charges last August because "there was not a reasonable chance of conviction" based on the evidence presented at the pretrial hearing two months earlier. Jovanovski was chastened. "While I waited for the trial. I did nothing but work out," he says. "It made me concentrate. It made me grow as a person."
In the course of those frenzied workouts Jovanovski's baby fat melted away—on the night he was drafted, he says now, "I looked like I had chestnuts in my cheeks"—to be replaced by a chiseled, bronzed face framed by stylishly long sideburns. Jovanovski was ready for the NHL, at least until he broke his right hand last September in a preseason fight with the Hartford Whalers' Brendan Shanahan. Jovanovski missed Florida's first 11 games.
But this was the break he needed. Under orders not to fight for several months in order to protect the plate and four pins in his hand, Jovanovski had to find outlets for his exuberance other than his fists. ("I broke the plate anyway in a fight with Keith Tkachuk," he says. "If nothing else, the hand makes a good radio antenna.") He had to become a more complete player.
Despite his halting performance in Game 1 against Pittsburgh, Jovanovski's speed, size and great shot have caused MacLean to upgrade his prediction of his young defenseman's future, from top 10 to one of the top three in the NHL, a franchise player. "Maybe at times Eddie's still a little careless," Skrudland says, "but carelessness in some players helps make them creative. You don't want to rein in a big talent like him too much. When we're on the ice together, I'm always the one telling him, 'Go, man, go.' "
If he and the Panthers keep going, Jovanovski can use his convertible in a Stanley Cup parade.