Peter Ratchuk was drafted 26th in the 1996 Entry Draft, by the Colorado Avalanche, straight out of high school. He declined signing with Colorado and became a free agent two years later. On June 17, 1998, Ratchuk signed with the Florida Panthers. Florida GM Bryan Murray, upon signing the free agent, described Ratchuk as " a good skating offensive defenseman with great leadership qualities"
Ratchuk was joining a team that was short on blueliners. The Entry Draft and further free agent signings turned a likely shot at the NHL into a competition. He played in the first game at Florida's new National Car Rental Arena, a preseason contest, and scored the winning goal off a Dave Gagner pass. Ratchuk would spend the season shuttling between the Panthers and New Haven. On one of the call-ups he was inserted into the lineup against the Carolina Hurricanes. The game, played on January 14, 1999, saw the Panthers down a goal in the third period, when Peter Ratchuk fired the puck into the Hurricane cage with six minutes left in the game. Florida did lose the game but Ratchuk had his first NHL goal.
Ratchuk played most of the next two seasons in Louisville with the Florida farm team. He did see action in eight games with the NHL Panthers but did not register any points. At the end of the 2000-01 campaign he became a free agent as his contract with the Panthers h ad expired. On August 14, 2001, he made a start with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The Penguins assigned him to their AHL club, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2001-02 season. His leadership qualities, that Bryan Murray noticed, have been recognized again with his being named assistant captain on AHL.