With the 2015-2016 season quickly (but not quickly enough) approaching, one question on everyone’s mind is “Who is ready to make the team and who needs more time in the minors?” Cats on the Prowl had ranked the top 15 prospects and I will give my analysis on them and their possibilities of making the team, whether it be this year or any year in the future.
1. Rocco Grimaldi
It seems that Grimaldi is basically a shoe-in to make the team. He’s got speed and scoring ability and I think he has the ability to eventually be a 30 goal scorer. He played 7 games with the Panthers in the 2014-2015 season and scored one goal during that time. In the AHL that season, he played 64 games. In those 64 games, he scored 14 goals and 28 assists for a total of 42 points, which is not too shabby. I could easily see him on a third or fourth line this season, playing alongside friend and teammate Vincent Trocheck as well as one of the veteran players. He may be small, but I think Rocco Grimaldi can make a big splash in the NHL next season.
2. Alex Petrovic
Alex Petrovic is another player that should get a shot on the team this year. He has actually been playing games with the Panthers since the 2012-2013 season, but he has yet to earn himself a permanent spot on the team. Maybe this is will be his year to do that. He did play 33 games with the team last season, which is a pretty sizable amount. In those games, he didn’t score any goals but he did get 3 assists. His value doesn’t really come in point scoring. He is a tough guy who is willing to fight for his teammates. He has done it before and he will continue to do it again. A notable example of this was his regular season-ending hit on Patrick Kane. The only thing preventing Petrovic from keeping a permanent spot on the team is the fact that he plays similarly to Erik Gudbranson. However, in the future, I think that Petrovic may become a more skilled player than him, but he may not have the same leadership abilities. In any event, Petrovic will be playing some NHL games this season but it’s just a question of how many.
3. Lawson Crouse
Lawson Crouse was the Panthers’ first round draft pick and 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft. I think it is safe to say that fans were shocked that he dropped so low because he was projected to be chosen around spot 6. In any event, Crouse is a big, tough player who will probably play quite similarly to Aleksander Barkov. Last season, he played for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL and scored 29 goals and 22 assists for 51 points in 56 games, which is pretty good if you ask me. This came along with 70 penalty minutes. Lawson Crouse will probably play mostly with the Frontenacs this season but I would not be surprised to see him come up and play for the Panthers for a few games if he signs a contract with the Pirates. It should be interesting to see how Crouse performs with much stiffer competition.
4. Mike Matheson
Mike Matheson was the 23rd overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft. He played with Boston College but at the end of last season, he signed a deal with the Panthers’ former AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. In the 5 games he played with the Rampage, he got 2 assists. In that season at Boston College, he scored 3 goals and 22 assists for 25 points in 38 games. He has an pretty high hockey IQ for a 21 year old and he has strong skating ability. He is the type of defenseman who will put up points regularly, which is a valuable type of player to have. He seems to be almost ready for the NHL but with so many other highly skilled defensemen in our system, he is going to have to fight for a spot on the team. If he performs well in training camp and in the AHL, he may be up for a couple of games.
5. Quinton Howden
Quinton Howden was the 25th overall pick in the first round of the 2010 draft. He has been NHL ready for a while, but he has been plagued with injury for much of that time. He got his first NHL start in the 2012-2013 season, when he played 18 games. However, he did not score any points. In the 2013-2014 season, he also played some NHL games. He scored 4 goals and 2 assists in 16 games with the Panthers. In this past season, Howden was recovering from injury and did not play in any NHL games but on the Rampage, he scored 3 goals and 15 assists for 18 points in 33 games. Undoubtedly, Howden’s greatest asset is his speed. On a fairly slow Panthers team, I believe that Howden can excel. Now that he is healthy, I expect Howden to play a few games in the NHL this season. His prior NHL performance has not been super impressive but now, with more development, he may perform at a much higher level than before.
6. Kyle Rau
Kyle Rau was drafted 91st overall in the 3rd round of the NHL draft in 2011. He had been playing hockey with the University of Minnesota Gophers since the 2011-2012 season but toward the end of last season, he was offered a contract with the San Antonio Rampage. In 7 games with the team, he scored 2 goals and got 1 assist, which is pretty decent for a player new to the AHL. Prior to that, he scored 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points in 39 games with the Gophers in 2014-2015. Rau helped the Gophers achieve back to back Big Ten Championships and he was the team’s captain last season. I do not think there will be room for him on the team this year, but he is a competitor for a permanent spot on the Panthers in the 2016-2017 season in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how he performs with the Pirates this year.
7. Jayce Hawryluk
Jayce Hawryluk was drafted 32nd overall in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. He has played with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL since the 2012-2013 season and he is expected to play with them again next season. Last season, he scored 30 goals and 25 assists for 65 points in 54 games. He is a very tough and offensive-minded player. He is not afraid to fight if he thinks it will help him or his teammates. For these reasons, I do not think he will take as long to develop as a player and to become NHL-ready as some of the other players drafted in 2014. In a year or two, I don’t think that there is any doubt that the Pirates will sign him.
8. Connor Brickley
Connor Brickley was the 50th overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. He has taken a little longer to develop than most players do but he has recently started to perform extremely well. Last season with the Rampage, he scored 22 goals and 25 assists for 47 points in 73 games, which is second best on the team. He also got a goal and an assist in 3 games in last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs. All in all, I’m still not sure that Brickley is quite ready to make the next step up into the NHL. Yet, I think that he is definitely improving every year.
9. Ian McCoshen
Ian McCoshen was the 31st overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft. He is a defenseman often associated with Mike Matheson because they both play or have played at Boston College together. Matheson is a little further along than McCoshen and McCoshen seems to want to finish college, but he is definitely an impressive defenseman. Last season at Boston College, McCoshen scored 6 goals and 10 assists for a total of 16 points in 35 games. He is a big player and a physical one too, which could be a great asset for the Panthers in the future. Once McCoshen finishes college, I expect him to be offered a deal by the Pirates and I expect him to make a fairly quick transition into the NHL.
10. Juho Lammikko
Juho Lammikko was drafted 65th overall in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft. Last season, he played with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL but next season, he is expected to play in Finland again with Assat, the team he had played with prior to joining the Frontenacs. Last season, he scored 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points in 64 games with the Frontenacs. He is a big, two-way player with good hockey sense. He used to be a big shooter but has learned to make more calculated decisions and has become somewhat of a playmaker. Juho Lammikko is only 19 now but if he continues to improve, I can see a spot for him on the Panthers in a couple of years.
11. Thomas Schemitsch
Thomas Schemitsch was drafted 88th overall in the 3rd round of this year’s draft, but I’m surprised he didn’t get chosen earlier. He is a defenseman but he is also able to put up points on a regular basis. He plays well on offense as well as defense, which makes him that much more valuable. He has played with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL since 2013. Last year with the Sound Attack, he scored 14 goals and 35 assists for 49 points in 68 games. For an 18 year old, that is pretty great. Seeing as he is only 18 and that we can’t all be Aaron Ekblad, I assume it will take Schemitsch a few years to make his way up to the AHL and then the NHL but I am excited to watch him on his journey there.
12. Denis Malgin
Denis Malgin was the 102nd overall pick in the 4th round of this year’s draft. I believe he is another sleeper. He is from Switzerland and has played for many Swiss national teams. He is a very offensively-minded player with great puck control. He is fairly small (5’9’’) but is able to maneuver well on the ice. He has a very accurate shot but he lacks confidence and power, which he will probably gain with age. He needs work but has great potential and with such great puck control, I think he has the ability to be a sniper with the right direction.
13. Colin Stevens
With Roberto Luongo aging, the Panthers may soon be in need of a new goalie or at least a new backup. I am not sure that any of our goalies have the potential to be elite, but some do show promise. Colin Stevens is undrafted (which is very rare in the NHL) and was signed to a deal with the Rampage late last season, so he did not play any games with the team. Before that, he had played for Union College since 2011. Last year at Union College, he had a .920 save percentage over 31 games. Out of all of the goalies currently in our AHL system, Stevens is certainly the most skilled. In college, he never had a save percentage under .913, which is fairly impressive. I could see him coming up for a game or two next season if one of our goalies is injured (knock on wood).
14. Samuel Montembeault
Samuel Montembeault is another goalie and he was drafted 77th overall in the 3rd round of last year’s draft. He is only 18 so I don’t expect him to make the AHL or NHL in the very near future, but he definitely has potential to be the best young goalie in our system. He has been playing with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada since 2013. Last season, he had a .891 save percentage, which is decent considering that in the QMJHL, many more goals are scored because the goalies are typically less developed. He was ranked the #3 goalie in the draft by NHL Central Scouting and he was chosen to play in the CHL’s top prospect game this year. It may be too soon to tell, but Montembeault could be pretty good.
15. Sam Brittain
The final player on this list is yet another goalie. Sam Brittain was drafted 92nd overall in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. Last year was his first year in the AHL and ECHL. He played 7 games with the San Antonio Rampage and 27 with the Cincinnati Cyclones. After the goalie fiasco in which both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya became injured, Sam Brittain came up to backup Dan Ellis but did not end up playing. In 7 games with the Rampage, he had a .943 save percentage which is incredible but is taken from a small sample size. He was not nearly as successful on the Cyclones and only had a .895 save percentage. Goalies historically take longer to develop, so I have hope that he will continue to improve and maybe he will be our backup goalie after Luongo retires and Montoya’s fate is decided.
Overall, I think that the Panthers have a pretty strong pool of young prospects that will continue to improve over the next couple of years. The Panthers are a fairly young team as of right now and if that plan works out for them, then these prospects will be extremely central to the team’s future success. I can’t wait to see what is to come for these 15 prospects, as well as what is to come from our other talented, young players.