Prospects put speed and skill on display at Panthers’ 2016 development camp

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The Panthers held their annual development camp at the Ice Den in Coral Springs this week, and overall, it featured a cast of players more skilled than at any camp previously conducted by the team.

This year, the Panthers invited a total of 40 players to the week-long development camp including 14 players that are not from within the organization, which is something they’ve done – as well as other teams around the league – in the past, but not to this extent. Among the Panthers players that attended the camp were Henrik Borgström, Lawson Crouse, Sam Montembeault, Jayce Hawryluk, Ian McCoshen, and Jared McCann, while the list of non-roster invites featured Maxim Lazarev, Jack Ahcan, Anthony Greco, Niko Ojamaki, and Keenan Suthers.

(As a side note, Hawryluk and McCann missed most of the week nursing minor injuries while Linus Hultström was out the entire week with an injury.)

For the entire week, the roster was split into 2 groups of 20 and the days were spent going through skating and shooting drills, rushes, 3v3 scrimmages, and puck-handling for the goaltenders. A majority of the drills were run by Jon Lounsbury who the Panthers brought in from the Walpole Express where he serves as head coach and general manager. Also in attendance were Robb Tallas, the Panthers’ goaltending coach, recently-hired Leo Luongo, who will serve as the goaltending coach for the AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons, and Brian McCabe, the team’s director of player development. We’ve posted a ton of videos of our Twitter page, so be sure to check those out for a good feel of how things were run at the camp.

When it comes to the players, it was the first time playing in a Panthers jersey for some, including Henrik Borgström, who had a fairly decent week considering the league he is coming from. The tall but thin Finn showed off the same smarts and soft hands that we saw when looking at his game in my In The System article a few weeks ago.

“It was a great experience to see all of the guys here,” said Borgström. “There’s so many great players, especially the older guys you kind of learn from them a lot.”

“I don’t have a lot of free-time,” said Borgström about his off-season plans. “I’m heading back to Finland…[in a couple of weeks] national team camp will start so I don’t really have time to work out, but luckily I’m going back to Denver on August 15th so I’ll get time to practice and get myself stronger for the season.”

As I’ve said before, his skating is decent; his strides are smooth and has good speed once he gets going, but it’s something that needs work for sure. It’s also pretty clear that he needs to bulk up a lot, but since he’s attending the University of Denver beginning this fall, he should have no trouble doing so over the next couple of years. After the scrimmage on Friday, Borgström went first for the white team in a 5v5 scrimmage and scored on a sneaky one-handed move that confused the heck out of goaltender Samuel Montembeault.

“I saw it 5 years ago when I was watching a Finnish Elite League match […] and it kind of stick to me,” said Borgström about the shootout goal. “Usually it goes in and so it did today.”

“Oh, that was weird,” said Montembeault. “I wasn’t expecting that. I thought he would bring it back on his forehand but he just made a little move and put it in my 5-hole…that was weird.”

Speaking of Montembeault, he had a really strong camp this year after equipment issues limited his involvement last year. The soon-to-be 20-year old showed off his great lateral mobility, quick glove hand, and poise between the pipes. He made several great saves in Friday’s scrimmage including a glove save on Anthony Greco while down on his knees and moving to his left. He allowed just 1 goal while keeping the red team in the game and allowing them to come back from a 2-goal deficit and score 5 straight to win 6-4 in regulation.

Obviously, it’s still early in Montembeault’s career, but for now, all signs point to him being the Panthers’ starting goaltender in the future. After signing his entry-level contract this off-season, the Panthers and Montembeault are expected to reach a decision before the season as to where he will play in the upcoming season: QMJHL, AHL, or the ECHL.

“[Roberto Luongo] was one of my favorite goalies growing up, but to be the next Luongo here would be very nice,” said Montembeault.

Jonathan Ang, who was drafted in the 4th round at this year’s Draft, was very impressive in his first showing as a Panther. He was definitely the best skater at this year’s camp; he’s able to handle the puck with great speed and incredible fluidity, and his strides appear to be effortless. He also showed off his wrist shot which, considering it’s not something that is mentioned much by scouting reports, it surprisingly powerful and accurate. Like Borgström, Ang needs to pack on some more weight and muscle, which is something he’ll be able to do with 2 years of OHL eligiblity remaining.

This year was the second development camp for 2015 1st-round pick Lawson Crouse who was sent back to the OHL this past season after nearly making the Opening Night squad. Overall, Crouse had a decent week. He didn’t dominate by any means, but he was skating very well – noticeably better than last year – and showed off his ability to drive hard down the wing and get shots on net, something he did at least 5 or 6 times during Friday’s scrimmage. Of course, it’s just a development camp, so it’s still hard to say whether he’ll be making the team or not come October. Rookie camp kicks off in September just before training camp, so we’ll have to wait until at least then to formulate an opinion.

Also at the camp was Adam Mascherin, the Panthers’ 2nd-round draft choice in June, and he put on a show with his highly-touted wrist shot. Highlights of Mascherin from the OHL don’t do his shot justice; it’s something to behold in person because it’s so accurate and laser-like. He could work on moving his feet more when he doesn’t have the puck, but he has a knack for the net and has the ability to score from just about anywhere in the offensive zone.

Dryden Hunt, who shares a wrist shot of a similar caliber as Mascherin, attended the Panthers’ camp for the first time since being signed by the team in late-February as a WHL free-agent. Like Mascherin, he showed off his top-end offensive abilities and even tallied 2 goals in the scrimmage and nearly missed the hat-trick goal after his shot from the right half-wall rang off the far post and apparently failed to trickle over the line.

“It was great,” said Hunt about the entire week with the team. “Everybody was so welcoming, this was my first time here, so all the guys were really great…there’s so many staff around that really made things easier.”

“I actually thought one of those went in, that one that went through,” said Hunt about missing the hat-trick in the scrimmage. “A lot of the guys haven’t seen me play so I think first impression is huge, so it was nice to score some goals out there because that’s kind of what I do I guess.”

Some other players who had good weeks were Anthony Greco, Ian McCoshen, Denis Malgin, Otso Rantakari, and Chris Wilkie. Greco, a non-roster invite capped off a solid week with a 2-goal performance on Friday which included a top-shelf snipe and a rebound shot right before that. He’s a bit smaller then the average forward, but like Adam Mascherin and Jayce Hawryluk, he’s built like a tank and works really hard along the boards and down low.

Ian McCoshen wasn’t a standout, but his play was solid all week long. His build and movement on the ice is reminiscent of Aaron Ekblad; both are very mature for their age, although McCoshen could need some time in the AHL à la Mike Matheson before making the jump to the NHL. Denis Malgin, who the Panthers drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 Draft and signed to an entry-level contract this past week, showed off his quick thinking and shifty skating. He’s not a flashy player, but he skates well and is very smart when the puck is on his stick. He forced a turnover at the blue-line during the scrimmage and set Dryden Hunt up for a 2-on-0 goal with a nice pass.

Otso Rantakari was also another non-roster invite, and he’s one that has some pro experience from playing for the now-bankrupt Espoo Blues for the past two seasons in Liiga, Finland’s top men’s league. He’s decently sized at 6’0″, 183 pounds but can move the puck really well and does so with a lot of skill. He scored a dazzling backhanded top-shelf goal in the shootout on Friday, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him either signed to a cheap deal or maybe even back with the Panthers at training camp on a PTO.

Chris Wilkie was at camp for the second time since being drafted in the 6th-round last year and he actually looked very good this time around. He was skating incredibly well and unleashed a great wrist shot on a number of occassions. We already know he has some sort of offensive ability considering he was tied with top Canucks prospect Brock Boeser for the USHL lead in goals during his draft year with 35, a mark which beat out Winnipeg prospect Kyle Connor.

“I was wide open,” blurted out Wilkie when the media asked Adam Mascherin about his goal in the low slow during the development camp scrimmage.

Throughout the week, the team also held a few off-ice events for the players including softball and dodgeball games, as well as the Season Seat Owner skate at the Panthers’ Ice Den in Coral Springs.

“This week, again we’re forging the culture of warriors, winners, and leaders,” said J.B Spisso, the Panthers’ Executive Director of Leadership and Cultural Development. “[We had an] extremely skilled group, 40 young men that came in here prepared and ready to go. It was a great week, great pace, great motivation, great team-building…I’m extremely happy.”

Overall, it was a very solid and exciting week for the Panthers’ prospects, and while one week of drills isn’t the best indication of who will make the team or how good or bad of a player someone it, it’s good to see the progression from one year to the next or even small steps over the course of the camp. For players hoping to make the roster soon, this was just the first step on their path to the NHL.

If you’re interested in seeing more clips from the week’s events, check out our Twitter page here and scroll down a bit to the videos. You can also check out our 2016 development camp photo gallery by clicking here.

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