Reviewing the Panthers’ 2011 draft class

Image courtesy of NHL / Getty Images
Image courtesy of NHL / Getty Images

A good rule of thumb is to wait five years before evaluating an NHL draft class. This gives players a fair amount of time to develop past “prospect” status, allowing fans or pundits to more effectively evaluate how well the team drafted in a certain year. With five years having passed since the 2011 NHL Draft, we are now able to take a closer look at the Panthers’ draftees and compare their projections to what they’ve become thus far in their careers.

Jonathan Huberdeau

Selected: Round 1, 3rd overall

Team: Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL

Draft-year stats: 67 GP, 43 goals, 62 assists, 105 points

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Jonathan Huberdeau was ranked as the number 3 North American skater in the 2011 Draft by Central Scouting and was a consensus top-5 pick but wasn’t expected to go above 3rd overall. At the time, the Panthers held the record for the longest streak of missing the playoffs – 10 years – and were desperate for forwards that could score and create offense. Jonathan Huberdeau had a bit of a slow start to his junior career tallying just 35 points in 61 games in his first season, but he began to emerge as a dominant offensive force in the playoffs that same year when he posted 11 goals and 7 assists in 21 games.

In his second QMJHL season with the Sea Dogs, Huberdeau overpowered most of the league by recording 43 goals and 62 assists in just 67 games which was good enough for 3rd in scoring and a 70-point jump from the season before. It was also good enough to help lead his team to a Memorial Cup championship, something he made sure of by recording a late 3rd-period insurance goal on a 2-on-1. As a result of his offensive abilities and average-sized frame, Huberdeau drew comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings.

Scout’s Honor:

“He’s the type of player who can change the outcome of a game suddenly and quickly. He’s displayed unbelievably quick hands and an ability to set up and score goals. He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability . . . he’s also gritty and does not back down when challenged.” – Chris Bordeleau, NHL Central Scouting

After being drafted by the Panthers, Huberdeau returned to the Sea Dogs for his 3rd season during which he recorded 30 goals and 42 assists in 37 games, giving him a league-leading points-per-game average of 1.95 and plus-minus of 53. With the 2012-13 lockout in full swing, Huberdeau suited up for 30 games with the Sea Dogs in his final season before leaving to join the Panthers for the start of the shortened 2013 campaign. He would go on to tally his first career NHL goal in his first game against the Hurricanes before winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie after notching 31 points in 48 games.

The young forward underwent hip surgery following his rookie season, and an interrupted off-season along with breaking his foot at the start of the 2013-14 season contributed to him recording just 28 points in 69 games as a sophomore. The past two seasons, however, Huberdeau has been able to right the ship by posting improved stats year-over-year, including during the 2014-15 season when he set career-highs in goals (15) and assists (39) before matching the assists total and setting a new goal high (20) in 3 fewer games this past year.

Huberdeau’s performance was bolstered after being placed on the top line with Jaromir Jagr at the 2014 trade deadline and he hasn’t really looked back since. His playmaking abilities are off the charts and his hands are some of the best the Panthers have had in a long time. Huberdeau is largely the same player he was in juniors, although he’s become even grittier and more of a 2-way player rather than solely an offensive threat. Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant, who also coached Huberdeau with the Sea Dogs, has put tons of trust in the 23-year old by playing him on the penalty kill in addition to other big situations during games.

Since the upcoming season will be his 5th in the NHL, the soon-to-be pending RFA is on the brink of cashing in on two things: a 60+ point season and a long-term contract. This is a pretty easy pick to evaluate; at this point, we know the type of player Huberdeau is and exactly what he brings to the Panthers, and that is the ability to play on the top forward line while being an offensive threat night in and night out.

Rocco Grimaldi

Selected: Round 2, 33rd overall

Team: U.S. National Team Developmental Program, U18

Draft-year stats: 58 GP, 39 goals, 34 assists, 73 points

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

Ranked as the 32nd-best North American skater in the 2011 Draft, the biggest knock on Rocco Grimaldi was his size. He measured in at 5’6″ tying him with Johnny Gaudreau (who has since grown to 5’9″) as the smallest player in the draft, although his offensive abilities at the time were both impressive and incredibly tempting.

He sits among some prominent names with the 11th-best point total in a season for the USNTDP with 73 in 58 games during his draft year, and that came after a few solid years with Little Caesars and strong performances at U17 and U18 tournaments with Team USA. Scouts acknowledged that Grimaldi would have it tough throughout his career as a result of his smaller stature, but he was without a doubt one of the hardest working players in the draft and knew he had to be in order to succeed at the next level.

Scout’s Honor:

“Grimaldi is a blur from goal line to goal line, but it’s his quickness in close quarters that separates him from the pack. For those measuring under ideal NHL size, speed, acceleration and agility are not just assets, they’re a means of survival when hulking D-men close in for the kill. And Grimaldi hasn’t just mastered the art of elusion, he’s also using his top tool to exploit bigger, but slower skaters.” – Brian Hume, ESPN

Grimaldi attended the University of North Dakota for 3 seasons, although the first was a wash after season-ending knee surgery limited him to just 4 games as a freshman. For the next two seasons, Grimaldi roughly a point-per-game pace and even led North Dakota in scoring in his final season with 39 points in 42 games. During the 2012-13 season, Grimaldi suited up for USA at the U20 World Junior Championship and he scored 2 goals and added 2 assists alongside fellow prospect Vincent Trocheck to lead the team to a gold medal in the tournament.

For what seemed like forever, those following the team were waiting for the day when Grimaldi would become a mainstay of the Panthers’ forward group, and after a solid rookie campaign in the AHL during which he recorded 14 goals and 28 assists, he seemed to be trending that way. This past year, he split time between the AHL and the NHL, playing 20 games with the Panthers – as well as 2 in the playoffs – and 52 games with the Portland Pirates where he ended with 16 goals and 17 assists, a slight dip in production compared to his rookie season.

Grimaldi’s best game in the NHL came this past season when he scored twice in just under 3 minutes to earn his first career multi-goal game, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Panthers from wanting more. Through no fault of his own, Grimaldi’s size was a noticeable hinderance to his game. Despite his willingness to be once of the hardest workers on the ice – and he often was – opponents were able to push him off the puck with ease which lead to loss of possession on numerous occasions. It wouldn’t be fair to call him a “bust,” because he wasn’t one at all.

Once a very promising prospect, players in the Panthers’ organization, like Vincent Trocheck and Kyle Rau, began to leapfrog Grimaldi on the depth chart, and he was often placed in a bottom-6 role when called up to the big club. He’ll likely get a better chance with the Colorado Avalanche, who received Grimaldi in exchange for Reto Berra in late-June. He’s still just 23, so there’s definitely some time left for him to develop, but unfortunately it won’t be with the Panthers.

Rasmus Bengtsson

Selected: Round 2, 59th overall

Team: Rögle BK, Allsvenskan

Draft-year stats: 45 GP, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points

The Bengtsson pick was a bit of a head-scratcher considering the two picks the Panthers made prior to the 59th overall selection, and it was definitely somewhat of a risk. The young defenseman, who was ranked 10th among European skaters by Central Scouting, had some good things going for him heading into the draft. By playing in Sweden’s 2nd-tier professional league, Allsvenskan (which sits below the SHL), Bengtsson, who measured in at an impressive 3.6% body fat at the Combine, had experience playing against players bigger and more developed than he was, and he put up decent numbers at junior tournaments while playing for Team Sweden. After being drafted by the Panthers, he spent 2 seasons in the USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks putting up 3 goals and 31 assists in 83 games.

Scout’s Honor:

“A defenseman with above-average hockey sense, Bengtsson displays a quiet game that controls the possession game well and he rarely makes an error defensively. He uses his stick and body to effectively close on players in one-on-one situations and keeps the play in front of him and to the outside well. […] Bengtsson is a moderately advanced defenseman who may very well end up on a second pairing at the highest level if he just improves his skating a bit.” Corey Pronman, ESPN

That’s about where things end, however. Since leaving the USHL following the 2012-13 season, Bengtsson went back to Sweden where, aside from 4 games in the SHL, he has played in Allsvenskan for the past 3 seasons. With him not advancing past the 2nd-tier league and not even attending a Panthers development camp in any of his 5 years with the organization, he’s not expected to suit up outside of Europe for at least the foreseeable future.

The Panthers have recently shifted more towards puck-moving defensemen, and if Bengtsson’s skating needs work, you can bet they won’t have much interest in trying to get him to come over to North America. Combine that with the fact that he’s hardly been able to contribute much offensively with just 42 points in 180 career Allsvenskan games, and it’s pretty safe to say that he’s a bust for the Panthers.

Vincent Trocheck

Selected: Round 3, 64th overall

Team: Saginaw Spirit, OHL

Draft-year stats: 68 GP, 26 goals, 36 assists, 62 points

Vincent Trocheck was ranked as the 41st-best prospect in the 2011 Draft by Central Scouting and rightfully so. At 5’10”, he wasn’t the biggest player, but he also wasn’t the smallest, and he had a solid track record prior to being selected by the Panthers in the 3rd round. Trocheck led the league in scoring in the two seasons he played for the Little Caesars Bantam Minor AAA team before the Saginaw Spirit made him the 24th overall pick in the 2009 OHL Draft.

In his NHL draft year, he finished 3rd on the team in scoring with 62 points while current NHLer Brandon Saad and former Panthers’ draft pick John McFarland both finished below him. In the same year, Trocheck suited up for Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game and added a goal as part of a 7-1 victory over Team Cherry.

Scout’s Honor:

“Vince has a lot of grit in his game. He’s willing to battle and come out with the puck. Very good passing ability. Vince is smart, he gets himself into good shooting position on the power play and gets off one-timers. He plays a steady, two-way game and plays with good energy.” – Chris Edwards, NHL Central Scouting

Over the course of his 4 years with the Saginaw Spirit, Trocheck emerged as a dynamic offensive threat. In his 3rd season, he tallied 85 points in 65 games, a 23-point improvement over his draft year despite playing in 3 fewer games. Trocheck put up 50 points in 35 games as the Spirit’s captain in his final junior season before being traded to the Plymouth Whalers in exchange for Zach Bratina and 3 draft picks. He finished out the season with 59 points in 28 games, giving him a league-leading total of 109 in just 63 games. Trocheck also played for the U20 USA team at the World Junior Championship where he tallied an empty-net goal and 1 assist in the gold medal game.

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

As he made the transition to pro hockey after signing his entry-level deal in 2012, it became clear that the Panthers had a really solid player on their hands. During the 2013-14 season, Trocheck split time with the Panthers and the San Antonio Rampage playing 20 games with the big club during which he scored his first career goal on an empty net against New Jersey, and 55 games in the AHL where he totaled 16 goals and 26 assists.

He would return to the Rampage for the first 23 games of the 2014-15 season and tally 19 points before getting the call up to the Panthers where he remained for the final 50 games of the regular season. This past season, he broke out thanks to some injuries throughout the top half of the Panthers’ lineup, and the line combination of him, Jussi Jokinen, and Reilly Smith which was without a doubt one of the best in the league, helping him reach the 25 goals and 28 assists in the process.

Since turning pro, he’s bulked up and worked on his defensive game, and we’ve been able to see a noticeable improvement in his two-way play. Solid showings at both the AHL level and NHL level enabled him to climb the ranks fairly quickly, and he hasn’t looked back since early on in the 2014-15 season. His speed, offensive abilities, and smarts make him a really effective player in the top-6, in addition to one of the most underrated centers in the entire league, and he’s definitely challenging Nick Bjugstad for the 2nd-line center role if he doesn’t have it to himself already. With a solid off-season, Trocheck is poised to hit 25 goals again and likely even 60 points for the first time in his career.

Logan Shaw

Selected: Round 3, 76th overall

Team: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL

Draft-year stats: 68 GP, 26 goals, 20 assists, 46 points

Logan Shaw was ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting as the 42nd-best skater in the 2011 Draft, and even early on, it was clear he was a different type of player than the 3 forwards that the Panthers drafted before him. Shaw brought a grittier game than the others while also being considered a big-bodied goal-scorer. His offense was limited, however, partly due to the fact that the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who he played with for 3 and a half seasons in the QMJHL, were perennially one of the lowest scoring teams in the entire league. In his first two seasons, Shaw scored 5 goals and 9 goals respectively before jumping to 26 goals in his draft year, a season in which his team as a whole totaled just 154 goals, 3 more than the team that sat at the bottom of the league.

Scout’s Honor:

“We were looking for a little bit of size on the right side and he’s got good finishing touch. He’s a skilled guy with size.” – Scott Luce, former Florida Panthers scout

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

After being drafted by the Panthers, Shaw went back to the QMJHL for two more seasons, and he was actually traded at the deadline to the Quebec Remparts during the first one. With the Remparts, he served as assistant captain in his overage year and totaled 83 points in 90 games, a slightly better points-per-game average than he had with the offensively-handicapped Screaming Eagles. Shaw’s rookie year in the AHL wasn’t impressive as he put up just 8 points in 46 games with the San Antonio Rampage, but he did manage to record 18 points in 20 ECHL games during that same year. The 2014-15 season was Shaw’s first full campaign in the AHL and it went marginally better than his rookie year as he recorded 25 points, including 13 goals and 12 assists in 69 games.

This past season, Shaw started off with the Portland Pirates in the AHL before quickly getting the call at the tail end of October to replace an injured Jaromir Jagr. After making his NHL debut against the Bruins, he was sent back to the AHL and wouldn’t return until a month later at the end of November, and that’s when he remained with the Panthers until just before the end of the regular season. Statistically speaking, Shaw was better in the AHL than he was in the NHL, posting 11 goals and 3 assists in 19 games for the Pirates compared to just 5 goals, including 2 empty-netters, and 2 assists in 53 games.

Considering he spent most of his time this season with Nick Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri, and Brian Campbell, you’d expect to see slightly better numbers – at the very least – than what he ended up with, but it just didn’t seem as though his performance matched the types of players he played with on a nightly basis. It’s apparent that the Panthers’ coaching staff liked what they saw with Shaw, however, as he not only stayed up for a good part of the season over guys like Kyle Rau, but he also got time on the special teams. He plays a north-south game, and that’s something the Panthers preach, but at times it just didn’t work with Shaw as he could be found out of position on a number of occasions while sometimes being too aggressive.

He has a decent offensive skill set and we’ve seen it work in the AHL, but he just doesn’t appear to be as effective offensively in the NHL, or at least so far. When the playoffs came around, Shaw spent a good amount of time on the 4th line, and that seemed to be when he was at his best. He was re-signed to a 1-year deal recently, but that won’t guarantee him a roster spot as he’ll need to compete with the glut of forwards also vying for a spot this season, like Lawson Crouse, Jonathan Marchessault, Colton Sceviour, Jayce Hawryluk, Kyle Rau, and Jared McCann.

It’s no secret that the Panthers’ front office has added analytics to their player analysis repertoire especially as of late, and with Shaw’s advanced numbers the way they are, don’t be surprised if he’s put on the same long leash he was on most of last season. So while Shaw is neither a boom nor a bust, he’s somewhere in between as he’s settled into what is likely a bottom line NHL forward or top-6 AHL forward.

Jonathan Racine

Selected: Round 3, 87th overall

Team: Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL

Draft-year stats: 68 GP, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points

Jonathan Racine was ranked 67th by the NHL’s Central Scouting just prior to the 2011 Draft, and with him, the Panthers probably hoped to get a player who would be similar in style of play to Erik Gudbranson. Just by looking at Racine’s numbers, you can see that he was and is not a defenseman who is going to be producing offensively, and that’s because he plays a stay-at-home game where he rarely jumps up on the rush or sets up his teammates. As a rookie in the QMJHL, he recorded just 4 assists and no goals in 55 games, and in his draft year, he added 2 goals and 1 assist to that total in 13 more games played. 

At the 2011 Draft Combine, Racine finished near the top of several testing categories, including first in the standing long jump and second in the Wingate test. After being drafted in 2011, he he went back to the QMJHL for two more seasons, and his best stretch of offense came during the 2012 Playoffs when he recorded a goal and 5 assists in 11 games for the Cataractes. In his 4th and final season of junior hockey, Racine – in addition to two other players – was traded by Shawinigan to the Moncton Wildcats in exchange for Brandon Gormley, the 13th overall pick at the 2010 Draft and a player who has struggled to make it to the NHL level as of late. While serving as the assistant captain of the Wildcats, Racine put together a career year totaling 21 points, including 8 goals and 13 assists, in 61 games played.

Racine’s first full season in the AHL came in 2013 when he tallied 6 assists in 51 games. His assist total would increase by one each year as he recorded 7 in his second season, and 8 this past season which also included his first professional goal. Despite just finishing up his 3rd pro season, he’s played in only one NHL game which came over 2 years ago against the New York Islanders with Tom Gilbert and Alex Petrovic out of the lineup at the time.

Aside from that one game, the Panthers have never really taken a hard look at the 23-year old defenseman and players like Brent Regner, Dylan Olsen, Colby Robak, and Shane O’Brien (the last 3 of which are no longer with the Panthers) all saw NHL time instead of Racine. Although he recently signed a 1-year deal with the team, his time may soon be up, especially considering the Panthers (and most of the league) appear to be moving towards a more mobile and offensively aware blue-line, as evidenced by the fact that they traded away Erik Gudbranson while bringing in Linus Hultstrom, Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, and others. While Racine has the potential to be a serviceable bottom-pairing or depth defenseman, he certainly hasn’t gotten a shot to prove that and probably won’t any time soon.

So was picking Racine a bad idea? Well considering the Panthers’ pool of defensive prospects at the time was fairly shallow, no. But when you consider the fact that even after 3 years of pro hockey Racine’s progression has slowed, it’s difficult to say that it was good pick.

Kyle Rau

Selected: Round 3, 91st overall

Team: Eden Prairie High School, USHS

Draft-year stats: 25 GP, 33 goals, 36 assists, 69 points

Kyle Rau, who was ranked 177th for the 2011 Draft, carried with him a track record similar to that of Nick Bjugstad who the Panthers selected in the 1st round a year earlier. Rau led the Eden Prairie High School team in scoring as a sophomore, junior, and senior and was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as the most outstanding senior high school hockey player in the entire state after recording 33 goals and 36 assists in 25 games played.

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

That same year, he scored the game-winning goal for his school in the 3rd overtime of the state championship game, ending the longest game of that caliber in state history. At the end of his senior year, Rau played in 11 regular season games for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL during which he tallied 4 goals and 6 assists and then 7 goals and 5 assists in 10 playoff games before being drafted by the Panthers with the team’s 4th and final 3rd-round pick.

Scout’s Honor:

“Kyle came to us very highly recommended from our off ice due diligence. Everyone we spoke to spoke very highly of this guy. His training and his lower body strength is very comparable to a lot of NHL forwards that lack height.” – Scott Luce, former Florida Panthers scout

Rau would go on to spend 4 years at the University of Minnesota, the first 2 of which were spent as the teammate and linemate of Bjugstad. Rau finished second in scoring for the Gophers in as a freshman, sophomore, and senior, first in scoring as a junior, and served as team captain in his final two seasons. When his senior year ended, he had amassed 23 game-wnning goals which was the most among active skaters in the NCAA and earned him a reputation as being a clutch player. He then went on to sign his entry-level deal with the Panthers and a PTO with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage where he played in his first 7 pro games, recording 2 goals and 1 assist.

This past season was his rookie campaign in the AHL, and he performed admirably on the 2nd line where he spent most of the season with Rocco Grimaldi and Shane Harper. In 61 games, Rau’s 17 goals placed him second on the team behind Rob Schremp who scored 21 times, and combined with his 14 assists, he managed a point total of 31 which was good enough for 5th on the Portland Pirates.

As a result of the Panthers’ roster being depleted by injuries, Rau was called up and made his NHL debut on February 20th against the Winnipeg Jets, and it didn’t take long for him to show everyone why he was deserving of a 3rd-round selection. He didn’t register any points in the 9 games he would go on to play for the Panthers before being sent back down, but it became clear that he has a future in the NHL. He was all over the ice, battled for pucks, went to the front of the net to screen the goaltender on numerous occasions, and looked good with Nick Bjugstad as his center.

With Rocco Grimaldi being shipped to the Colorado Avalanche, the Panthers seemingly decided that Rau was the better option of the two as he’s not only a bit bigger at 5’8″, but appeared to be more serviceable and fit into the lineup more seamlessly than Grimaldi. Rau can also play on the wing where there’s more need than at center. His first real chance to crack the NHL roster will come in September when training camp opens, but as I mentioned with Logan Shaw, he’ll have to compete with several other players for what is likely only 2 or 3 bottom-6 spots. While Rau has yet to make the NHL on a full-time basis, all signs point to him achieving that goal very soon.

Yaroslav Kosov

Selected: Round 5, 124th overall

Team: Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, MHL

Draft-year stats: 42 GP, 11 goals, 10 assists, 21 points

Yaroslav Kosov was not ranked among the European skaters for the 2011 Draft making this selection a curious one by the Panthers. Also, with the “Russian factor” in full effect, it was a bit surprising to see the Panthers take Kosov in the 5th round especially after he had been drafted in the KHL a year earlier and seemed mostly committed to going that route. In his draft year, Kosov was playing for the Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk of the MHL, which is essentially the junior league of the KHL, Russia’s top professional hockey league, where he put up 11 goals and 10 assists in 42 games played.

Scout’s Honor:

“We saw a lot of video on him, a lot of good quality viewings and he came here for an interview. Doesn’t speak English at all so he’s got to learn that but we think we have got a guy there with his size and sill set that he’s just got to polish things up a little bit. As a mid round guy, he’s got time to develop that.” – Scott Luce, former Florida Panthers scout

Since being drafted by the Panthers in 2010, Kosov has been playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL where he’s been a decent bottom-6 player averaging under 10 minutes per game. Despite his big frame and decent offensive instincts, he hasn’t seen much ice time, and he has yet to reach 10 points in a season. Kosov scored the series-clinching, double OT goal in the KHL Eastern Conference Finals in March against Salavat Yulaev Ufa, one of his 4 goals in 23 playoff games this past season.

Although Kosov was able to create offense at the two World Junior Championship tournaments he participated in, he seems to have trouble creating offense against tougher competition and in spite of not getting much ice time. Most of the time, if a player has difficulty producing in the KHL, they likely won’t be able to do so in the NHL either. Kosov was rumored to be attending development camp last month, but he was never invited after he signed a 2-year deal with Metallurg that includes an NHL out clause after the first season.

That being said, the earliest he can come to North America would be after the upcoming season, and even that doesn’t sound very likely at this point, especially when you consider the fact that he’s been in the KHL for 5 years already. As it stands right now, picking Kosov appears to have been a waste of a draft pick, and they certainly aren’t hedging their bets on him making the jump to North America any time soon.

Eddie Wittchow

Selected: Round 6, 154th overall

Team: Burnsville High School, USHS

Draft year stats: 25 GP, 9 goals, 14 assists, 23 points

Ranked 111th among North American skaters by Central Scouting on their final draft list – after not being ranked at the mid-term – defenseman Eddie Wittchow was another interesting pick by the Panthers. It was pretty clear early on that Wittchow was not a big point producer from the backend, but rather a tough and physically imposing stay-at-home defender. Considering the Panthers selected Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic (who appears to becoming more involved in the offense) in the 2010 Draft and then Jonathan Racine just 3 rounds prior, selecting Wittchow seemed a bit redundant.

In 50 games over two years at Burnsville High, the Minnesota-native tallied just 30 points, which is not impressive considering the level of competition, and he went on to post just 18 points in 60 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks the next season in the USHL. Wittchow then spent 4 years at the University of Wisconsin where he recorded just 17 points in 123 games which included him going without a point in all 25 games of the 2014-15 season. During his time with the Badgers, he was known for his physical play and bone-crushing body checks which earned him a few suspensions.

As a mentioned earlier with Bengtsson and Racine, the Panthers have begun moving away from defensemen that are less mobile and less offensively inclined, and it appears they’ve already moved on from Wittchow, who becomes a free agent on August 15th, as he no longer appears on the team’s prospect roster. It doesn’t come as a total surprise as the signing of Linus Hultstrom, Ian McCoshen and Michael Downing as well as veterans Jason Demers and Keith Yandle should keep the Panthers fairly deep on the backend for the foreseeable future.

Of course, the Panthers couldn’t predict the future, so they couldn’t have possibly known that selecting Wittchow wouldn’t be the greatest idea, but considering his style of play was pretty evident when he was drafted in addition to the team’s previous picks, perhaps they should’ve thought about going a different direction.

Iiro Pakarinen

Selected: Round 7, 154th overall

Team: Burnsville High School, USHS

Draft year stats: 25 GP, 9 goals, 14 assists, 23 points

When he was selected by the Panthers in the 7th round of the 2011 Draft, Iiro Pakarinen was in his second year of draft eligibility after being passed over the year before. Pakarinen struggled to produce offensively and the Panthers opted to not sign him to an entry-level deal after the 2012-13 season.

Through 171 games in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, Pakarinen totaled just 43 points. He also had difficulties in international junior tournaments, including in 2011 when he was held to just 1 goal in 6 games as the assistant captain of Team Finland. Similar to Joonas Donskoi, who the Panthers drafted in 2010 and never signed to a contract, Pakarinen broke out the season after with 20 goals and 30 points in 60 games for HIFK. In June of 2014, Pakarinen signed a 2-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers where he’s played well for both the AHL and NHL clubs.

While he’ll likely be a good depth player (or perhaps more than that for a transitioning Edmonton team), Pakarinen is obviously no longer with the Panthers organization and can be considered a bust as far as the team making a pick to improve the team is concerned.

When everything was said and done, the Panthers did an average job at the 2011 Draft. Considering the players on the board at 3rd overall, they went with a pretty safe pick in Jonathan Huberdeau who should be the Panthers’ top line winger for years to come. They took two risks in the 2nd round by taking Rocco Grimaldi, a player who’s speed and size allowed him to dominate junior hockey and at college but has limited his effectiveness at the pro level, and Rasmus Bengtsson, who was relatively unknown at the time he was drafted and never amounted to anything more than an above-average Tier 2 player in Sweden.

In the 3rd round, the Panthers were able to find really good value in Vincent Trocheck who recently finished up a breakout season, putting up 25 goals and 28 assists while playing primarily on the 2nd line. Trocheck essentially saved the 3rd round for the Panthers as without him, they’d be left with an NHL 4th-liner / top-6 AHL forward in Logan Shaw, a career AHL / depth defenseman in Jonathan Racine, and a potential bottom-6 NHL forward / top-6 AHL forward in Kyle Rau. Out of the 3, Rau is certainly the most likely candidate to have a noticeable impact on the Panthers while Shaw and Racine are dime-a-dozen players.

In the 5th round, Yaroslav Kosov was the lone selection made by the Panthers and is probably the most interesting of them all considering he wasn’t even ranked by Central Scouting at any point during his draft year. Combine that with the fact that he had already been drafted in the KHL and was likely going to continue his career there, and the pick probably should’ve never been made. The Panthers then rounded out the 6th and 7th rounds with Eddie Wittchow and Iiro Pakarinen, both of whom were not good enough to earn NHL contracts.

In 2011, the Panthers were still looking to stock their cupboards with the best prospects possible in order to rebuild the franchise, and yes, no team is going to hit on every single draft pick; that’s not the issue. The issue is the players that the Panthers did select. When you look at Huberdeau and Trocheck, you can see that they were built for success. Their offensive abilities were off the charts before and after they were drafted and they possessed skill-sets at the time of the draft that could and now have transfered over to the NHL.

But when you look at the other selections, none of them had talents that would give them a fighting chance in a pro league. Grimaldi could score, but there haven’t been many players who measure in at 5’6″ that have had much success, if any at all. Logan Shaw had the ability to score goals here and there and possessed a decent frame, but he played more of a gritty, versatile role on the top line and could hardly crack a point-per-game average in the QMJHL which is historically the highest scoring league out of the 3 in the CHL. And the same goes for Jonathan Racine, a defenseman with good size, but not much else. Kosov was already playing in a bottom-6 role in a Russian junior league and was seeing very little ice time when he was drafted by the Panthers.

The ideology should always be more about trying to select players who have the best shot at becoming impact players in the NHL, whether that’s by scoring 50 goals or not. And again, while that’s not an easy thing to determine by any means, that doesn’t mean, for example, that there wasn’t a noticeable different between Rasmus Bengtsson who was selected 59th overall and eventual 30-goal scorer Nikita Kucherov who was picked 58th by Tampa. Historically, the Panthers have selected big players with low skill levels who were producing (or not) from lower leagues. In some cases, it makes sense; Nick Bjugstad was selected out of high school in 2010 and was a first round pick because of his massive frame and lightning quick release. Sure he was raw, but he had skills that could translate to the NHL and skills that could be honed through some time spent in college.

At the end of the day, the Panthers hit on the players they should’ve hit on in 2011. Jonathan Huberdeau was, for all intents and purposes, a no-brainer pick. Vincent Trocheck, while he probably wasn’t a no-brainer, clearly had talent that could and has turned him into an NHL player. On the flip side of the coin, they missed on the players you’d probably expect them to miss on: players facing inferior competition in lower-tier leagues, or big guys with low skill levels. Dale Tallon and the rest of the scouting staff stated after the draft that they thought they added lots of skill to the organization, but even then – and more-so  now – that didn’t (and doesn’t) appear to be the case.

Although the Panthers’ latest draft in 2016 was the first to incorporate the input of prospect and advanced stats analysts like Cam Lawrence and Josh Weissbock as well as more loudly feature voices like Jason Bukala and Peter Mahovlich with Scott Luce gone from the organization, the team’s selections began trending in the right direction as of late, and we’ll see that in future draft reviews. Overall, a poorer showing at the 2011 Draft than what the Panthers achieved could’ve potentially set the prospect pool back, but fortunately, they had 10 picks, making their odds of hitting on just a couple of players pretty high.


3 thoughts on “Reviewing the Panthers’ 2011 draft class

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