2016 Preseason: Ranking the Panthers’ top 10 prospects

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

The Panthers’ prospect pool has evolved gradually over the past several years, and although it’s not nearly as deep as it once was, there are still a good amount of quality players looking to realize their dreams. Read on for a look at the Panthers’ top 10 prospects as we enter the 2015-16 season.

#1

Mike Matheson

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

Aside from Aaron Ekblad, Mike Matheson has been the Panthers’ top defensive prospect since he was drafted in the 1st round back in 2012. After being selected, Matheson spent two years at Boston College before making the jump to pro hockey this past season with the Panthers’ former AHL affiliate Portland Pirates.

“Scott Allen has done a phenomenal job of developing [Matheson] at the right pace,” said General Manager Tom Rowe in May. “We started off teaching him how to play real good defensive zone coverage first, and then we wanted him to join the rush but we wanted him to play the position from the defensive standpoint before we did anything else.”

He worked extensively with then-head coach Scott Allen – who’s now the Panthers’ assistant coach – on his play without the puck and in the defensive zone, and it all paid off when the smooth-skating blueliner made his NHL debut in February before returning to the squad for the end of the season and the playoffs.

“He came in and did such a great job in the playoffs against the Islanders,” said Rowe. “Playing in the NHL playoffs is not the easiest and for him to be able to give us the minutes that he did and at the quality that he did was impressive. […] He was definitely one of our best defensemen, him and Aaron Ekblad.”

Two things that make Matheson the Panthers’ top prospect and one of their most promising players are his skating ability and smarts. His skating is incredibly smooth and it allows him to protect his own end well while also being able to join the rush up the ice with the forwards.

Matheson also earned some rave reviews at the Panthers’ exit meetings at the start of the off-season from a variety of players and staff. Roberto Luongo said he was “really impressed” with the 22-year old, Aaron Ekblad stated that he is a “great player,” and Dale Tallon said the defensive pairing of Ekblad and Matheson was “terrific.”

The Quebec-native continued his strong play when he suited up for Team Canada at the 2016 World Championship during which he posted a tournament-leading +11 rating among defensemen, recorded 2 goals and 4 assists, and was named the tournament’s top defenseman. Matheson’s performance at Worlds made the team more comfortable with sending Erik Gudbranson off to the Vancouver Canucks in an early off-season trade, so clearly the front office is very high on the young defender.

As far as the upcoming season is concerned, Matheson isn’t a lock for the Opening Night roster but he’s certainly as close as you can get to being one. With Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Keith Yandle expected to fill 3 of the top 4 spots and Alex Petrovic likely to slot in on the bottom pairing with Mark Pysyk, Matheson fits in the open spot perfectly. Of course, Steven Kampfer, Ian McCoshen, Linus Hultstrom, Jakub Kindl, and Adam Pardy – who’s been invited to camp on a PTO – will push to make the roster as well, so that’s why Matheson isn’t technically guaranteed a spot just yet.

The Panthers prefer to carry 7 defensemen, so it’s almost guaranteed that Matheson and one other defenseman will earn a spot barring an incredible showing from another player. Considering how happy the Panthers appear to be with Matheson’s play over the past several months, I’d be surprised if he didn’t make the team out of training camp.

When it comes to potential (which is that of a top-4 defenseman capable of driving possession and offense), skill-set, and NHL readiness, Matheson leads the way, and that’s why he’s number 1 on my list of the Panthers’ top 10 prospects.

#2

Jayce Hawryluk

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

The Panthers’ hardest-working player comes in at number 2 on this list, and that’s Jayce Hawryluk. The 20-year old right-winger is coming off his 4th and final season in the WHL which saw him set career-highs in several categories, including goals (47), assists (59), and points (106) all while playing in just 4 more games than his junior season when he tallied 41 fewer points.

Hawryluk is a gritty, fast, smart, offensively-minded two-way player and it’s been exciting to watch him develop over the past couple of years as a prospect of the Panthers. One of his best assets is his ability to set up his teammates with his vision and awareness which allow him to see the ice very well. Whether he’s playing at the goal-line on the power play or skating up the ice on the rush, he knows how to get the puck either towards the net or to a teammate in a position to score. His ability to score goals is also very underrated, and while his shot isn’t a laser like some prospects we’ll see shortly, it’s more than accurate and capable.

Throughout his junior career, Hawryluk has been known for his willingess to get under the skin of the opponent, play physical, and bring the maximum energy level possible to the ice every time he is on it. He has no qualms about fighting for the puck in the corner with a player bigger than himself, crashing the net, or checking opposing players off the puck in open ice.

Hawryluk’s never-give-up attitude has helped him thus far, but it’s unclear if that willingness or attitude will translate the same way to pro hockey, which he’ll make the jump to this coming season. While he doesn’t skate around in search of physical plays that aren’t there, his tendency to rough up opponents and his history of injuries (which includes a concussion at the end of last season) may make toning things down to some degree necessary in order to preserve the longevity of his career. It’s a legitimate concern, but it’s one that can be worked on in a way that’s not destructive to his overall game or potential.

The Saskatchewan-native will come to camp this year looking for an NHL roster spot for the very first time, and I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Although it may be tough to crack the lineup considering the depth the Panthers added this off-season, there could very well be a spot on either the 4th line or the 3rd line depending on how other players perform, like Jared McCann, Logan Shaw, Connor Brickley, and Kyle Rau. With Lawson Crouse being traded to Arizona just over a week ago, Hawryluk suddenly has a better chance to make the team or earn a call-up not just now, but also in the future.

Should Hawryluk not make the Panthers’ roster out of camp, odds are he’ll get top-6 ice-time in the AHL, or top-9 ice-time for sure. He has the speed, smarts, and skill to go against pro-level players, so it shouldn’t take too long for him to adjust. He’ll likely be focusing mostly on rounding out his overall game and playing responsibly at both ends of the rink, and since call-ups happen every year for a wide variety of reasons, don’t be surprised if he’s one of the first if he’s not already in the NHL.

Hawryluk’s potential is that of a middle-6 two-way threat that can either set up his teammates and score or shut down the opponent in all 3 zones. His play style is often compared to that of Brendan Gallagher, the Montreal Canadiens forward who Hawryluk likens his own game to. If he continues on the path that he’s on, the Panthers will have a solid player on their hands.

#3

Ian McCoshen

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

Ian McCoshen is yet another exciting prospect in the Panthers’ system, and he’s not far off from bringing his talents to the NHL. After signing his entry-level contract this off-season, he’ll be looking to crack the Panthers’ roster for the first time, and while it won’t be easy, he certainly has the chance to do it. McCoshen is in a similar position as Mike Matheson was when he turned pro in that he’s close to playing in the NHL but probably needs just a little bit of seasoning in the AHL before making the jump permanently. To be completely honest, that’s perfectly fine especially after what the Panthers did to their blue-line this off-season.

There’s no doubt that McCoshen will tempt the Panthers’ brass during the rookie tournament and at training camp. He already looked very good at rookie camp in July, his frame is ready for the pro level, his skating is above average, and he sees the ice incredibly well.

Of course, the Panthers could probably get away with slotting him in the bottom pair right away, but it’s not really necessary when they already have guys like Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, and Steven Kampfer who have proven to be capable of playing those minutes. Roster projections suggest the Panthers will have 5 right-handed defensemen this season and only 2 left-handed defensemen, so if they see that as an point of concern, McCoshen could have a better shot being that he’s a lefty.

The point is that there’s no rush to get McCoshen to the NHL, and he’d be better off adjusting to the pro game with top-4 minutes in the AHL where he can earn a call-up if the Panthers are in need of a defenseman.

While Matheson projects as a top-4 defenseman, McCoshen’s ceiling is likely the second pairing, and odds are he’ll be very good in that 4th or 5th spot. He’ll bring solid defense more often than he’ll bring solid offense, but I wouldn’t really say that makes him a defensive defenseman. He’s certainly more than capable of chipping in offensively whether that’s by making a really good first pass out of his own zone, getting an accurate shot off from the blue-line, or putting the puck on his teammate’s stick through a seam to set up a scoring chance. But in the end, his toughness and willingness to play a strong defensive game will probably overshadow his offensive contributions.

#4

Kyle Rau

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

This year will also be Kyle Rau’s second time attending training camp with the goal of making the Opening Night roster. Last season was his first full AHL campaign and he finished the year as the Portland Pirates’ second-leading scorer with 17 goals as a rookie in the top-6.  Fifteen of those goals came before January 3rd and it became clear that he was having trouble creating any sort of offense in the second half of the season, a period which included 9 games spent with the Panthers as an injury call-up in February.

During those 9 games, Rau didn’t score or register an assist, but boy did he come close. He looked very good on the 3rd line with fellow University of Minnesota alum Nick Bjugstad, worked incredibly hard in all three zones, and went to the front of the net any chance he had. Although it was a small sample size, it was a pretty good audition and he likely made a good impression on management for what he’s capable of bringing to the NHL roster.

So will he make the Panthers out of camp this time around? It’s hard to say. Based on his style of play and how he performed when called upon last season, he probably has a better chance than many of the players that will also be vying for a bottom-6 spot, but for the most part, everyone’s on a relatively equal playing field at training camp. It’s hard to say whether he’ll make it or not considering the fact that at least 6 other forwards are competing for what is likely 2 or 3 openings, but if we disregard that, Rau is certainly capable of playing in the bottom-6 this season. Putting him on the 4th line wouldn’t be the worst idea as Gerard Gallant likes to roll all 4 lines and it would be great experience, but he could work on the 3rd line too depending on how things shake out.

It’s still tough to say exactly where Rau fits in the Panthers’ future lineup plans, but it’s clear they at least like him considering they traded their other smaller forward – Rocco Grimaldi – to the Avalanche this past offseason. There’s still an outside chance that he could play on the 2nd line at some point down the road depending on how he develops over the next season or two, but the bottom-6 appears to be the most likely landing spot for him as of now. That’s perfectly fine too, because as I said before, his game is suited perfectly for it. No matter where he plays this season, it will be an important one to see whether he’s able to continue trending upwards or not.

#5

Denis Malgin

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

When people think about the Panthers’ prospects, Denis Malgin usually doesn’t come to mind, but he’s definitely one of their better ones and it shouldn’t long before he gets some recognition. Malgin is regarded as being one of the more underrated selections at the 2015 Draft and the Panthers are convinced that he could be a very solid player down the line.

What’s interesting about the 19-year old Swiss-native is the fact that he already has two pro seasons under his belt as a result of playing for the ZSC Lions of the National League A, the country’s top men’s league. He’s bounced back and forth between the A team and the B team a couple of times, but in 61 games at the top level, he’s been able to record 7 goals and 18 assists, which isn’t all that bad considering his age and middle-6 role.

Malgin is an incredibly smart, skilled, and shifty player, and he’s able to make plays and be effective against larger and tougher competition despite being of a smaller stature at 5’9″. In both his draft year and at this past year’s World Junior Championship, Malgin was not only one of Team Switzerland’s best players, but was also one of the best players in the entire tournament, posting 7 points and 9 points respectively.

Eric Joyce, who’s the assistant GM of the Panthers and the GM of their AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds, said in an interview recently that Malgin is “probably going to slot in as the number 2 [center],” and that’s not too surprising when you consider the fact that he already has two years of pro experience.

So, what does the future hold for Malgin? Depending on how he performs in the AHL this year, he may earn some time as a call-up if necessary, but he’ll probably need to adjust to the North American style and ice surface at first. He has middle-6 upside in the NHL, and odds are he’ll continue to be more of a playmaker than a goalscorer. The fact that Malgin isn’t as close to earning a spot in the NHL as Kyle Rau is what puts him just below him, for now at least.

#6

Linus Hultstrom

Linus Hultstrom is one of the most recent additions to the Panthers’ pipeline of prospects, and although we don’t know as much about him as we do the other players in the system, we know enough to form a early opinion. The Panthers signed Hultstrom as a free-agent out of the SHL – Sweden’s top professional league – at the beginning of May, and that means we’ve had to look at YouTube clips and go by word of mouth to find out what he’s all about.

The Panthers did their due diligence with Hultstrom before signing him; European scout Patrik Hall watched him extensively and Dale Tallon reportedly had the opportunity to see the 5’11”, 194-pound defenseman live with former scout Kent Nilsson as well. He was described to me as “the SHL’s Erik Karlsson,” and having seen highlights of him, that analogy appears to stem from his smooth skating ability and high offensive instincts. Many people in the know have said two of the things Hultstrom needs to work on is his effort in the defensive zone and play without the puck.

Fortunately, he’ll likely get a good amount of time in the AHL to work on his defensive game, and we could see progression in that area like we did with Mike Matheson and Rocco Grimaldi, two players who we know spent time with Scott Allen honing their defensive skills. And although Allen is now up with the Panthers, I presume the development of defensemen like Hultstrom and McCoshen will be of the utmost importance to the new AHL coaching staff. He’s not too far off from the NHL; he’s played against guys older / bigger / better than him in the SHL for the past 4 seasons. It’s just a matter of rounding out his game and adapting to a slightly different style.

Of course, playing solid defense is important for defensemen, and that’s partially why I’d rate Hultstrom below McCoshen who is already accustomed to the North American style of play and surface. Part of the reason why the Panthers signed Hultstrom was that he is very capable of contributing offensively and driving possession, the latter of which the organization has actual analytics on from his time in the SHL, a league that has a lower quality of competition than the NHL despite being a top pro league relatively-speaking. Because his defining ability is that offensive skill set, there’s no telling whether it will translate across the pond, although his skating and smarts give it a chance of doing so.

Hultstrom’s upside is probably that of a 2nd-pair defenseman if he reaches his full potential, but for now, the 3rd pair seems most likely. He’s yet to play a game in North America, and while that makes it a bit more difficult to project his landing spot, his overall game is enviable and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t progress fairly quickly. In reality, not everyone pans out, but like I said before, the fact that he’s great skater really helps his cause; you can’t always teach that. I’ll be following Hultstrom closely because he’s an interesting player for sure, and fortunately for him, the Panthers’ shift towards puck-moving defensemen gives him a slightly better chance at moving on up.

#7

Adam Mascherin

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

Adam Mascherin is the first player selected by the Panthers in this offseason’s draft to appear on this list, and he’s also one of the few players chosen after the 1st round by the Panthers with at least one defining ability. Over the years, the Panthers have failed to draft players outside of the opening round with at least one skill that would make them more likely to find success at the pro level. Last year, they took Karch Bachman, for example, who was said to be one of the best skaters in the entire draft, and in 2014 we saw Jayce Hawryluk who had one of the best work ethics in that draft to go along with above average offensive instincts and smarts. This year, it was Mascherin who has one of the best shots in the entire class.

Mascherin was exactly the player the Panthers wanted with their 2nd-round pick and they pretty much knew they’d be able to take him after the 1st round was over. At that time, the 18-year old had just wrapped up his second season in the OHL where he netted 35 goals in 65 games for the Kitchener Rangers which tied him for 10th in the entire league, and that success was due in large part to his elite wrist shot, which wouldn’t be out of place in the NHL today by any means.

His wrist shot is so good that it was voted the best in the OHL’s Western Conference by coaches last season and that’s no small feat when you consider players like Christian Dvorak – who scored 52 goals in 59 games – and Mitchell Marner – who scored 39 goals in 57 games – could’ve also been chosen. His shot allows him to score from anywhere in the offensive zone, whether it be the top of the circles or the high slot, and the puck always appears to come off of his stick so effortlessly.

The good thing about Mascherin is that he isn’t just a sniper. He’s also incredibly capable of making great passes to set up his teammates, and over the course of his first two seasons in the OHL, he has committed himself to becoming a better player without the puck. Not only that, but he skates fairly well, is gritty and isn’t afraid to get involved in the dirty areas. Some look at Mascherin’s height – 5’10” – as a disadvantage until they notice that he also weighs over 200 pounds; make no mistake, he’s built like a tank. This year will be an important one for Mascherin in terms of continuing on the upward path and rounding out his overall game, and since he won’t turn 20 for another 2 years, he’ll have to complete 2 more seasons of junior hockey before he can make the jump to the AHL.

In the NHL, I wouldn’t completely rule out a top-6 spot for Mascherin. Players who not only possess an elite shot but are also willing to go after pucks and get physical aren’t easy to find, and if he proves he can score goals at the pro level down the line, there’s no sense in burying that sort of ability in the bottom of a lineup. He has the goal-scoring mentality as well as the ability to get his shot off in literally the blink of an eye, so at this point, I’m fairly confident that he’ll see at least some type of success outside of juniors.

#8

Dryden Hunt

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

Eighth on the list – and very close to Mascherin at number 7 – is Dryden Hunt, the Panthers’ WHL free-agent signing from February. Hunt is turning pro this year after spending 5 years in the WHL and overall, he’s a pretty exciting prospect when you consider the reward that the Panthers could reap from being able to sign him.

Like with anything, the picture isn’t 100 percent perfect. During his first 4 junior seasons, Hunt suffered two concussions and scored more than 20 goals just once (21) and recorded more than 40 points once (47) before breaking out for a league-leading 58 goals and 116 points in his final and most recent season. There’s always some risk or “concern” with players that see low production for most of their junior careers before exploding for a ton of goals and points in their 4th or overage season, but with Hunt, he’s not as undeserving of the production as it may seem.

Hunt was buried in the depth chart for much of his time with the Regina Pats but considering the role he was in, his production was better than what you’d expect. The Moose Jaw Warriors acquired him before this past season as a way to fill one of their overage slots, and from the beginning, Hunt played in the top-6 with Brayden Point, a top prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Some have suggested that Point, one of the better playmakers in the WHL, was the reason for Hunt’s success, but when you actually watch him, understand his skill set and what he’s capable of, and look at the stats with and without Point, you’d see that this isn’t necessarily true. Long story short, Point missed time this season with injury and for World Juniors, so we were able to see that Hunt produced at or above the same rate without Point then he did with him.

When it comes to his skill set, Hunt has an incredible wrist shot and one-timer both of which he’s able to get off quickly, and like Mascherin, it allows him to score from virtually anywhere. He also uses his body well along the boards and in open ice to protect the puck. Hunt is an underrated playmaker as well; below are just a couple examples of his passing ability:

I did a really in-depth article on Hunt’s gameplay shortly after the Panthers signed him last season, so for way more on him, you can check it out by clicking here.

When it comes down to it, we pretty much know what type of player is. He’s a solid two-way winger – with an emphasis on the offensive side of things – that possesses a game-changing shot. However, we have some uncertainty because he never solidified himself as a dominant force prior to breaking out as a 20-year old in his 5th season while playing against players younger and less-developed than him. But again, that’s not to say that he just got lucky but rather we have to acknowledge that there’s some “risk” with a player like that, no matter what his abilities are. It’s a risk the Panthers are willing to take though, because it didn’t cost them much money and the more high-quality young players you add to the organization, the better the chances are of having one turn into an NHL player.

Like with everyone before him, it’s tough to say for sure what path Hunt will take until he plays his first pro game. However, should he go where he’s projected to, he could very well end up as a top-9 scorer or even a top-6 scorer in the NHL. Unless he blows everyone’s mind in training camp, Hunt will likely start the season in the AHL where he could play in a top-6 role right away. There, the focuses for him should be on his skating which is the most average part of his game right now and something he’ll need to improve in order to keep up with more seasoned players.

#9

Henrik Borgstrom

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

Many thought the Panthers went off the board when they selected Henrik Borgstrom with their 1st-round selection at this year’s draft. He had been passed over at the 2015 Draft and was ranked as a 2nd- or 3rd-round selection this time around, but the Panthers saw something in him that most other teams didn’t. Jari Kekalainen, the Panthers’ Finnish scout who played a major role in drafting Aleksander Barkov, Joonas Donskoi, and Juho Lammikko, among others, pushed the front offce to select the 6’3″ center in the 1st round, and they did it without hesitation.

“Jari Kekelainen said ‘Listen, this kid is a gem. We need to take a risk on him,’ and we listened to Jari,” said assistant GM Eric Joyce in a recent interview with Ryan Smith of the Springfield Thunderbirds website. “A lot of that has to do with what kind of capital the scout has built up. Jari has a tremendous track record with our organization, so we put a lot of weight into what he says.”

I took an in-depth look at Borgstrom after the Panthers drafted him thanks to some full games which were posted on YouTube, and you can check that out here for more information on him. In a nut shell, it’s obvious to me that Borgstrom has the potential to be a very good player in the future. The thing is, we don’t know exactly how good he can be until he gets some games under his belt this season in college and turns pro in a few years, and that’s because the league he was playing in was a junior league with inferior competition.

Fortunately, similar to the situation with Dryden Hunt, through watching Borgstrom play, we were able to see that he has a skill level far greater than that of most of the players he was playing with and against, and that’s probably what the Panthers saw in him when they were out scouting. He loves to carry the puck up the ice and around the offensive zone, and his silky smooth hands allow him to make quick shots, get around defenders, and move the puck over to a teammate in an instant. He doesn’t use his frame to his advantage as much as he he should, but that could be a result of him growing 9 inches in about a year; he’s still learning how to make use of his body while working to fill things out in the gym.

Right now, it’s really tough to say where Borgstrom will end up because he’s yet to play against competition at or better than his skill level on a consistent basis, but the raw potential is off the charts. If things work out the way they’re supposed to, the Panthers could have a sure-fire top-6 player on their hands. College hockey will be a decent indicator of where he’s headed on his developmental path, and since he’ll be at the University of Denver for at least 2 or 3 years, there’s plenty of time and opportunity for him to find his footing.

#10 

Juho Lammikko

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

The final prospect on my preseason list is Juho Lammikko, the Finnish center drafted by the Panthers in 2014. Like many other players on this list, Lammikko is ready to make the jump to pro hockey and that puts him one step closer to the NHL.

Lammikko spent the last 2 years playing for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL where he skated mostly in a top-6 role against the opposition’s best players. The 20-year old excelled, and in the OHL Coaches Poll at the end of the season, Lammikko finished as the 3rd-most underrated player, the 3rd-best face-off man, and the 2nd-best defensive forward in the Eastern Conference.

Those three rankings pretty much sum up the type of player that Lammikko is: a shutdown, defensive forward capable of taking important face-offs while also chipping in offensively. He’s grown into his frame exceptionally well since being drafted 2 years and that’s enabled him to be an effective player along the boards and down low at both ends of the rink. He’s as gritty as he is skilled, and that’s why he not only a threat defensively.

And like many of the players above, this will be Lammikko’s first time competing for a spot on the Panthers’ roster after signing his entry-level contract in April. Considering the players who he’ll be competing with, odds are he’ll start off the season in the AHL playing in the bottom-6 and go from there.

While one could make the argument that Lammikko is capable of sliding in on the 4th line, it’d probably be better for him to get acclimated with the pro game by way of the AHL rather than rush him to the NHL when there are other players that can fill that spot just as well or better. Fortunately, he’s already played 25 games in Finland’s top men’s league, Liiga, so he has some experience against tougher competition. Lammikko has a good shot at becoming a really good shutdown forward for the Panthers, and I don’t really think he’s too far off from that at all; next year could be the year that he seriously competes for a spot.

Honorable Mention

Samuel Montembeault

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

It would be wrong to not include Samuel Montembeault when discussing the Panthers’ top prospects, so I’ve included him as the honorable mention. There’s no question that he’s currently the organization’s best goalie prospect, but it didn’t seem right including him among forward and defensive prospects since those are completely different positions.

Besides, goalies are like voodoo.

As of right now, Montembeault is the Panthers’ goaltender of the future, and he could be turning pro this season depending on what the front office decides after training camp. He still has a year left of junior eligibility in the QMJHL, but for a goaltender of his skill level, it may not make sense for him to go back if he can earn a starting job in the ECHL or split time in the AHL, the latter of which may be hard to do after the offseason the Panthers had.

Montembeault is another prospect I’ve been able to watch a good amount of, and every time I’ve seen him, I’ve come away impressed with his composure, positioning, and athleticism. If you were watching him and didn’t know who or how old he was, you’d think he was a pro with how easy he makes everything look. Of course, he’s not perfect, but no goaltender is especially at the age of 19.

Until the Panthers make a decision on where he’ll play this season, we can only speculate, but even that’s difficult because there are pros and cons for turning pro or finishing out his junior career. Whichever way the Panthers choose to go with him will be fine, and there’s no way they’ll risk rushing him considering what his potential is and how high they are on him. He already impressed at development camp in July, and the next step will be the rookie tournament this weekend and training camp the week after. For more on Montembeault, check out this article from February which is complete with GIFs and commentary.

The Future

…is bright. While the Panthers might not have as good of a prospect pipeline as other teams in the league, there’s no doubt that there are some very high quality players in their system. Some players didn’t make this preseason ranking like Jonathan Ang, who’s silky smooth skating ability, hands, and offensive skills make him one to watch, Chris Wilkie, another sniper in the making, and Patrick Shea, an underrated, gritty forward with great two-way skills.

Of course, as time passes, we’ll revisit these rankings and see which players are rising, which are falling, and which are holding their spot. The best part of the Panthers finally having a deep team is they don’t have to worry about all of those things nearly as much as they used to because they can afford to let these players develop rather than rushing them to the show.

Meanwhile, the team has added new prospect analysts and scouts to their staff over the past year, like Cam Lawrence, Josh Weissbock, and Rhys Jessop, Toby O’Brien, and most recently, Patrik Hall, a very well-known Swedish scout and member of the advanced stats community. Together with the rest of the scouts, they’ll work to bring in the highest quality of prospects that this organization has ever seen, and there’s no doubt that this part of the franchise is in great hands.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of all of the Panthers’ prospects throughout the preseason and upcoming regular season.

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One thought on “2016 Preseason: Ranking the Panthers’ top 10 prospects

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