With the Panthers’ odds of making the playoffs stacked heavily against them, it’s the perfect time to switch our focus to the many prospects in the organization preparing to move on to the postseason.
In the CHL, all three of the Panthers’ Ontario Hockey League prospects – Adam Mascherin, Jonathan Ang, and Riley Stillman – are headed to the first round of the playoffs with their respective teams. Sam Montembeault, a 3rd-round pick in 2015 and the Panthers’ lone prospect in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has also qualified for the playoffs.
Mascherin, drafted with the 38th pick in the 2nd round of the 2016 Draft, wrapped up his regular season on Saturday for the Kitchener Rangers with a career-high 100 points in 65 games.
After selling at the trade deadline, Kitchener, with Mascherin as the league’s 3rd-leading scorer, squeaked into the playoffs with 77 points and will face off against the 3rd-seed Owen Sound Attack beginning on Friday, March 24th.
Owen Sound boasts the league’s best power play, thanks to their depth and wide array of offensive firepower – which includes two players in the top-5 in scoring – so it won’t be an easy series for Mascherin and the Rangers.
Ang, a 4th-round pick of the Panthers in 2016, will suit up for the Eastern Conference’s number-1 seed Peterborough Petes as they take on the Niagara IceDogs in the first round of the OHL Playoffs on March 23rd.
The Markham, Ontario-native is the Petes’ fourth-highest point-getter with 59 in 67 games this season as he set highs in goals (27) and assists (32) while finishing as a plus player (team-leading +16) for the first time in his 3-year OHL career.
Peterborough is the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, and getting out of the first round should be an easy task for them as the opposing IceDogs finished as the conference’s lowest seed, making the playoffs with just 56 points. The Petes’ above-average special teams should be enough to propel them and Ang into the second round and beyond.
Stillman, a member of the Oshawa Generals and the Panthers’ only other OHL prospect, will face the Sudbury Wolves in the opening round of the playoffs on March 24th. Taken in the 4th round of the 2016 Draft, the 19-year old defenseman capped off his second full season in the OHL on Sunday with his first career hat-trick, giving him 11 goals to go along with 22 assists for 33 points in 62 games.
The son of former NHLer and one-time Panther Cory Stillman, Riley set career-highs in all scoring categories while playing in the same amount of games as his rookie season.
The Generals’ opponent, the Wolves, enter the playoffs as the 7th-seed, having totaled a meager 59 points during the regular season. Oshawa traded two of its best players at the OHL deadline but still managed to tread water the rest of the way, so it may be a more evenly-matched series despite Sudbury’s finish to the year.
Montembeault will mind the net for the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada as they take on the Drummondville Voltigeurs to kick off the playoffs on March 23rd.
The 20-year old goaltender has been dominant against Drummondville this season, posting a 4-0-0 record in 6 games played to go along with an incredible 0.98 goals-against average and a 0.959 save percentage. Montembeault has recorded 2 shutouts in those 6 games while allowing a total of just 4 goals, so there’s no question that the Armada will be set in net.
Blainville-Boisbriand, with the help of Montembeault have allowed the fewest goals in the entire QMJHL this season, 171, compared to Drummondville’s 4th-highest total of 263. The Voltigeurs essentially backed into the playoffs with the 6th-lowest points total in the league while the Armada boasted the 4th-most points.
Montembeault is fresh off a career year during which he allowed the fewest goals in a season out of his 3 full seasons in the QMJHL (89), recorded a career-high 6 shutouts, which is the highest by a goaltender since the 2005 season, and also posted his best goals-against average (2.40) and save percentage (0.907) thus far.
On the college scene, the Panthers have 6 prospects set to make appearances in the NCAA Division 1 national championship tournament which involves 16 teams in single-elimination play. Henrik Borgstrom, Evan Cowley, Joe Wegwerth, Matt Buckles, Chris Wilkie, and Miguel Fidler will represent their respective schools as they look to make the Frozen Four and eventually the title game.
Borgstrom and Cowley are headed to the tournament after they helped the University of Denver finish as the NCHC’s number-1 seed. Although they lost in the NCHC semifinals to North Dakota on March 17th, their regular season seeding automatically advanced them to the NCAA tournament.
Borgstrom, the Panthers’ 2016 1st-round pick, tallied 21 goals and 15 assists in 30 regular season games as a freshman, earning him the NCHC’s Rookie of the Year honors. His highlight reel goals opened the eyes of many fans and onlookers who were previously – and understandably – unaware of the Finland-native’s skill level.
Cowley, a teammate of Borgstrom and a 2013 4th-round pick of the Panthers, made the most of the few opportunities he was given this season, posting a 5-2-0 record on the season with an impressive 1.13 goals-against average and 0.955 goals-against average as a senior and backup for starter Tanner Jaillet.
Denver will match up against Michigan Tech to open the Midwest Regional on March 24th.
Wegwerth, a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame – which will host the semifinals and finals – sets career-highs in all major statistical categories by recording 7 goals and 4 assists for 11 points in 30 games. In the same number of games as a freshman, the Panthers’ 2014 4th-round pick managed just a goal and 3 assists.
Wegwerth has been slotted all around the top-9 for Notre Dame this season, often times playing in the top-6, and that contributed to his success compared to last year.
Notre Dame and Minnesota, two teams with Hobey Baker finalists, will wrap up the Northeast Regional on Sunday.
Buckles, a senior at Cornell University, will look to cap off his NCAA career with a title victory after setting highs in goals (9), assists (9), and points (18) despite playing in the fewest games (28) out of his 4 years.
The 21-year old center, who was chosen in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft, has shown an ability to be a solid net-front presence, especially on the power play where his 6’3″ frame allows him to take advantage of rebounds and loose pucks around the crease.
Cornell and UMass-Lowell will meet to open the Northeast Regional on Saturday.
Wilkie, a second-year forward at the University of North Dakota, is coming off a career-year putting up 1 more point than his freshman year in 2 fewer games. His 1 goal and 9 assists in 30 games is fairly indicative of his 4th-line role with North Dakota although it doesn’t make any suggestions about his talent level which he’s hardly been given an opportunity to show off.
The 20-year old Wilkie was a 6th-round pick of the Panthers at the 2015 Draft.
North Dakota, a team top-heavy with talented forwards, will take on the equally as skilled Boston University Terriers to kick off the West Regional on Saturday afternoon.
Fidler, a 21-year old sophomore at Ohio State University, will have a tough task at hand when he and his team take on the NCHC tournament champion Minnesota-Dultuth Bulldogs on Friday afternoon.
Fidler, like many of the Panthers’ NCAA prospects, had a career-best season, putting up highs in goals (4) and assists (6), although he did play in 13 more games than last year. The left-winger, who has skated on all of Ohio State’s forwards lines this season and even spent time with the team’s top forwards, was drafted in the 5th-round by the Panthers in 2015.
Be sure to follow @fla_prospects on Twitter to stay up to date with all of the Panthers’ prospects.