An inside look at the Panthers’ prospect pipeline during the 2016-17 season

Michael Downing Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

We already know that the Panthers didn’t have the greatest season, but it’s always interesting to dive deeper into the organization to see how their prospects fared. Here’s a full rundown of (nearly) every Panthers prospect’s performance this year. 

Henrik Borgstrom

University of Denver (NCAA), Center

Season stats: 37 games, 22 goals, 21 assists, 43 points

The Panthers’ latest first-round pick burst onto the hockey scene with an impressive year at the University of Denver.

Henrik Borgstrom, a lanky center who the Panthers selected with the 21st overall pick at the 2016 Draft, finished with the 3rd-most points (43) among NCAA freshman this past season while his 21 goals led all first-year players and tied him for the team lead.

Borgstrom recorded 6 two-goal games, including three straight on November 26th, January 6th, and January 7th (before and after a winter break), as well as 13 multi-point games, while spending most of the season on Denver’s top line.

He was named Denver University’s Male Athlete of the Year, the NCHC’s Rookie of the Year, and an NCAA First Team All-American, among other honors, while helping his team to their 8th NCAA championship title.

To many, Borgstrom’s solid year was a pleasant surprise.

He left his family and home country for the first time in his life and made the jump from Finland’s Junior A league to the NCAA. Having watched him many times this season, it’s easy to say that he was almost always a difference-maker and always worth the price of admission.

Good things tended to happen when the puck was on his stick.

I noted just after the draft last year – and after watching a few of his Junior A games – that he was a highly-skilled player that always seemed to be thinking ahead of his teammates.

That was the case this season as well, and even though the level of competition in the NCAA is much higher, Borgstrom managed to up his own play to match it.

It’s safe to say he owns one of the better wrist shots in college hockey, and his silky smooth hands allowed him to generate highlight-reel goals and plays seemingly every week. He’s one of the most dangerous players one-on-one and is very good at carrying the puck and distributing it.

If there’s one area that needs improvement, it would be his play without the puck. He wasn’t bad defensively, but he wasn’t consistent enough, especially when it comes to being aware of where he is in the defensive zone and keeping his feet moving.

Borgstrom’s skating – which pre- and post-draft reports suggested was a weakness – proved to not really be a detriment to his game.

Being that he’s 19 years old, he technically wasn’t a “true freshman” this year, despite it being his first season of college hockey. Some have argued that’s why he was as good as he was.

But this was a totally new experience and environment for him and by no means is the NCAA a cake-walk.

Things weren’t perfect for him, however, as he went without a point in 6 games for Finland at the World Junior Championship. Most of his time was spent in the bottom-6 while Finland won just one game before heading to the relegation round.

It’s a slight cause for concern, but in the end, it doesn’t change the fact that Borgstrom absolutely oozes skill.

All signs point to him heading back to Denver for his sophomore year, and that’s probably the right decision, especially since Jim Montgomery will be returning as the head coach.

Another year will allow him to continue working on the little things while adding size in the gym; the Panthers have no reason to rush his development.

Adam Mascherin

Kitchener Rangers (OHL), Left Wing

Regular season stats: 65 games, 35 goals, 65 assists, 100 points

Post-season stats: 5 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points

Adam Mascherin had a career year with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

The 18-year old winger finished 3rd in league scoring with 100 points, which is 19 more than his total from last year (81) while playing in the same number of games (65).

Mascherin had 5 multi-goal games and 31 multi-point games, including a career-best 5-point performance on December 16th against Sudbury. He tied a career high with 9 shots on goal on January 17th and was held without a point just 12 times during the regular season.

And he wasn’t surrounded by high-end talent either.

Jeremy Bracco – one of Mascherin’s most common linemates and a top offensive performer for Kitchener – was traded to the Windsor Spitfires in January, forcing Mascherin to fend for himself.

By the end of the season, he led the Rangers in points, had 40 more than the next highest point-getter, and factored into an incredible 40.9 percent of his team’s goals.

Being that it was Mascherin’s first year in the organization, it was my first full year watching him play, and to be honest, I wasn’t too surprised by how well he performed.

His shot is, without a doubt, of NHL-caliber and he’s a much better playmaker than he gets credit for; he actually finished with the 2nd-most power play assists in the OHL (33) and the 3rd-most total assists (65).

Mascherin’s ability and willingness to laser the puck from just about anywhere with the intent to score is really impressive. His shot is easily the best part of his game.

He’s one of those players where the opponent knows he’s dangerous and that they have to be aware of him, but he still manages to make plays and score anyway.

His two-way play is still a bit of a work-in-progress. He sometimes gets caught standing still in the defensive zone, but overall he was fairly consistent in his effort without the puck.

For his size, he’s tough to take off the puck and very effective along the boards and in the corners.

In the OHL Coaches Poll, Mascherin finished 2nd in the Western Conference in Most Dangerous in the Goal Area, Best Shot, and Hardest Shot, so there’s really not much to question about his offensive ability.

Not only that, but he was named an OHL First-Team All Star, finished 3rd in voting for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award, and the Kitchener Rangers named him their Most Valuable Player.

Since he’s only played in 3 OHL seasons and won’t turn 20 until after the coming year, he isn’t eligible to play in the AHL yet, meaning he’ll have to either make the Panthers out of camp or return to Kitchener for the final time.

The Panthers’ prospect pool is a bit shallow at the pro level, but like with Borgstrom, they have no reason to rush Mascherin, especially when you consider his level of potential and the organization’s needs up front.

Sam Montembeault

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL), Goaltender

Regular season stats: 41 games, 28 wins, 10 losses, 0.907 save %, 2.40 GAA, 6 shutouts

Post-season stats: 18 games, 12 wins, 6 losses, 0.910 save %, 2.35 GAA

Sam Montembeault, the Panthers’ top goalie prospect, capped off his QMJHL career with another sparkling season.

Once again, Montembeault, who the Panthers selected in the 3rd round of the 2015 Draft, was the lifeblood of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, backstopping them to 28 of their 43 wins, the lowest goals-allowed total (171) in the entire QMJHL, and the franchise’s first-ever appearance in the President Cup Final.

The 20-year old had an impressive start to the campaign, rattling off 11 wins in the first 14 games, including 2 shutouts, to earn Goaltender of the Month honors for October.

During that stretch, he allowed 3 or more goals just 3 times and had a 35-save performance, his highest total of the regular season.

Things got a little shaky when Montembeault was side-lined with an apparent knee injury following a loss on November 12th.

He posted a 24-save shutout in his return to the crease 3 weeks later but allowed an uncharacteristic 26 goals in his next 5 outings.

Montembeault returned to his stalwart self as he recorded just 4 losses in 28 total appearances from February through the end of the 3rd round of the playoffs.

One of his most impressive moments during the playoffs came early in the 2nd round against Acadie Bathurst. With the series tied at 1, Montembeault suffered what was later revealed to be a gluteal muscle tear, forcing him to miss two games.

When Montembeault returned for game 5, his team was down 3-1 and facing elimination, but he went on to allow just 1 goal in each of the next three games to move on to round 3.

Blainville-Boisbriand and Montemebeault dropped the first game against Charlottetown before winning 4 straight to win their first conference title and advance to the finals where they were swept by the high-powered Saint John Sea Dogs.

Montembeault was really solid, especially considering his injury and the fact that his team was being outmatched in front of him.

His 6 shutouts – which is the most in the QMJHL since 2005 – doubled his previous career high, while his lifetime goals-against average of 2.54 is the 2nd-best mark in league history.

Robb Tallas, the Panthers’ goalie coach, told me at least year’s rookie tournament that the team was going to look at what was best for Montembeault’s development, then and in the future.

They did just that by sending him back for his final year, and I was really happy with his play and overall consistency. One place I noticed an improvement was his puck-handling abilities when outside of the crease.

This was something he stated he wanted to improve back at his post-draft meeting with the media after the Panthers selected him. He was way more confident handling the puck and it really seemed to help the Armada break out of their own zone better at times.

Otherwise, he was his typical calm self in net while his glove hand and lateral movements were as smooth and quick as they’ve always been

Going back for his final QMJHL season will prove to have been a smart decision; it allowed him to become more comfortable and refine his skill set before making the jump to the next level.

Goalies are tough to project as their development isn’t always linear, so we’ll need to keep our expectations in check.

There’s no telling how Montembeault will perform at the pro level, but his skill set is better than that of the average 20-year old goaltender which gives us hope that he’ll pan out.

Jayce Hawryluk

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Right Wing

Regular season stats: 47 games, 9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points

It happened later than many hoped it would, but Jayce Hawryluk finally made his professional debut this season.

Hawryluk was poised to push for a roster spot last fall, but those plans fell through when he broke his hand in a fight with Capitals’ forward Jakub Vrana during the annual rookie tournament.

He was originally expected to miss about 4 to 6 weeks, but suffered a setback in late-October, forcing him to miss 3 more weeks.

Hawryluk was cleared to play near the end of November and suited up for his first career AHL game on December 2nd against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

The 21-year old was dealt yet another blow when he suffered a concussion barely two periods into that game.

Bridgeport forward Connor Jones sped out from behind Hawryluk in the neutral zone and turned at a sharp angle into his head, causing him to miss a month with a concussion.

In his return to the lineup and 2nd career game on January 4th, Hawryluk faced the Sound Tigers once again and recorded his first AHL point, a primary assist on a goal by MacKenzie Weegar.

His first multi-point game came a game later when he recorded 2 assists, including one to set up the game-winner, and he scored his first pro goal against – surprise, surprise – the Sound Tigers on January 20th.

One of his best stretches came during a 16-game span from January 16th through February 19th when he recorded 5 goals, 8 assists, and 13 points, including a 3-game goal streak that featured an overtime winner against the Utica Comets.

Hawryluk proceeded to finish out the year with a 4-game point streak and 6 total points in the final 8 games.

It was a short season for Hawryluk, and he managed to play really well despite the adversity he faced to start his pro career.

Hawryluk’s skilled, yet pesky game was just as effective as it was at the junior level and it’s because he had the extra jump and desire necessary to make it happen.

He was already good at forechecking, but he seemed to be even better at it this season. And even at 5’11”, 185 pounds, he was so good at protecting the puck down low and just about everywhere else.

As he adjusts even more to the pro level, it’ll be interesting to see how those two abilities open up more opportunities for him and his linemates.

Hawryluk could probably step into the Panthers’ lineup right now. His work ethic is consistent from shift to shift and he brings a style of play that they desperately need more of.

The question is whether or not the Panthers feel he needs more time or not, a la Vincent Trocheck.

It’s a reasonable question to ask, and they could easily go either way.

Maxim Mamin

CSKA Moskva (KHL), Right Wing

Regular season stats: 42 games, 12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points

Post-season stats: 9 games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points

I spent a little bit of time going over Maxim Mamin when the Panthers announced last week that they signed him to an entry-level deal.

It’s entirely possible that you didn’t know that he belonged to the Panthers or that he even existed all together.

That’s often what happens to 6th-round draft picks, but the Panthers feel pretty strongly about Mamin and what he could turn into.

Mamin is fresh off his 3rd season in the KHL – which is basically the NHL of Europe – where he posted career-highs in all offensive categories.

His team, CKSA Moskva, wasn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse, as they had no players with more than 37 points, but they did allow the fewest goals in the league (110) to go along with the most wins (41).

As a young player in the KHL, it’s tough to get a top spot in the lineup, and that’s basically what Mamin experienced this year.

The 22-year old finished 4th on the team in scoring with 25 points despite playing in anywhere from 4 to 11 fewer games and being significantly younger than the 3 players above him.

Mamin also averaged just 13 minutes and 37 seconds of ice time per game during the regular season while skating with a rotating cast of linemates, making his numbers – and +17-rating – all the more impressive.

Only one player on his team had more points with a lower average ice time total, and it was a 29-year old who had 1 more point in 4 more games played.

Mamin plays a prototypical bottom-6 game, but he does it with size and skill. He can be physical and win board battles while also setting up teammates and driving to the net for scoring chances.

It’s easy to look at his 6’2”, 200-pound frame and how he was deployed in the KHL and assume his impact in North America is probably going to be limited, but that’s really not the case.

It’s not unreasonable to think there could be some untapped offensive potential, and considering he’s been, at times, trusted on the penalty kill, he may carve out a role there some day as well.

Mamin is much more skilled than he gets credit for, and the Panthers really feel like he has a chance to become a part of their bottom-6 in the not-too-distant future.

It could be closer to becoming a reality than we think with Dale Tallon – who we know has an affinity for size and skill – back at the helm.

Jonathan Ang

Peterborough Petes (OHL), Right Wing

Regular season stats: 67 games, 27 goals, 32 assists, 59 points

Post-season stats: 12 games, 7 goals, 4 assists, 11 points

Jonathan Ang didn’t have a breakout junior season, but did see a slight uptick in production compared to last year.

In one less game played, Ang the 19-year old managed 6 more goals and 4 more assists to set career-highs in each offensive category.

Ang’s team, the Peterborough Petes, was relatively balanced on the offensive side, in that they only had one player over a point-per-game average, but they were still able to reach the 3rd round of the OHL playoffs.

His best stretch of the year came when he recorded two hat-tricks – the first and second of his career – and an assist in a span of 4 games from November 3rd through November 11th, earning him OHL Player of the Week honors.

He played in all but one regular season game for the Petes, including all 12 playoff games where he recorded all 11 points in the first two rounds.

Ang played just about the entire season at right wing, despite the fact that he’s listed as a center, and often shifted between the 1st and 2nd lines.

The first thing you’ll notice about Ang is his speed and overall skating ability. He can get by opposing players in the blink of an eye and can change directions on a dime. His edge-work is really solid and in general, he makes skating look absolutely effortless.

Ang was named this year’s best skater in the Eastern Conference by the OHL’s coaches and earned more first-place votes than the Western Conference winner.

Don’t let his point totals fool you, because they don’t really do his offensive abilities justice.

He’s got a really accurate and deceptive wrist shot which he is willing to unleash from anywhere, and he’s incredibly smart with and without the puck.

It’s all but certain that Ang will return to the OHL for his 4th and final season. Even after this year, he’ll need to add some more size before making the jump to pro hockey, and really putting up some numbers offensively will be good for his development.

Mackenzie Weegar

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Defenseman

Regular season stats (AHL): 60 games, 14 goals, 22 assists, 36 points

NHL: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points

Mackenzie Weegar has been biding his time in the AHL, but this was the year that he emerged as a workhorse defenseman for the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 Draft, the Panthers knew Weegar needed some time to develop.

And that was fine, because no team banks on a 7th-rounder making an impact at the pro level.

Last year was his first full campaign in the AHL – during which he spent most of his time on the bottom pairing – after splitting the 2014-15 season between the AHL and the ECHL.

But this year was the one the Panthers – and probably Dale Tallon, who has been very high on Weegar since he was drafted – have been waiting for.

The 23-year old right-shot defenseman recorded career-highs in goals, assists, and points, leading Springfield’s blue-liners in all categories and earning himself an invite to the 2017 AHL All-Star Game as the team’s lone representative. He also finished 3rd on the team in points and 4th in goals.

At one point, he was the only defenseman to lead his entire team in scoring.

Weegar logged big minutes for the Thunderbirds – sometimes upwards of 30 minutes a night – in all situations, including the first power play and penalty kill units as well as during overtime.

He managed 12 more points than last season while playing in two fewer games and posted the first and second 3-point games of his career in the final two weeks of the season.

Weegar totaled 8 multi-point games on the year, including his first 2-goal game which came on December 27th against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He set a new career-high in shots with 9 on March 3rd against Lehigh Valley.

His success culminated in two separate call-ups to the Panthers towards the end of the season, although he didn’t get a chance to play until the final 3 games.

As a player who’s smart, skilled, and smooth with the puck, Weegar fit right into the lineup when he made his debut. He was given a few cracks on the power play where he looked like a natural setting things up from the point.

The jury is still out on what he could be at the NHL level, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that he eventually slides onto the 2nd pair.

For the foreseeable future, the 3rd pair seems to be the most likely landing spot if he makes the big club, which he certainly has a chance to do as soon as this coming season.

Ian McCoshen

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Defenseman

Regular season stats (AHL): 68 games, 4 goals, 12 assists, 16 points

NHL: 3 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point

Ian McCoshen’s rookie year in the AHL was largely a success.

The 21-year old recorded 4 goals and 12 assists for 16 points while his plus-minus rating of +23 was tops among first-year AHL defensemen and 6th-highest in the league.

McCoshen quietly went about his business, and his two-way game improved as the season went on.

His first professional goal came in his 4th game on October 22nd on a slap shot from inside the blue line.

Eleven of his 16 total points came in a 20-game span from February 4th through March 19th that included his first multi-point game on March 11th.

McCoshen is capable of making plays offensively, whether it’s with a good first pass or a hard shot from the point, but he takes care of the defensive end first.

He puts his 6’3″, 218-pound frame to good use, whether it’s while trying to separate a player from the puck along the boards or patrolling the front of the net, two abilities which make him an enticing option for the Panthers’ new-look backend.

He won’t blow by opposing players like his former – and now current – teammate and Boston College defensive partner Mike Matheson, but his skating ability is more than adequate when it comes to keeping up at the pro level and wasn’t at all a detriment to his game.

McCoshen wasn’t exactly sheltered as he was paired with Mackenzie Weegar for most of the season, meaning he played a big role on the penalty kill and logged tough minutes at even strength.

The Thunderbirds had a bunch of injuries on defense this season, so McCoshen was relied upon heavily to play against top competition on a fairly regular basis.

Like Weegar, McCoshen’s solid, reliable play earned him a call-up at the end of the year, and he didn’t look out of place at all.

His first NHL point came in his debut on April 6th against St. Louis as a secondary assist on a goal by Vincent Trocheck.

Being that it was his first pro season, I was impressed by his poise and calmness no matter the situation as well as his ability to always make the simple play.

It was also a huge positive to see him involved off the ice as his contributions to the community earned him the Thunderbirds’ Man of the Year award.

McCoshen was a dark horse candidate to make the Panthers out of camp last year before he was ultimately sent to the AHL.

He’ll have a chance to do it this year, but it won’t be easy as the Panthers will surely work to keep their 6 regular defensemen on board past the expansion draft.

Jared McCann

Florida Panthers (NHL) / Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Center

Regular season stats (AHL): 42 games, 11 goals, 14 assists, 25 points

NHL: 29 games, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points

It was an up and down year for Jared McCann, who’s considered one of the Panthers’ top forward prospects.

He came into camp out of shape – not through any fault of his own, but because the Canucks wanted him to fit a certain mold – and injuries forced the Panthers to keep him in the NHL to start the year.

The Panthers didn’t want him playing in the bottom-6 because doing so won’t help him develop into the top-6 forward they think he can be.

McCann, now 21 years old, struggled to find a groove in the limited minutes he was getting and Nick Bjugstad was on the way back from injury, so the Panthers opted to send him down to the AHL where he spent all of December.

In his first 15 AHL games, McCann recorded 6 points, including 4 goals, before the Panthers recalled him once again at the beginning of January with Aleksander Barkov injured.

McCann recorded 4 points in 12 games while spending time with better linemates in Jaromir Jagr, Vincent Trocheck, and others before being sent back to the AHL for the rest of the season.

He missed two weeks with a shoulder injury in early-February, but went on to record 19 points in 25 games during his 2nd stint with the Thunderbirds.

In the final week of the season, McCann was named the AHL’s Player of the Week after tallying 8 points and 11 shots in 4 games, including his first professional hat-trick on April 14th against Bridgeport.

He also had 11 points – as well as a 5-game point streak – in a 16-game span from February 18th through March 25th.

There are going to be many people who are still unhappy with the Panthers decision to acquire Jared McCann, mostly because of who they gave up to get him.

But if they take the time to develop him right – which is what they’re trying to do – it could pay off in the long run.

The Panthers need as much offense as they can get, and McCann has the shot, smarts, and skill to be an impact player in the NHL.

He’s not too far off, which is a good thing, but the time and opportunity have to be right.

Lost In The Shuffle

Here are some quick words on some of the less-talked-about prospects in the Panthers’ organization.

Dryden Hunt

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) / Manchester Monarchs (ECHL), Left Wing

Regular season stats (AHL): 70 games, 13 goals, 18 assists, 31 points

ECHL: 2 games, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points

This year was a tale of three seasons for Dryden Hunt, if that’s even possible.

Signed as a overage free-agent out of the WHL last February, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see Hunt struggle out of the gate as he worked to get acclimated to a higher level of competition.

Things weren’t too bad to start as Hunt scored his first pro goal in the first game of the season against Lehigh Valley on a one-timer from the high slot.

Through November 26th, Hunt tallied 9 points, including a 3-point performance – in 18 games, but that was when the wheels fell off for the rookie.

From December 2nd through January 27th, Hunt managed just 1 goal and 4 assists in 21 games despite playing with some of Springfield’s better players.

The Panthers elected to send the 21-year old to the ECHL for a quick stint to regain his confidence.

It seemed to work as he scored twice in the 2nd game of a weekend series with the Manchester Monarchs and looked better upon his return to the AHL.

After recording just 2 points in his next 7 games, Hunt exploded for 17 points in the final 24 games of the season, a stretch he kicked off with 13 points in 13 games.

There’s no doubt that Hunt got better as the season went on. He settled in nicely in the last 2 months and really started to show some of his junior hockey self offensively.

Hunt still has plenty of room to grow, and if his play towards the end of the year was any indication, he could be in for a big sophomore campaign.

Ben Finkelstein

St. Lawrence University (NCAA), Defenseman

Season stats: 37 games, 5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points

Drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 Draft, Ben Finkelstein had a solid freshman year at St. Lawrence University.

The 19-year old led all freshmen on the Skating Saints in assists and points with 18 and 23 respectively while finishing 2nd on the team in scoring by defensemen.

Finkelstein finished the year tied for 4th-most points in the entire NCAA among freshmen defensemen. He also had the 8th-highest shots per games played rate among that same group and was a regular on the power play.

He bounced back and forth between the Skating Saints’ 1st and 2nd defensive pairings where he spent a lot of time with senior Gavin Bayreuther and junior Nolan Gluchowski.

In December and January combined, Finkelstein recorded 11 points, including a 5-game point streak, a 3-game goal streak, and three multi-point efforts over 12 total games.

St. Lawrence qualified for the ECAC playoffs where Finkelstein recorded 3 assists in 3 games before being eliminated by Quinnipiac.

The 5’9”, 185-pound blue-liner is one of the Panthers’ most underrated prospects.

He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he’s very smart and has the skating ability to keep up with the opposition.

Some envision his ceiling to be that of a Torey Krug type, in that he can be a smaller, yet effective two-way defender with an offensive touch. Like they are with their other 2016 selections, the Panthers are pretty high on Finkelstein.

He will undoubtedly head back to St. Lawrence for at least another season or two before he makes the jump to the pro level.

Evan Cowley

University of Denver (NCAA), Goaltender

Season stats: 11 games, 5 wins, 2 losses, 0.955 save %, 1.13 GAA, 2 shutouts

Evan Cowley saw the 2nd-fewest minutes this season in his four-year NCAA career but was incredibly solid when he was between the pipes.

The soon-to-be 22-year old played in 11 games, posting 2 shutouts, a 1.13 goals-against average, and an impossible 0.955 save percentage.

Cowley, a recruit of former Denver coach George Gwodecky, lost the starting job in his sophomore year to Tanner Jaillet, a recruit of current head coach Jim Montgomery.

As a result, Cowley served as Jaillet’s back up for the past two years and has thrived despite the fact that he’s more than capable of shouldering a larger workload.

It was an interesting and unfortunate situation for Cowley, but he did sign a contract with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate several weeks ago, meaning he will begin his pro career with the organization that drafted him back in 2013.

He’ll battle for a spot on the Thunderbirds, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if he started the year in the ECHL.

Thomas Schemitsch

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) / Manchester Monarchs (ECHL), Defenseman

Regular season stats (AHL): 37 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points

ECHL: 17 games, 1 goal, 7 assists, 8 points

Post-season stats (ECHL): 16 games, 0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points

Thomas Schemitsch’s first pro season was a hectic one.

For most of the season, he bounced back and forth between the AHL and the ECHL before settling in with the Thunderbirds for the final two months of the year.

After that, he headed back to Manchester where he joined the Monarchs for a deep playoff run that ended with a 3rd-round elimination.

The Panthers surprisingly signed him to an entry-level deal in October and made the decision to turn him pro even though he was still eligible for one more season in the OHL.

Schemitsch was a bit of a late-bloomer, mostly because he transitioned from forward to defense late in his midget career.

He apparently impressed the Panthers’ brass at this year’s development camp and rookie tournament while also faring well in the advanced stats department.

He’s an incredibly smart, two-way defenseman with above-average skating ability and offensive upside, the latter of which is due in part to his history as a forward.

Making the jump from junior hockey to the pros is tough, especially as a defenseman.

Schemitsch showed flashes at times and got better over the course of the season, but he’s still a bit raw in his own end, and that’s to be expected.

The Panthers basically got a head start on his development this year, so we can look for him to possibly get an expanded role next season that will hopefully include power play minutes.

Odds are that Schemitsch is in for a developmental path similar to that of Mackenzie Weegar who was in a similar situation when he turned pro several years ago.

Josh Brown

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Defenseman

Regular season stats: 72 games, 3 goals, 10 assists, 13 points

This season was Josh Brown’s first full year in the AHL.

His 72 games led Springfield’s defensemen, and he proved to be incredibly reliable defensively.

Early on, Brown – who was drafted in the 6th round back in 2013 – was trusted with time on the penalty kill and tough minutes at even strength.

The 6’5”, 225-pound defender spent nearly the entire season with rookie Michael Downing on Springfield’s 2nd pairing.

His size enables him to separate opposing players from the puck and be tough to play against, especially down low and while defending the area around the crease.

Brown, 23, made great strides this year and it would not be surprising at all to see him earn a call-up to the Panthers this coming season. Either way, he’ll continue to play an important role in Springfield’s top-4.

Riley Stillman

Oshawa Generals (OHL), Defenseman

Regular season stats: 62 games, 11 goals, 22 assists, 33 points

Post-season stats: 11 games, 1 goal, 9 assists, 10 points

Riley Stillman, a first-year prospect of the Panthers, saw a slight increase in offensive production this season while guiding the Oshawa Generals to yet another playoff berth.

Stillman recorded his first career OHL hat-trick in the final game of the regular season before averaging nearly a point-per-game in the playoffs.

The 19-year old assistant captain logged top-pair minutes for the Generals while contributing regularly on the power play and penalty kill.

He’s a smart, skilled puck-moving defenseman that has a strong ability to read what’s happening in front of him and make the simple play.

Stillman has a cannon of a shot, and while he wasn’t a big goal-scorer, it made him a threat in the offensive zone.

He had the 2nd-most points by an Oshawa defenseman during the regular season and was the team’s 2nd-leading scorer during the playoffs.

Surprisingly enough, this was only Stillman’s 2nd year in the OHL and he’s already emerged as a reliable presence on the blue-line for the Generals.

It will be important for him to continue his upward climb this coming season, both defensively and offensively.

Matt Buckles

Cornell University (NCAA) / Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Left Wing

Season stats (NCAA): 29 games, 9 goals, 9 assists, 18 points

AHL: 9 games, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points

Matt Buckles had a career year at Cornell University and capped off his year with a surprisingly solid showing in the AHL.

In his senior season, he set new highs in goals, assists, and points while posting a points-per-game average (0.62) that was nearly double his previous high (0.38).

Buckles was by no means a prolific point producer, totaling just 44 points in 118 NCAA games, but it’s not uncommon for players to see an increase in production later in their college careers.

What makes Buckles valuable – especially for the Panthers – is the fact that he makes a living down low and around the net.

He always seems to be in the right place at the right time to put in rebounds and loose pucks and also has a knack for deflecting shots with his stick.

Buckles’ big 6’3”, 218-pound frame allows him to be an effective net-front presence which is something the Panthers have lacked for a long time.

His willingness to work hard and play a reliable game in all three zones is what impressed me the most in his short AHL stint following his college season.

He recorded a point in 7 of the 9 games he played in over the final two-and-a-half weeks of the Thunderbirds’ season, including the first three and the last four.

If the 21-year old can continue that momentum into next year, there’s no reason why he can’t move up the Panthers’ depth chart and earn a call-up.

Juho Lammikko

Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Left Wing

Regular season stats: 47 games, 6 goals, 5 assists, 11 points

Juho Lammikko made his AHL debut last season at the conclusion of his junior campaign, but this year was his first full year spent at the pro level.

Unfortunately for Lammikko, he missed some time in early December and early January before suffering an injury at the end of February that forced him out of the final 21 games of the season.

The 20-year old winger still managed to give us a glimpse of the type of player he is capable of being.

He plays a skilled, hard-nosed, two-way game and is strong enough defensively to be a very effective penalty-killer.

He drives to the net on a consistent basis and has the size necessary to have an impact physically, whether it’s around the crease or along the boards.

Lammikko definitely has the potential to be an impact player in the Panthers’ bottom-6, and since there could be a couple of spots up for grabs this coming season, it’s entirely possible that he’ll push to take one of them.

The Rest of the Rest

Ryan Bednard, the Panthers’ 7th-round pick in 2015, served as the backup for Chris Nell at Bowling Green State University this season. Since Nell signed with the Rangers at the end of the year, Bednard will have an opportunity to become Bowling Green’s starter as a sophomore, which would be a huge benefit for his development.

The 20-year old saw limited time in net this season as a freshman, posting a 0.882 save percentage, 2.70 goals-against average, and 1 shutout in 7 appearances, but showed flashes of talent. His big 6’5″ frame allows him to cover the lower portion of the net well, and he boasts above-average reflexes for a goaltender of that size.

Bednard is still a ways out from moving to the professional ranks, but the upcoming season could be an interesting one for him.

Chris Wilkie, who was selected by the Panthers in the 5th round of the 2015 Draft, saw only a modest improvement in his offensive numbers this season at the University of North Dakota. He managed just 1 goal – compared to 5 last year – but recorded 9 assists for a total of 10 points, one more than last season in 2 fewer games played (30).

North Dakota was fairly stacked up front meaning Wilkie, a sophomore, was once again relegated to the bottom-6, and usually that meant the 4th line.

There’s no question he has offensive talent; he was tied for the USHL scoring lead with 35 goals two seasons ago, stood out at the past two development camps, and has shown an ability to create offense with his limited ice time.

For whatever reason, it hasn’t amount to more opportunities for him.

Just a few weeks ago, he announced that he will be leaving North Dakota to play for Colorado College, and whether that’s a decision to further his educational opportunities, hockey development, or both, we don’t know.

But odds are, he’ll get more chances to be an impact player at Colorado College, a Division I school that has struggled – especially offensively – in recent years.

Unfortunately, transfer rules will force him to sit out of the upcoming NCAA season, so he won’t be eligible until the 2018-19 school year.

Whether the year off will hurt his development or not remains to be seen.

Miguel Fidler posted career-highs in every offensive category while playing in 14 more games than last season.

The 2014 5th-round pick recorded 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points in 34 games while playing mostly in Ohio State’s bottom-6.

At times throughout the season, he skated alongside top-liners Mason Jobst and Nick Schilkey, proving he can also compliment high-skill players with his smart, hard-nosed style.

There’s a possibility that he could see an increased role next season as a junior, but his spot in the lineup should remain largely the same.

Karch Bachman had a tough time finding the scoresheet in his freshman year at Miami University, posting just 2 goals and 4 assists in 34 games. Shoulder surgery cut his 2015-16 season short and affected his training heading into this year.

Despite that, he managed to show flashes of skill throughout the year thanks to his elite speed and high hockey IQ. He also spent time on the penalty kill while skating on the 3rd or 4th line on most nights.

In short, he’s definitely a prospect to keep an eye on over the next 2 to 3 years as he returns to form and adjusts to the NCAA game.

When I spoke to Karch last March, he told me that he models his game after Darren Helm and Marian Gaborik, and it’s pretty easy to see how he incorporates different elements of those players’ styles into his own game.

Patrick Shea had a pretty successful freshman year at the University of Maine where he notched 5 goals and 11 assists in 33 games.

A 2015 7th-round draft pick of the Panthers, Shea played in Maine’s middle-6 and had a regular spot on the power play.

He finished the season with the 4th-best face-off percentage (57.4%) among all NCAA freshmen and was tied for 2nd on his team in freshmen scoring.

Shea is a gritty, skilled forward with offensive upside and a high compete level. He’ll push through checks, get physical with players much bigger than him along the wall or in front of the net, or just make a simple, smart play to generate offense.

He played surprisingly well this year considering he made the jump to college hockey from a lesser-known U18 league that has only seen a small crop of NHL draft picks over the years.

Like many of the Panthers’ college prospects, Shea is still at least a couple of years away from transitioning to pro hockey, but this year was a really good start and should be a sign of things to come.

Linus Nassen split his 2016-17 campaign between the SHL’s Lulea HF and their junior club in the SuperElit. Nassen – impressively – played 21 games in the SHL as an 18-year old this season and recorded the first pro points – a goal and an assist – of his career.

On November 25th, he recorded a career-high 22:43 of ice time for the pro club, which, again, is not only good for his development, but also shows that he’s pretty capable even at such a young age.

Despite playing in only 25 games, he finished the year 3rd in scoring by defensemen on the junior club with 16 points. The two defensemen above him played in 13 and 19 more games respectively.

Nassen will likely remain in Sweden for the foreseeable future, although he could also opt to play for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL as they hold his CHL rights. They have a fairly solid reputation for developing defensemen over the past several years, but a move to North America doesn’t appear to be in the plans for Nassen.

He projects as a skilled, two-way defenseman with offensive upside – which includes a booming shot from the point – except he’ll need to add more size to remain effective at the next level.

Michael Downing was yet another defenseman that kicked off his pro career in the Panthers’ organization this season.

Now 22 years old, Downing spent the last 3 years at the University of Michigan after skating in the USHL for two seasons prior to that.

Downing made his AHL debut at the end of last season and stepped right into the lineup this year, playing just about every game with Josh Brown as his partner on the Springfield Thunderbirds’ 2nd defensive pairing.

As a first-year pro, he had his inconsistencies – which will likely be ironed moving forward – but on the whole, the duo was reliable, steady, and physical.

Downing – like Brown, McCoshen, and Weegar – also earned a lot of time on the penalty kill while managing 2 goals and 11 assists for 13 points in 67 games.

A year in the AHL under his belt should make him more comfortable and confident heading into next season.

Linus Hultstrom was signed by the Panthers out of Sweden last May and at the time, he looked to be a good addition to the Panthers’ pool of defensive prospects.

He skated in September’s rookie tournament but the Panthers opted to return him to Djurgardens IF of the SHL to ensure he got the most ice time possible.

Hultstrom revealed to the Swedish media in February that he’s been living with epilepsy, a neurological disorder, for the past 7-plus years.

The announcement came during a season in which he struggled to match his offensive production of the past several years, tallying just 7 goals and 13 assists in 44 games. However, he insisted that the disorder has no affect on his on-ice performance.

His average time on ice per game dipped from 20:00 a season ago and 21:48 during his 2015-16 campaign to just 19:06 this year, a total that was a mere 5th-best among his team’s defensemen.

He was first and second in scoring by defensemen in the SHL in the past two seasons respectively, but dropped significantly this time around despite managing to lead all blue-liners on his team.

It’s not exactly clear how the Panthers’ view of Hultstrom has changed or if it’s changed at all. One can assume he’ll, at the very least, get another crack at making the AHL squad this year unless his medical condition has them thinking otherwise.

Joe Wegwerth had a somewhat productive sophomore season at the University of Notre Dame.

Drafted by the Panthers in the 4th round of the 2014 Draft, the 6’3″, 230-pound winger recorded a career-high 7 goals and 4 assists for 11 points; that’s 7 more points in 3 more games played than his freshman year.

There’s nothing overly spectacular about Wegwerth’s game, but he’s got a big body and he uses it well to position himself at the front of the crease and push through bodies to fight for loose pucks.

He’s got some skill which he had a slightly better opportunity to show off this season while being shifted all around Notre Dame’s top-9.

The 20-year old chipped in when he had the chance and played more of a complimentary role alongside some of Notre Dame’s more talented players, like Anders Bjork and Andrew Oglevie.

Keep an eye on Wegwerth, but don’t bank on him becoming an impact player in the NHL, at least not yet. He’s still young, has some tools to work with, and Notre Dame is a solid program, so anything can happen.

Ed Wittchow turned pro after spending the last 4 years at the University of Wisconsin. He signed an AHL deal with the Panthers’ affiliate prior to the start of the season and that’s where he was most of this year.

Wittchow, a tough, stay-at-home defenseman, was selected by the Panthers in the 6th round at the 2011 Draft, so this season was many years in the making.

Not known for his offensive ability, he recorded 2 goals and 2 assists in 38 AHL games while faring slightly better in the ECHL, notching 1 goal and 8 assists in just 14 games.

The Thunderbirds’ defense was hit with several injuries over the course of the season which allowed Wittchow to step in.

He played most of his minutes on the bottom pairing with fellow rookie Thomas Schemitsch and Colton Saucerman, an undrafted ECHLer, but also spent time with Brent Regner and Josh Brown earlier in the year.

Wittchow was even able to draw into the lineup when Springfield was mostly healthy on the backend, and I think that speaks to his reliable play.

He won’t shut down prime Gretzky, but he was solid in his own zone for a first-year pro, made good first passes, and earned some time on the penalty kill.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the NHL is out of the question for Wittchow, because technically it isn’t. At 24 years old, he still has some room to refine his game, and it’s entirely possible for him to become a good depth option in the near future.

The Panthers acquired Adam Wilcox from the Lightning at the trade deadline, and early returns suggest it was a smart move.

The 24-year old netminder was drafted by the Lightning in the 6th round of the 2011 Draft after a brilliant 4-year career at the University of Minnesota where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

Wilcox managed fairly average numbers with the Syracuse Crunch in 34 games prior to the trade but turned things on when he joined the Springfield Thunderbirds.

In 13 appearances, he posted a 0.932 save percentage, a 2.02 goals-against average, and 3 shutouts while compiling a record of 7-4-1. His best attributes are his flexibility and overall athleticism; his movements are quick and he has the ability to make saves at key moments.

It’s quite possible that the Panthers got a steal in Wilcox considering they only gave up 34-year old goaltender Mike McKenna. He’ll have to compete for the starting job in the AHL once again next year with Sam Montembeault joining the pro ranks or split the duties at the very least.

This 2017-18 season will be his 3rd full campaign at the pro level, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry over his solid play from the end of this year.

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3 thoughts on “An inside look at the Panthers’ prospect pipeline during the 2016-17 season

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