Last week was a busy one for the Panthers as the team hosted its annual rookie development camp at the Ice Den in Coral Springs.
Thirty-four players attended this year’s camp, including 6 invites, and they all participated in 3 days of on-ice drills and off-ice team-bonding activities before facing off in a scrimmage on Friday.
Geordie Kinnear – the head coach of the Panthers’ AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds – Doug Janik, and Mike Ryan – Kinnear’s assistant coaches – ran the camp.
A host of front office staff, as well as new head coach Bob Boughner and his assistants, watched from the sidelines.
Leo Luongo, Springfield’s goaltending coach, and Robb Tallas, the Panthers’ goaltending coach, were on hand to work with the organization’s young netminders.
One of the biggest names on the camp roster was 18-year old Owen Tippett, who the Panthers selected the week prior with the 10th overall pick at the draft.
Tippett tallied 44 goals in the OHL last season for the Mississauga Steelheads, so it was no surprise that his offensive ability was on full display.
“It’s something that you’ve always dreamed of as a little kid, to be at this level,” said Tippett. “It’s good to finally be here and meet some of the guys and get on the ice with them.”
The Panthers drafted the Peterborough, Ontario-native for his pure goal-scoring ability, and General Manager Dale Tallon wasn’t shy about admitting he’s not too far off from joining the big club.
“This kid’s got a chance [to make the team], said Tallon, “because he’s got a scoring ability that we obviously…they’re hard to find.”
The Panthers’ four other picks from the 2017 Draft – Aleksi Heponiemi, Tyler Inamoto, Max Gildon, and Sebastian Repo – were also in attendance.
Gildon, a 6-foot-4 defenseman committed to the University of New Hampshire for the upcoming season, impressed with his offensive ability, especially his shot and quick release.
He recorded a goal in the scrimmage for the white team – which went on to win 5-3 – on a one-timer from the slot.
Repo, a late-blooming winger who spent the last three years in Liiga, Finland’s top pro league, signed a 3-year entry-level contract with the Panthers this past Sunday after showing off his size and skating ability.
“Repo looked terrific,” said Tallon after the first day of camp. “Repo’s a big guy who can score goals and wants to score goals. He’s a big boy, he’s really strong, he’s mature. He’s a little ahead of the other guys as far as physical maturity.”
In addition to Repo, Maxim Mamin and Henrik Haapala also attended the camp for the first time with pro experience under their belt.
Mamin played in the KHL for the past 3 years and Haapala, a teammate of Repo, led Liiga in scoring.
Both signed entry-level deals with the team in June and are vying for spots on the Panthers’ roster this fall.
Mamin was impressive all week long with his skating ability and pro-ready skill-set. He scored a goal in Friday’s scrimmage and proceeded to net a sweet backhanded shootout goal to cap off the week.
With Denis Malgin serving as a translator, Mamin told the media that it’s been a dream of his since he was a little boy to play in the NHL, and he will do everything he can to make it come true.
Haapala clearly turned heads as he had Tallon raving about his performance even into Saturday’s free-agent media availability.
It was there that Tallon suggested the 23-year old could potentially slide onto the Panthers’ second line come October.
He helped set up a goal for Juho Lammikko to tie the scrimmage at 2 apiece.
“We’re very impressed with our free-agent signing from Finland, Haapala,” said Tallon. “He was great this week, really fast, very creative, and would fit in nicely on [the second line] as well.”
Two of the 4 goaltenders that attended the camp – Sam Montembeault and Evan Cowley – will be turning pro this season.
This was Cowley’s fifth time attending the Panthers’ development camp, and time is comes as a NCAA champion after helping to lead the University of Denver Pioneers to their eighth collegiate title in April.
“It’s just really nice to give back to the school,” said Cowley, 21, of the title victory. “I put 4 years in there, they gave me a lot and it was nice to be able to give back and finish on a high note.”
After posting a seemingly impossible 1.13 goals-against average and 0.955 save percentage in 11 games as the Pioneers’ back up netminder, Cowley graduated with a degree in economics.
Cowley – drafted in the 4th round back in 2013 – signed an AHL deal with the Thunderbirds in June and is likely to start the 2017-18 season with the Panthers’ unofficial ECHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs.
“It meant a lot,” said Cowley. “Obviously getting an education, a big part of college, so got the degree, graduated a few weeks ago. Tied up the loose ends there, so it’s all good to go, ready to turn pro, show what I got. I’m ready to play games and do what I can.”
Montembeault, who’s 9 months younger than Cowley, is expected to play in the AHL for the Thunderbirds this season after wrapping up a 4-year junior career with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in May.
On Saturday, the Panthers signed 27-year old goaltender Harri Sateri out of the KHL to split time with Montembeault and mentor him as he makes the transition to the pro ranks.
“I hope I’m gonna end up in Springfield,” said Montembeault when asked where he thinks he’ll end up this coming season. “I know there’s not any guarantee so I just every day gotta prove myself, that I have what it takes to be there.”
The 20-year old Montembeault posted solid numbers in his final junior season, recording a 28-10 record, 0.907 save percentage, and a 2.40 goals-against average en route to Blainville-Boisbriand’s first QMJHL Finals berth.
“We had a great team back in juniors, that really helped,” said Montembeault of his season. “I played lots of games, more than if I would’ve played here in the AHL.
“I have my goalie coach back there too, I’ve been working with him for 4 years now so he really helped me improve and now I’m ready for the next step.”
It’s been a while since the Panthers have had something to look forward to in net, but Cowley, and certainly Montembeault, give the organization some hope in that regard.
Ryan Bednard also attended camp for the second time since being drafted last year, and odds are he’ll earn the starting job as a sophomore at Bowling Green State University this season.
Zach Bowman, a 19-year old invite from the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, was solid in net, especially during Friday’s scrimmage.
Lost in the shuffle of the camp’s big name players was Mark Cheremeta, a 17-year old native of Parkland, Florida who lives just a couple of miles from the Ice Den.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound forward was invited to attend after posting 35 points in 41 games for the U.S. Premier Hockey League’s Islanders Hockey Club in Massachusetts. The team featured Austin Lemieux – son of NHL legend Mario – as its leading scorer.
Cheremeta also played in 5 games, including 2 in the playoffs, for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, recording 1 goal. Further to the south Florida connections, former Panthers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck serves as the Lumberjacks’ Director of Hockey Operations.
“The experience is unreal,” said Cheremeta, a former Jr. Panther, of the development camp. “Being with all these pro guys, AHL guys, it’s crazy.
Somewhat surprisingly, he hardly looked out of place. He didn’t have much trouble keeping up skating-wise, and he showed great hands and smarts.
Cheremeta and the aforementioned Bowman joined defensemen Spencer Abraham – a returnee – Dylan Plouffe, Nolan Kneen, and Sean Durzi – a former junior teammate of Thomas Schemitsch – as the players invited to this year’s camp.
“I didn’t really know this was happening, it just came out of nowhere,” said Cheremeta. “I just got called up. Everyone’s really excited for me.”
Second camp for 2016 draft picks
This year was also the second time around for the Panthers’ 2016 draft picks, including college sensation Henrik Borgstrom and Riley Stillman, son of Cory, a former Panthers defenseman.
Borgstrom caught the eyes of fans and front office staff last summer before turning heads in his freshman season at the University of Denver where he recorded 43 points in 37 games en route to a national championship.
“He’s got the most upside I’ve seen in a long time,” said Cowley, a teammate of Borgstrom at Denver. “He’s super crafty with the puck, exciting to watch, putting butts in seats in Denver, people really wanna come watch him.”
Especially during the first two days this year, Borgstrom picked up right where he left off, pulling off a few nice goals with top-shelf wrist shots and some moves in tight.
“I loved it,” said Borgstrom of his first year in North America. “I like the culture, the weather in Denver, it’s really nice. Just being with the boys all the time, I love it, and the way of life is pretty cool.
The 19-year old is expected to return to the University of Denver for the 2017-18 season, although it hasn’t been made official just yet.
Stillman was another returnee to the Panthers’ development camp after a career season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals.
The 19-year old assistant captain posted 33 points, 12 more than the season before in the same number of games (62), including his first career hat-trick in the final game of the campaign.
“It was good to go back to Oshawa as a second-year guy,” said Stillman. “Second year going back to Oshawa, I wanted to really […] turn my game into more of a pro game: play harder, play faster, be in the rush, be better defensively.”
Stillman, a 4th-round pick of the Panthers in 2016, played mostly on the Generals’ top pairing and helped lead them to a playoff berth. He went on to record 10 points in 11 games during the postseason, the second-highest total on the team.
He would’ve faced the Panthers’ other 2016 4th-round pick Jonathan Ang and the Peterborough Petes in the 3rd round of the OHL playoffs had his Generals not been eliminated by Owen Tippett’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Lots of Panthers connections in that sentence, that’s for sure.
Ang had a solid camp, once again impressing with his high-end, effortless skating ability.
“The first time you’re just getting your feet wet, the second time you kind of know what’s going on,” said Ang of the camp experience.
The 19-year old recorded a career-high 59 points in 67 games for Peterborough this season playing predominantly on the right wing and is expected to put up big numbers in his final junior year.
He was invited to Team Canada’s summer camp, so he’ll have the chance to make this year’s World Junior team.
“Speed, you can’t teach speed,” said Bryan McCabe, the Panthers’ Director of Player Development, of what Ang has shown. “That kid flys around the ice, so he’s definitely on the right track. He’s got one more year of junior left, he just needs to put on some muscle.
“We’re looking for big things from this kid this year.”
The only 2016 draft pick of the Panthers that wasn’t in attendance was 2nd round pick Adam Mascherin, who was sidelined after undergoing shoulder surgery following the conclusion of his junior season.
Mascherin was third in the OHL with a career-high 100 points in 65 games for the Kitchener Rangers. He suffered the injury in January and missed a handful of games before returning for the rest of the season and playoffs.
“He’s gonna be fine, he’s actually ahead of schedule,” said McCabe of Mascherin’s recovery. “He’ll be up in the air for rookie camp [in September], he’ll be skating but contact will probably be iffy at that point, but he should be fine for the start of October.
McCabe also noted that 2014 5th round pick Miguel Fidler also missed camp with an undisclosed injury.
Duo of college prospects have a solid week
Two of the Panthers’ college prospects had good showings that went somewhat unnoticed as a result of an abundance of talent at the camp.
Karch Bachman and Chris Wilkie, who were 5th- and 6th-round draft picks respectively in 2015, showed continued improvement over their past camp appearances.
Bachman attended two years ago after the Panthers drafted him but skipped last year’s camp as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery and prepared for his freshman campaign at the Ohio’s Miami University.
The now 20-year old went on to post just 6 points in 34 games for the RedHawks while spending most of his time in the bottom-6, although he did show flashes of skill from time to time.
At camp, he repeatedly ripped shots top shelf with his incredible quick and underrated release and was easily the best skater out of all of the attendees. He has elite acceleration and speed and consistently used both to beat defenders wide in one-on-one drills.
Wilkie had a similar experience, except this was his third appearance at the Panthers’ development camp. The Nebraska-native struggled to earn ice time as a part of a deep North Dakota forward group, but still managed 10 points in 30 games.
Like Bachman, he used his laser beam wrist shot all week long in addition to the rest of his fairly complete offensive toolbox. It was the second year in a row that Wilkie stood out and that bodes well moving forward.
Both are still in for some time at the collegiate level; Bachman is heading back for his sophomore season while Wilkie will have to sit out the coming season as he transfers to Colorado College.
Despite that, both were deserving of some praise and recognition. There’s certainly a chance they become Panthers down the road.
Handful of AHL forwards look to take the next step
There were some other names out of the Panthers’ AHL squad that also had great weeks at camp.
Dryden Hunt, last year’s free-agent signing out of the WHL, struggled in the first half of his rookie year with the Springfield Thunderbirds but turned things on in late-February.
“It took me a while to transition into the professional level, the speed and quickness of the game but we got great coaches down there,” said Hunt. “The last couple of months I found my game.”
This year, his top-notch wrist shot was as good as it’s ever been while his feet were noticeably quicker.
He scored a bunch of nice goals during the one-on-one drills and made some nice moves to get past defenders, and that’s certainly a positive sign when it comes to the 21-year old’s development.
Juho Lammikko, drafted back in 2014, also had a really good camp, and that seems to have been the theme for him over the last couple of years.
He’s added a lot of size since his first camp in 2014 and has really transformed into a very reliable, skilled player capable of filling a bottom-6 role in the near future.
He notched 6 goals and 5 assists in 47 games as a rookie for the Thunderbirds this season, but missed much of the second half with an undisclosed injury.
Lammikko has an incredibly underrated wrist shot, something he showed off a lot this time around, and one he doesn’t use nearly as often as you’d like.
Francois Beauchemin, who signed an AHL contract in June, was a pleasant surprise in his first NHL development camp. The 21-year old had the fourth-most goals in the QMJHL last season as an overrager, and while he was fairly quiet to start the week, he impressed as he settled in.
He began finding the back of the net with ease thanks to his incredibly precise wrist shot and put in a nice penalty shot goal during the Red-White scrimmage.
While it may be tough for Beauchemin to earn a prominent offensive role for the Thunderbirds this season because of an influx of talented forwards, his solid first impression at development camp certainly gave him a head-start.
Panthers sign Grenier
In some non-development camp related news, the Panthers announced on Monday that they signed unrestricted free-agent Alexandre Grenier to a 1-year, 2-way contract.
The winger tallied 45 points in 69 games last year for the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate.
Grenier has posted at least 43 points in each of his last 3 AHL seasons and has only played in 9 NHL games, recording 0 points.
At 6-foot-4, the 25-year old plays a heavy, gritty game while also being capable of contributing offensively in an AHL squad’s top-6.
The Springfield Thunderbirds were in need of some offense after last year, and Grenier will certainly help out in that department.
He also has the potential to serve as a solid depth option should the Panthers need a forward in a pinch.
As always for continued coverage of the Panthers’ prospects throughout the off-season, regular season, and playoffs, give @fla_prospects a follow on Twitter. For now, you can find a ton of development camp videos from last week on the timeline, so give those a watch if you’re interested as well.