With pro experience already in hand for Maxim Mamin and Sebastian Repo, they look like early favorites to take two of the several roster spots expected to be up for grabs come training camp.
Chosen in the 6th-round of the 2016 Draft, Mamin wasn’t exactly a big name, but the Panthers still wanted him.
They wanted him too.
Teams usually go one of two ways with late-round picks: a high-risk, high-reward player with a longer developmental curve or an older player passed over in previous drafts.
The latter is exactly what the Panthers did in 2016 with Mamin, and they did it again in June when they selected Sebastian Repo.
Mamin already had two seasons in the KHL – the second-best pro league behind the NHL – under his belt when the Panthers chose him last year.
This season – his third in the league – he managed career-highs in every stat category despite suiting up for 6 fewer games than his sophomore campaign.
Playing for his hometown team, CSKA Moskva in Moscow, Russia, Mamin finished with the fourth-most despite spending a majority of the season in the bottom-6 with a revolving door of line-mates and almost no power play time.
On top of that, the three players above him were all older by at least 5 years and played in more games; two of the three even averaged more ice time.
It’s not often that younger players get much of an opportunity to play, especially in European pro leagues, so the fact that Mamin was able to produce with the hand he was dealt is impressive.
He plays a heavy, skilled, and responsible north-south game and has no problem going to the dirty areas and using his size to dig out pucks or capitalize on scoring chances.
His offensive abilities are somewhat underrated as he owns a deceptive shot and above-average vision to set up linemates.
The Panthers certainly liked what they saw out of him and pushed hard to get him signed, which they eventually did at the beginning of June.
“There are many factors,” Mamin told Sport-Express when asked about his decision to come to North America. “But the main thing is the Panthers changed the team […] and I want to become a part of it. You cannot think of a better time. […] I believe I am ready for North America.”
He attended the Panthers’ development camp for the first time at the end of June and stood out with his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame, strong skating ability, and unsurprisingly pro-ready skill-set.
He scored a goal during a Red-White scrimmage at the end of the week’s activities.
“It’s no secret that CKSA is one of those clubs that adheres to the North-American style,” Mamin said to Sport-Express. “It seems to me that it’ll be even easier [to play in the NHL] than other beginners since we have played such hockey [over the past few years].”
Mamin admitted that his contract includes an out clause which allows him to return to Russia if he doesn’t make the NHL, but he made it clear that he doesn’t intend to do so.
“Yes, there is such an agreement,” said Mamin. “I’m, in principle, ready to be sent to the AHL. I will treat it with understanding and I will not immediately collect [my] things and go home.”
It’s not out of the ordinary for European players to have these types of clauses in their contract, especially fringe players who aren’t locks to make the NHL roster. Those types of players can typically make more money in their respective countries than the AHL or other lower leagues, so many would prefer to leave.
But fortunately for the Panthers, Mamin seems set – at least for now – on making the big club.
With Denis Malgin translating at development camp, Mamin told the media that making the NHL has been a dream of his since he was a little boy and that he will do everything he can to make it come true.
He certainly has a legitimate shot to do just that, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Sebastian Repo there alongside him.
That’s because, in many ways, Repo’s story is similar to Mamin’s.
Now 21-years old, he was on the radar of NHL teams but was passed over in both the 2015 Draft and the 2016 Draft before the Panthers took him this summer.
“[He’s] a player that we’ve tracked for a number of years as he’s developed,” said Jason Bukala, the Panthers’ Director of Amateur Scouting. “He was an interesting re-entry.”
Repo played all of his junior hockey in Finnish junior leagues before splitting the 2014-15 season between there and the USHL, where he played 25 games for the Sioux City Musketeers.
He got his first taste of Liiga, Finland’s top pro league, that year when he played in 10 games for the Pelicans before spending the entirety of the next two seasons in the league.
A trade early in his 2016-17 campaign saw him move from the Pelicans to Tappara where he went on to be a teammate of free-agent signing Henrik Haapala and post a career-high 32 points in 46 games.
Haapala has a chance to make the Panthers out of camp as well after leading Liiga in scoring last season.
Repo’s 6 goals in 18 playoff games this past spring were tied for the league lead and helped Tappara to their second consecutive Liiga championship.
His two full seasons of pro experience helped him stand out at development camp and earned him some praise from the powers that be, as well as an entry-level contract a couple of weeks ago.
“Repo looked terrific,” said General Manager Dale Tallon. “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. […] He looks really strong.”
Like Mamin, Repo seems primed to be an impact player in the bottom-9 as soon as this season. He measures in at just 2 pounds lighter than his Russian counterpart and plays nearly an identical game.
“He’s played pro hockey already, he’s pro ready,” said Bukala at the draft. “He’s gonna have a chance to come over here and play either in the [AHL] and we’ll see where it goes from there, NHL maybe.”
“I have played 3 seasons in Liiga in Finland as a pro so I think I’m ready now,” said Repo. “I’m a few years older than the other guys and I’m a lot stronger and bigger now so I think I’m ready now.”
This approach of drafting slightly older players isn’t all that new, but the fact that the Panthers seem to be embracing it is a very good thing.
Dale Tallon has always said that there are three ways to improve your team: through the draft, free-agency, and with trades.
In the past, the Panthers have always had to wait for their picks to develop – or in many cases, never make it – and that forces them to spend money on players, even if it’s just to fill a bottom-6 role.
Now, they’re putting their upgraded amateur scouting staff and keen eyes for talent – like Russian scout Vadim Podrezov and Jari Kekalainen, both of which had major says in selecting Mamin and Repo – to even better use than before.
Instead of taking a project with a late-round pick, they’re looking to potentially improve today’s team with players that already have pro experience, or, in other cases, undrafted free-agents.
One of the things that separates winning organizations from the ones that are just ‘good’ or ‘ok’ is the ability to identify talent, whether that’s in the draft or outside of it.
Doing so is a goal the Panthers are working very quickly toward, with players like Mamin, Repo, Haapala, Dryden Hunt, and Linus Hultstrom among the names added to the organization just over the past couple of years.
It’s been a while since the Panthers have drafted a player capable of making an impact outside of the top-6, and they have chance to quickly hit on two players as soon as this year.
Of course, success isn’t guaranteed for any of those players, but it’s very clear what the Panthers are trying to do and it could pay off – literally and figuratively – down the road.