A good rule of thumb is to wait five years before evaluating an NHL draft class. This gives players a fair amount of time to develop past “prospect” status and allows onlookers to more effectively evaluate how well a team drafted in a certain year.
With five years having passed since the 2012 NHL Draft, we are now able to take a closer look at the Panthers’ draftees and compare their projections to what they’ve become thus far in their careers.
Selected: Round 1, 23rd overall
Team: Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL
Draft-year stats: 53 games played, 11 goals, 16 assists, 27 points
Mike Matheson was ranked 30th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting just prior to the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh.
After making their first playoff appearance in 12 years, the Panthers were eliminated in the first round by the New Jersey Devils, and that put them in a prime position to select the Montreal-native with the 23rd overall pick.
He played two seasons of midget AAA hockey before spending his draft year with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL where he led the team’s defensemen in points with 27 in 53 games. Heading into the season, Matheson was projected to go 1st overall at the 2010 QMJHL Draft but opted to go to the USHL to prepare for college.
Matheson’s above-average skating ability, solid foot-work, and offensive touch caught the eyes of scouts while his lack of a physical game had some worried about whether or not his game would translate to the next level.
“Michael’s game is predicated on outstanding skating ability. There is not an area of skating in which he doesn’t excel, and he’s able to contribute in so many different ways because of it. He is able to buy precious time and space when he’s in offensive situations and with good puck skills, specifically passing ability, he can create offensive chances. He plays without the puck in a very responsible manner and as he continues to develop this area of the game, he has the potential to be a very well-balanced player who can play in all situations and create a lot of challenges for opposing teams.”
– Craig Button, TSN Scout
Matheson went on to spend three years at Boston College where he led the Eagles’ defensemen in scoring in all three seasons and served as captain during his junior campaign.
He also helped lead the Eagles to three consecutive NCAA Championship tournament appearances.
The decision to go the college route paid off, not only because he eventually graduated with a degree in psychology, but because it allowed him the time to add some much-needed size and improve defensively.
Matheson, who was often regarded as one of the Panthers’ top prospects, signed his entry-level contract on April 1, 2015 and made his AHL debut 3 days later following the conclusion of his third college season. He went on to play in 5 games, recording 2 assists, to round out the year.
His first full AHL campaign came during the 2015-16 season and he made his NHL debut on February 20th against Winnipeg.
“Some of the deficiencies coming out of college, his defensive play, in-zone play, he really put the time and effort in with [then head coach of Florida’s AHL affiliate] Scott Allen and just continued to progress every game and impress every game down in Portland,” said Eric Joyce, the Panthers’ Assistant General Manager, during the 2016 off-season.
“He became a call-up guy, got sent back, continued to work on some things. Then when we needed a guy in the playoffs, he was ready.”
The rookie defenseman played a pivotal role for the Panthers during the 2016 playoffs, logging at least 17 minutes – including a high of 32:18 – in 4 of the 5 games he played in.
“He really hit full stride in the playoffs against the Islanders as he was definitely one of our best D,” said Tom Rowe last year, who was the team’s assistant general manager at the time.
The 2016-17 season was Matheson’s first full year in the NHL and he was certainly up for the challenge, posting 7 goals – which was the second-most among the league’s rookie defensemen – and 10 assists in 81 games.
The 23-year old averaged the third-most ice time per game on the Panthers at 21:03.
Matheson’s skating ability stood out as it has for just about his entire career, and his defensive play – his stick-work specifically – got better and better as the season wore on.
Internationally, Matheson has represented Canada at the World Championship in 2016 and 2017, earning gold and silver medals respectively. He was also named the tournament’s best defenseman and earned All-Star Team honors in 2016.
With the final year of his entry-level deal coming up and one season of NHL action already under his belt, it will be interesting to see if and how Matheson takes his game to the next level.
Most draft projections listed him as having top-4 upside, and not only is that definitely attainable, but he was already playing in that type of role often as a rookie.
The hope is that he can get some power play time this coming season and continue to work on being consistent when the puck isn’t on his stick.
A new coaching staff, including Bob Boughner who helped San Jose defenseman Brent Burns elevate his game, could be instrumental in that regard for Matheson, as well as the rest of the Panthers’ young defense.
There’s definitely still some untapped potential, especially when it comes to his offensive production, and being the student of the game that he is, the sky’s the limit.
So far, he’s moving in the right direction and it certainly looks like the Panthers make a solid pick.
THE REST OF THE REST
Although no one knew it then, the Matheson selection would be all she wrote for the Panthers at the 2012 Draft.
After owning a boatload of picks in 2010 and 2011, the Panthers had just 4 total selections in 2012, and were it not for Matheson, the draft might’ve been a complete waste.
In the 3rd round, the Panthers took center Steven Hodges out of the WHL where he played for the Victoria Royals, a team coached – at the time – by former Panther Dave Lowry.
At the time, Hodges was looking to become the first Royals player to make it to the NHL, potentially as a bottom-6 forward with some offensive upside, but his junior numbers hardly suggested that to be imminent.
He posted 157 points in 247 games over 4 seasons and never reached the point-per-game mark while suffering from injuries in each of his last two years.
Signed to an entry-level deal, Hodges’ pro debut came at the start of the 2014-15 season when he played in 23 games for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, although he managed just 2 points during that span.
Hodges fared much better in the ECHL recording 15 points in 28 games for the Cincinnati Cyclones that year but was forced to undergo off-season surgery that kept him from starting the 2015-16 season on time.
He went on to play just 14 games between the AHL and ECHL that season before missing the entire 2016-17 campaign with another injury. The 23-year old came off the Panthers’ books this off-season as they neglected to tender him a qualifying offer.
Hodges owned some decent skills but his inability to remain healthy during his junior and short pro career made it tough for him to accomplish much of anything.
Next up is Alexander Delnov who the Panthers selected in the 4th round of the 2012 Draft. In his draft year, Delnov, a winger, suited up for Atlanty Mytishchi of the MHL, a U20 league based in Russia with a fairly high level of competition, and registered 22 points in 47 games.
It also happened to be the same team that the Panthers’ Russian scout, Vadim Podrezov, also a native of Moscow, worked for at the time.
“That was a wild-card pick, but he was a top-5, top-10 forward at the under-18 tournament in April,” former Director of Scouting Scott Luce said. “We know this kid inside and out. He wants to come to North America to play, and he was a player we valued.”
The relatively unknown Russian forward raised eyebrows at the U18 World Championship that year when he managed 3 points in 6 games, and although he wasn’t ranked among European skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting, the Panthers selected him.
In fact, he was such an unknown that the Panthers almost couldn’t draft him.
The NHL didn’t have him listed in the central registry, so the league wasn’t aware of who he was until his eligibility was verified when the Panthers announced him as their selection.
He went on to play for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds after they chose him 8th overall at the 2012 CHL Import Draft.
There, Delnov put up modest numbers over the course of two seasons while making his North American pro debut with the Rampage in 2015.
Delnov has yet to break through at the pro level despite owning a sturdy frame, above-average skating ability, and an offensive touch. In addition, being that he was a player drafted out of Europe rather than North America, it’s unclear if the Panthers took the necessary steps to retain his rights.
Either way, Delnov doesn’t appear to be coming over to North America anytime soon, and even if he did, there are much better options to fill whatever spot he’d be fighting for.
Francis Beauvillier was the Panthers’ 6th-round pick in 2012 and at the time, he already had 3 seasons of experience in the QMJHL where he was drafted 3rd overall by the Lewiston MAINEiacs in 2009.
The Quebec-native was ranked 56th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting.
After the Panthers took him, he went on to play in 2 more seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic, Shawinigan Cataractes, and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the latter of which he posted over a point-per-game average for the first time in his career.
He played in 8 AHL games the year prior to that, recording just 2 points, and eventually went off to play for the University of New Brunswick where he was a teammate of Chris Clapperton, a 2013 draft pick of the Panthers, from 2015 through 2017.
Beauvillier returned to the AHL at the tail end of the 2016-17 season when he signed a tryout contract with the Manitoba Moose. They apparently liked what they saw out him as they gave him a contract extension in July after notching 5 points in 9 games to close out the year.
At 23 years old, his upside is limited and certainly doesn’t look to be as high as his younger brother Anthony, a 1st-round draft pick of the Islanders in 2015.
Whatever he achieves, it obviously won’t be with the Panthers, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue, at least not from an NHL point of view.
The Panthers capped things off in the 7th-round by taking Jonatan Nielsen, who re-entered the draft after going unselected in 2011.
Since being drafted out of Linköping HC’s junior club in Sweden’s SuperElit league, Nielsen, a mobile two-way defenseman with decent size at 6’3″, has struggled to make it out of the country’s lower-tier leagues.
The Panthers never signed him to a contract, so he re-entered the draft in 2014 but went unchosen and became an unrestricted free agent.
While Nielsen’s chances of cracking Sweden’s top professional leagues – nevermind making the NHL – are all but non-existent – the Panthers shouldn’t feel bad that he didn’t pan out. Only 5 players drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 Draft have played in an NHL game, and none of them played in more than 5.
So there you have it.
That’s the Panthers’ 2012 draft class, or basically just Mike Matheson.
Overall, they made some bets on skill – a trend they started a bit in 2011 – except none of the players were able to put together what they had. They had just 2 picks in the top-100, which is tied with 2006 for the fewest they’ve held in the draft, so that also didn’t help.
Fortunately, things are looking a little better for 2013, but you’ll have to wait until next summer to see where those players are at.