Welcome to Cats On The Prowl’s Florida Panthers prospect rankings for the 2017-18 season. Here, we’ll provide a rank and brief write-up for each of the Panthers’ prospects.
For this ranking, we’ve defined a prospect to be a player that is 24-years old or younger, has played fewer than 25 NHL games in one season or fewer than 50 total in his entire career, and falls into at least one of the following categories:
- Drafted by the Panthers
- Not drafted by the Panthers but signed to an AHL deal and playing in first pro season
- Signed to a two-way contract
Additionally, goaltenders will be ranked separately (below) from the skaters and will follow the same guidelines.
It’s also important to note that these rankings don’t suggest that one player is closer to making the NHL than another; this is a ranking of prospects, not a depth chart. We’re solely focusing on prospect quality here: whether one player is a better prospect than another, especially as it pertains to the future of the Panthers’ organization.
Without further ado, here are this year’s rankings:
#1. Henrik Borgstrom
Most Recent Team: University of Denver (NCHC)
2016-17 stats: 37 games | 22 goals | 21 assists | 43 points
A highly-skilled and incredibly creative forward, Henrik Borgstrom is almost always thinking ahead of everyone on the ice and in the stands.
His hands are quick and magical, his puck skills are off the charts, and his overall offensive skill-set is just about pro ready, if not already; he absolutely oozes skill.
He owns a hard, precise, NHL-caliber shot which almost always seems to catch goaltenders off guard.
Some have said his skating needs work, but that’s not entirely the case. His acceleration is probably the main area that could use some improvement, but once he gets going, it’s not easy to catch him.
Considering there was little to no physical game in his junior league in Finland, he fared surprisingly well in his first season of college hockey, using his frame to his advantage to protect pucks, win battles along the boards, and drive to the net.
Borgstrom will need to continue to work on playing a consistent 200-foot game; his commitment to making smart plays in the defensive zone needs to match his commitment in the offensive zone.
Fortunately, playing the defensive side of the puck can be taught while the other skills that Borgstrom has cannot. He’s always a threat to do something offensively: you never know exactly what until he actually does it.
That’s exactly what makes him not only very hard to defend but also extremely exciting to watch.
#2. Owen Tippett
Most Recent Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
2016-17 stats: 60 games | 44 goals | 31 assists | 75 points
Owen Tippett is a natural goal scorer and exactly the type of player the Panthers have been looking to add to their organization for the past 20-plus years.
He has an elite NHL-caliber shot; he can absolutely wire a puck right by the goaltender with a sharp wrister or a hard one-timer, making him a huge asset off the rush or on the power play.
The Peterborough-native also possesses high-end skating abilities. His acceleration is quick and allows him to blow by defenders and create scoring chances on the penalty kill. His speed makes him even more of a threat offensively.
Critics hone in on Tippett’s supposed lack of hockey sense, although the “issue” seems to be the fact that he doesn’t use his teammates as often as one may like. As a player whose standout ability is scoring goals, this isn’t too much of a concern but still something he may improve on as time goes on.
He knows where to be to score goals, can get to those areas with his speed and thick frame, and is capable of making various other skill plays when necessary, and that’s proven to be enough so far. He has the goal-scorer’s stance and way about him where he just looks dangerous with the puck.
Obviously, things won’t be as easy for Tippett as they have been thus far as he moves on to higher levels. He’ll need to bring a more consistent effort shift in, shift out while being more committed without the puck on his stick.
Fortunately, similar to Borgstrom, the areas upon which Tippett needs to improve are not impossible. What can’t be taught (to some degree) is his shooting ability and high-end speed, two things the Panthers are dying to add to their lineup.
#3. Adam Mascherin
Most Recent Team: Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
2016-17 stats: 65 games | 35 goals | 65 assists | 100 points
Similar to Tippett, Adam Mascherin is a high-end shooting talent. While his skating ability, which is fairly average, prevents him from being a bigger threat off the rush like Tippett, he can still laser the puck past a goaltender in the blink of an eye from anywhere in the offensive zone better than most players.
Mascherin’s playmaking ability is his most underrated asset.
He owns a shoot-first mentality but is equally as dangerous when it comes to setting up teammates because of his vision, smarts and knack for making precise passes, even when under pressure.
His height is below-average but he makes up for it with a thick, strong frame that measures in around 200 pounds. It enables him to protect the puck from players much bigger than he is and win puck battles along the boards and in the corners.
Further improvements in his skating will be necessary to keep up at the next level, but otherwise he has all of the tools to have an impact in an NHL top-6.
Mascherin missed the Panthers’ development camp in July due to off-season shoulder surgery, but the team said he was ahead of schedule at the time and should be ready for October. He’s not eligible for the AHL this season because of his age, and if he should return to the OHL – assuming he doesn’t make the Panthers out of camp – he should be in a prime position to reach the 100-point mark again.
#4. Jayce Hawryluk
Most Recent Team: Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
2016-17 stats: 47 games | 9 goals | 17 assists | 26 points
Jayce Hawryluk, the highest-ranked pro player on this year’s list, is a fierce, passionate competitor with the skill and smarts to contribute sooner than later in the Panthers’ top-9.
Injuries derailed the first half of his rookie season in the AHL, but that didn’t stop him from putting up solid numbers with a wide variety of lesser-talented linemates.
His vision and offensive awareness enable him to make his linemates better while also allowing him to capitalize on scoring opportunities that arise.
His ability to protect the puck along the boards is incredibly strong, and that goes hand-in-hand with his forechecking ability. He’s always one of the first skaters deep in the offensive zone to retrieve loose pucks and is able to use his sturdy frame to gain possession from there.
The Panthers are in desperate need of a player that not only possesses the tenacity that makes Hawryluk difficult to play against, but also the ability to impact the game in all 3 zones.
He plays a pro-style game which makes it all the more likely that his skill-set will translate to the next level – as it already has to the AHL – and giving him an edge over the number-5 spot.
#5. Henrik Haapala
Most Recent Team: Tappara (Liiga)
2016-17 stats: 51 games | 15 goals | 45 assists | 60 points
One of the newest additions to the Panthers’ prospect pipeline, Henrik Haapala immediately jumps into the top-5.
Similar to recent graduate Denis Malgin, he’s packed with top-6-caliber skill that allows him to be effective in spite of his smaller frame.
He’s surprisingly feisty and strong for a 5’9″ forward but adding some size wouldn’t hurt.
Haapala’s not a prolific goal-scorer, although he sees the ice very well and can get from point A to point B very quickly, which makes him dangerous in the offensive zone, coming through the neutral zone, and off the rush.
He’s adept at making quick little plays in traffic and while under pressure and owns an underrated wrist shot that he could stand to use more.
Odds are he won’t light it up at the pro level in North America like he did in Finland, but there’s certainly enough offensive potential present that will make the Panthers happy to have him in their organization.
#6. Aleksi Heponiemi
Most Recent Team: Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
2016-17 stats: 72 games | 28 goals | 58 assists | 86 points
The Panthers’ 2nd-round pick from the 2017 Draft is ranked 6th in our rankings this year.
Aleksi Heponiemi, the WHL’s reigning Rookie of the Year, owns a dynamic offensive skill-set and does everything fast, whether it be skating up the ice, taking a shot, or making a play.
His speed backs off defenders while his quick decision-making buys time, keeps opposing players guessing, and creates space for him and his teammates.
Heponiemi’s vision, above-average puck skills, and awareness make him a constant threat in the offensive zone at even-strength and even more-so on the power play, and like most Finns, he understands what it takes to be successful when the puck isn’t on his stick.
The only real concern with Heponiemi is his size. Most listings have him at 5’10” and around 145 – 150 pounds, and while that won’t really hamper his effectiveness at the junior level, he’ll definitely need to bulk up to remain successful at the pro level.
This might make him slightly more of a project than most junior prospects, but being that he’s only 18 and is headed into just his second season of junior hockey, he has time to get where he needs to be.
He put up incredibly solid numbers as a first-year player in a league that is known for it’s large defensemen
It’s tough to pass up a player with the skill of Heponiemi; it definitely seems like the reward outweighs the risk.
#7. Maxim Mamin
Most Recent Team: CSKA Moskva (KHL)
2016-17 stats: 42 games | 12 goals | 13 assists | 25 points
Maxim Mamin won’t be relied upon to be a high-powered offensive weapon but owns the physical tools and skill level to play virtually anywhere in the lineup.
Mamin is entering his first season in North America after spending the last 3 playing in the KHL, Russia’s top pro league and widely considered to be the league with a level of competition closest to the NHL.
The 22-year old broke out for career-highs in all offensive categories this past year despite playing bottom-6 minutes, having no regular spot on the power play, and being paired with a revolving door of bottom-of-the-barrel linemates.
He plays a heavy, north-south, 200-foot game and will use his size to his advantage, whether it be at the front of the net or while fighting for loose pucks.
Mamin won’t dominate the opposition on the scoresheet or wow anyone with fancy plays, but don’t sleep on him; he’s certainly skilled enough to make plays and put the puck in the net when the opportunity presents itself.
There’s absolutely no reason why he can’t be a reliable and impactful complimentary player for the Panthers in their bottom-6 today. Everything about him is NHL-ready, and combined with his pro experience, he gets the edge over the number-8 spot.
#8. Sebastian Repo
Most Recent Team: Tappara (Liiga)
2016-17 stats: 46 games | 11 goals | 21 assists | 32 points
Sebastian Repo is a very similar player to our 7th-ranked player, Maxim Mamin, in that both play a power forward-style game.
Repo is a big body at 6’3″ and roughly 200 pounds and loves to use that frame to separate opposing players from the puck and stand up for his teammates, but he can also play a skilled game and contribute offensively.
He goes about most things in a forceful way, whether he’s driving to the net, battling for positioning, or fighting for the puck along the boards.
He’s also got a hard shot – as well as a blistering one-timer – that he isn’t afraid to unleash and uses his long reach to get to rebounds and loose pucks around the net.
Like Mamin, Repo won’t blow anyone away with high-end skill but he contributes positively to the possession game by making smart plays, moving the puck up the ice, and putting the puck on net.
Liiga isn’t too far off from the KHL (which is just behind the NHL) in terms of the quality of competition, so considering Repo has good size and skating ability, he could probably slot right into the Panthers’ bottom-6.
#9. Ian McCoshen
Most Recent Team: Springfield Thunderbirds
2016-17 stats: 68 games | 4 goals | 12 assists | 16 points
Ian McCoshen has been one of the Panthers’ top defensive prospects for a while and he’s almost ready to take yet another step in his young career.
The 22-year old had a solid rookie year for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, posting 16 points in 68 games and the 6th-best plus-minus rating in the entire league.
His defensive zone play steadily improved throughout the year, earning him a call-up to the Panthers at the end of the season, and he looked very promising.
He’s a good skater, has good awareness with and without the puck in all 3 zones, can make a good first pass, and has a hard shot from the point, but isn’t highly skilled in any one particular area.
On the whole, however, he possesses an above-average skill set that projects to make him a consistent and reliable shutdown defender with some offensive upside – likely on the second or third pairing – at the NHL level.
#10. Dryden Hunt
Most Recent Team: Springfield Thunderbirds
2016-17 stats: 70 games | 13 goals | 18 assists | 31 points
It was music to the Panthers’ ears when Dryden Hunt agreed to sign with them as a free-agent out of the WHL last year.
At the time, Hunt attracted a ton of attention after recording an incredible 4 hat-tricks in 5 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors before turning down the offers of other teams to join the Panthers.
His first pro season with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate seemed to be all about showing flashes of what he’s capable of as he adjusted to the higher level of competition.
He was given ample opportunity to do so as he saw top-6 minutes and power play time all year long before finally settling in during the second half, posting 17 points in the final 24 games.
His shot is NHL-caliber, but averaging just a touch over 2 shots per game last season, he could definitely stand to use it a bit more. His playmaking ability is considerably underrated and he showed a willingness to play at both ends of the rink.
The main knock on Hunt is his acceleration. He has good speed once he gets going but he’ll need to work on his foot speed to increase his effectiveness both now and at the next level.
Hunt certainly has top-9 scoring potential in the NHL but there’s no rush considering he’s still just 21-years old and learning the pro game.
#11. Mackenzie Weegar, D
A smart, mobile defenseman with offensive upside and the ability to run a power play, Weegar is knocking on the door of the NHL. He still has some room to improve defensively, although he probably won’t be relied upon as heavily at the NHL level as he was in the AHL.
He’ll compete for a job at camp this year but odds are he won’t be forced onto the roster if it means hardly seeing any ice time. In that case, he’ll be a huge addition to a Thunderbirds squad hoping see some improvements this year.
#12. Thomas Schemitsch, D
Schemitsch is a raw, but intriguing defensive prospect for the Panthers. He moved from forward to the backend just prior to his junior career, but the Panthers liked his skill, smarts, offensive potential, and underlying numbers enough to fast-track him to the pro level.
He’s headed into his second pro season where he could see a larger role with the Panthers’ AHL squad after limited minutes and a couple of ECHL stints last year.
#13. Juho Lammikko, LW/C
Last year was only Juho Lammikko’s first pro season with the Panthers’ organization, but he somehow already looks and seems like a veteran.
He didn’t play as much as he would’ve liked due to some injuries but that doesn’t change the fact that he already plays a skilled, pesky game in the Thunderbirds’ bottom-6 while filling key role on their 12th-ranked penalty kill. Lammikko has added a lot of size over the past couple of years and is a dark horse to crack the Panthers’ roster this season.
#14. Riley Stillman, D
Riley Stillman has all the makings of a pro defender. Obviously he’s still young, so he has room to improve his reads and positioning, but it’s not hard to see him as a top-4 defenseman in the NHL one day.
With a booming point shot and good puck skills, he has some offensive upside but isn’t expected to be a huge point producer at the next level.
He’s intelligent and ultra-focused on the ice, is able to keep good gaps with his skating, and tracks plays well. Because of his father, he already knows exactly what it will take to be successful.
#15. Blaine Byron, W/C
The newest addition to the Panthers’ prospect pipeline, Blaine Byron gives the organization yet another chance to add – at least – a depth player to their lineup in the not-too-distant future.
With good size and vision, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him carve out a bottom-6 spot somewhere someday, but for now he’ll likely get a good opportunity to succeed from the get-go in the AHL. The Thunderbirds were in need of more offense, and as a consistent offensive performer at the college level, he should help out in that regard.
#16. Jonathan Ang, RW
Jonathan Ang is another interesting prospect. He has the high-end skating ability and a decent offensive skill-set, but he isn’t a dynamic offensive player, at least not at the junior level like you might think he would be.
He seemed to benefit from a shift to the wing this past season and was continuously relied upon to kill penalties because of his speed and energy.
Through three seasons in the OHL, he’s yet to reach the point-per-game mark – which isn’t a guarantee of future success but one of many good indicators – although he’s primed to do so this year. His skating allows him to be elusive as he moves around the ice, but he still needs to add some more thickness to his thin frame.
Ang isn’t a boom-or-bust prospect in the sense that there’s no in between with regard to what he becomes; to be honest, a wait-and-see approach might be best with him. He shows flashes of being a dangerous player except he hasn’t been able to be one on a consistent basis.
#17. Ben Finkelstein, D
Probably one of the most underrated prospects in the Panthers’ system, Finkelstein is an intelligent, smooth-skating defenseman with a knack for the offensive side of the puck.
He’s a bit undersized at 5’9″ but is strong on his skates and uses his vision and solid puck-moving ability to make that size less of a concern.
Finkelstein had a very good freshman season at St. Lawrence University where he finished fourth on the team in scoring with 23 points in 37 games while playing mostly in the top-4 and on the power play.
With two defenseman graduating, Finkelstein has a good chance of earning top-pairing minutes as a sophomore this year which should do wonders for his development.
Finkelstein fits almost perfectly into the mold of Boston Bruins’ defenseman Torey Krug who’s the same size, boasts a similar skill-set, and had a very similar freshman year at Michigan State University 7 years ago.
He still has some time before he sees pro ice, but he’s definitely a prospect to keep an eye on. The Panthers can only hope he follows in Krug’s footsteps.
#18. Linus Nassen, D
Nassen is one of the less-talked about prospects in the Panthers’ system. What’s interesting about him is he already has some pro experience – albeit only 31 games – in the SHL at just 18- and 19-years old. That’s pretty impressive considering how difficult it is for young players to crack pro squads in Europe, and he could see even more time with the big club, Lulea HF, this season.
At 6’0″ and roughly 180 pounds, he’s not at a huge disadvantage in terms of his size, but he does get pushed around a bit.
At his age, it’s not a major concern just yet but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
He sees the ice really well and makes a very good first pass. Lulea’s junior team uses him a lot on the power play and he’s responsible enough to play in all situations.
This was the second year in a row that Nassen was chosen by a team at the CHL Import Draft – this time by the Medicine Hat Tigers – but it seems like he’ll be staying in Sweden for now where he’ll have a shot to move up the ranks.
It would be a boon for his development to see more pro ice this year which seems to have been the trend for the past couple of seasons.
The Panthers’ haven’t signed Nassen yet, and odds are he won’t come over to North America until he has a shot to make the AHL team at the very least. How he performs this season may be a deciding factor.
Update: Somewhat surprisingly, Nassen signed did indeed make the jump to North America and signed with the Medicine Hat Tigers on September 21st.
As a young player with pro experience, it’s a good chance he’ll be right near the top of the Tigers’ defensive core from the start. Special teams minutes are also a solid bet. He still needs to fill in his frame, but this opportunity will allow him to adjust to the smaller ice surface while playing competitive hockey against players similar to him in age and ability.
#19. Max Gildon, D
Gildon is a skilled, two-way defenseman with a big shot and a lanky frame. He won’t blow anyone away at either end of the rink and he needs to learn to make better reads on a more consistent basis, but fortunately he’s headed the NCAA route which will allow him time to work on those things.
Some scouts are bullish on Gildon’s potential, however it might be best to see how he adjusts to the college game as he’s currently a bit raw defensively. It’s likely he’ll have some sort of impact at the pro level one day, but to what degree is still unclear.
#20. Matt Buckles, C/W
Matt Buckles is a great example of a player that isn’t ranked particularly high but has a skill-set that’s almost perfect for the pro game. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and makes a living around the net fighting for rebounds and loose pucks and deflecting shots.
At 6’3″, 218 pounds, he has a big frame and good hand-eye coordination which makes him difficult to handle in the slot and crease area. He also has a good understanding of his responsibilities without the puck and in the defensive zone.
Buckles had a great start to his pro career with the Springfield Thunderbirds at the tail end of last year, posting 7 points in 9 games in the middle-6. Even though he’s only on an AHL contract, he may earn a two-way deal if he’s able to keep up that strong play.
#21. Michael Downing, D
Downing progressed well in his first pro season with the Thunderbirds and will look to take on an even bigger role this coming season.
A two-way defender with some offensive upside, Downing was already deployed heavily last year at even-strength and on the penalty kill with some limited power play time.
He’s not highly-skilled but isn’t afraid to throw his 6’3″, 205-pound frame around, can move the puck up the ice and handles it well at both blue lines. As he continues to learn the pro game, his reads will improve, at which point he could be a call-up candidate sooner rather than later.
#22. Josh Brown, D
Brown has always been a bit of a project but he’s shown a lot of progression lately. He’s cut down on mental mistakes and has become more responsible with the puck.
He was paired often with Downing last year – which was his first full season in the AHL – and the pairing became a mainstay on the Thunderbirds’ penalty kill.
Brown’s large 6’5″, 225- pound frame makes him difficult to handle around the crease and along the boards, and despite the fact that he’s focused primarily on the defensive side of the puck, he’s shown a willingness to become involved offensively. Don’t rule out the possibility of him taking a bottom-pair role in the NHL one day.
#23. Linus Hultstrom, D
Not too long ago, Linus Hultstrom was one of the top European free-agents on the market, and the Panthers were lucky enough to add him to their organization.
He struggled out of the gate at last year’s development camp and returned to Sweden to get the most playing time possible but wasn’t able to match the solid numbers he put up in the two seasons prior.
An offensive defenseman with above-average skating ability, it’s still not entirely clear as to whether or not he’s cut out for the North American game. The European ice surface leaves a lot of room open for him to skate and make plays, and that won’t be the case on the smaller ice surface.
Hultstrom has a great point shot and has shown an ability to quarterback a power play in the SHL, but it remains to be seen if he can do that and play defense against tougher, bigger, and more skilled competition with less room to maneuver.
This upcoming season is the last of his 2-year deal, and there’s a good chance he at least competes for a spot on an already packed Springfield Thunderbirds blue-line.
#24. Curtis Valk, C
Signed as a free-agent this past off-season after a few seasons in the Vancouver Canucks’ organization, Curtis Valk isn’t a true prospect of the Panthers, but he still has some upside worth talking about.
After a strong two final seasons in the WHL, he put up point-per-game numbers in the ECHL in 2015 and 2016 before finishing second in points (46) on the Canucks’ AHL affiliate. Valk is a crafty center with good vision and offensive awareness and is able to thrive as a result of his skill despite possessing a smaller 5’9” frame.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see him earn a call-up if need be, but as of now he’s a bubble player and is likely to remain in the AHL for the foreseeable future.
#25. Patrick Shea, C
Patrick Shea is a gritty, skilled center with an underrated offensive skill-set. He’s 5’11” but is sturdy on his skates which makes it tough to take the puck away from him. Shea plays a fast north-south game, isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas, and is a scoring threat with a hard wrist shot.
He had a decent year as a freshman at the University of Maine and it’s likely he’ll see an increased role this coming season, especially with their two leading scorers from last season moving on. Shea definitely has good value for a 7th-round pick and could fill a bottom-6 role one day.
#26. Chris Wilkie, RW
Drafted in 2015, Chris Wilkie has had a quiet past couple of years as a Panthers prospect. A stacked forward group at the University of North Dakota meant a relatively skilled Wilkie spent most of his time fighting for a spot on the 4th line.
He’s now in the process of transferring to Colorado College, so per NCAA transfer rules, he’ll be forced to sit out the upcoming 2017-18 season, meaning it’ll be an interesting path forward for the 21-year old winger.
He hasn’t had a true shot to show what he’s capable of in an expanded role and there’s no doubt he has more to give. He’s impressed with speed and a lightning quick release at the past two development camps in Florida, and it’s likely he’ll take a top-6 role out of the gate when he’s able to suit up for Colorado College at the start of the 2018-19 season.
The question that remains is how will the year off hurt the youngster, if at all?
#27. Karch Bachman, LW
The main story with Karch Bachman is his elite speed. He had a quiet freshman season at Miami University due to off-season shoulder surgery but was relied upon in the RedHawks bottom-6 and penalty kill because of his high-end skating ability.
He uses his speed to his advantage by driving to the net off the rush and can make even smooth-skating defensemen become flat-footed. Bachman also owns a really sharp wrist shot which, combined with his speed, makes him a threat off the rush. Miami’s leading scorer from last season graduated this summer, so that doesn’t mean the door will be wide open for Bachman to move up in the lineup, but he could see a slight increase in opportunities.
Like Shea above him, he’s a ways away from potentially competing for a pro roster spot but he could bring some speed and skill to the Panthers’ bottom-6 down the road.
#28. Tyler Inamoto, D
Like many of the prospects on this list, Inamoto’s low ranking is not necessarily due to what he’ll become but more of where he’s at right now. He’s not highly-skilled in any area but does play a responsible, physical game defensively.
He’s attending a good program – especially for defensemen – at the University of Wisconsin beginning this season, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of opportunities he gets as a freshman on a blue-line with some more experienced options towards the top.
Inamoto definitely has some characteristics that could translate to the next level – like his size and puck-moving ability – but overall, he’s a bit of a project for now.
#29. Francois Beauchemin, W
Beachemin was signed by the Panthers to an AHL contract this summer after 4 years with 3 different teams in the QMJHL. He wasn’t all that productive until this past season – his final campaign in the league – which happens a lot with the older junior players.
He hardly looked out of place at the Panthers’ development camp this summer, however, and while that doesn’t always tell the whole story, it’s certainly a positive sign. The 21-year old native of Quebec has good size at 6’1”, 190 pounds and an accurate shot that should give him success right away should he make the Thunderbirds’ roster.
#30. Reece Scarlett, D
Scarlett is a young, mobile, two-way defender likely to spend most – if not all – of his time in the AHL this season. He’s got some skill and good offensive instincts but there are a few defensemen ahead of him on the Panthers’ depth chart.
This will really be his first campaign with the Thunderbirds after he suffered a season-ending injury in his first game with the team following last year’s trade deadline. If he can remain healthy, he’ll be an asset for the Thunderbirds who need offense from the backend as well as a more successful power play.
#31. Ed Wittchow, D
A big, hard-hitting defensive defenseman, Ed Wittchow is heading into his second pro season after a decent rookie year split between the ECHL and AHL.
He played well for the Thunderbirds despite being paired often with defensemen signed mid-season to fill injuries and even saw some time on the penalty kill. He’s only on an AHL deal right now but it wouldn’t be out if the question to see him earn a two-way NHL deal as a depth defender in the next year or two.
#32. Joe Wegwerth, W
Wegwerth is a smart, big winger that’s tough to take off the puck and is willing to be a net-front presence. He’s heading into his third season at the University of Notre Dame where he bounced all over the top-9 last year and saw an uptick in offensive production.
He’s not a dynamic scorer by any means but drives to the net, skates well, and is skilled enough to make plays. He’ll likely have a similar role with the Fighting Irish this season, especially with most of their core returning.
#33. Miguel Fidler, LW
Fidler is a pesky winger able to play up and down the lineup, which is exactly what he’s done for the past two years at the University of Ohio. He played just about everywhere for the Buckeyes last season, including several games on their top line which is where he saw most of his offense.
He didn’t attend the Panthers’ development camp this off-season as a result of an injury from last season. He’s entering his third college season and will probably be there as a senior as well. Fidler doesn’t project to be a top-6 player in the NHL but there’s a chance he could have an impact in the bottom-6 or as a depth option.
The Panthers tidied things up a bit on the backend of their prospect pool by deciding not to tender contracts to former 2010 draft pick Sam Brittain and Colin Stevens. That has left things a bit bare in not only in terms of what’s coming in the future but also serviceable call-ups in the case of injuries.
#1. Sam Montembeault
Sam Montembeault is without a doubt the Panthers’ top-ranked goaltending prospect. He is incredibly athletic, and that allows him to be smooth and quick with his lower-body movements, especially laterally. He can stretch across the crease to make tough saves with his legs or flash his glove which is not only better than most goaltenders his age but even more experienced ones.
He has the ability to make game-changing saves and that is what makes him so promising.
This past season he was noticeably more confident when handling the puck outside of the crease and giving it off to his teammates, something he specifically said he wanted to work on at the draft in 2015.
This year will be the first pro season for the 20-year old Montembeault, and it’s expected that he’ll begin the year with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate. There, he’ll be mentored by veteran netminder and free-agent signing Harri Sateri who has experience in the AHL, KHL, and Finland’s Liiga.
Because Montembeault has the potential to be a starter in the NHL, the Panthers will need to resist the urge to recall him at the first sight of success, and from talking to goalie coach Robb Tallas last year, they seem to be aware of that.
There’s sure to be struggles at times, but Montembeault has all of the tools he needs to reach his potential.
#2. Evan Cowley
Not as highly-touted of a prospect as Montembeault but still valued is Evan Cowley.
Drafted back in 2013, he earned an AHL contract with the Panthers after 4 solid years at the University of Denver. As a recruit of a prior coaching staff, he never had the chance to take the starting job for the Pioneers but managed very good numbers in limited games as the backup.
He’s so calm and composed that there’s really no guessing as to what kind of performance he’ll turn in when given an opportunity. He covers the net well with his 6’4” frame and should fare well at the pro level.
Odds are he’ll begin the season in the ECHL with the AHL jobs seemingly filled by Sateri and the number-1 ranked Montembeault, but it will allow him to play a lot of games after a relatively light workload in college.
#3. Ryan Bednard
Bednard is a bit more of a project than the two goaltenders ranked above him. You can’t teach size, and Bednard has it at 6’6” which allows him to cover a lot of real estate in the crease.
For a tall goaltender, he has good mobility, tracks the puck well, and has an above-average glove hand.
Overall, he’s a bit raw, but fortunately, he’s expected to step into the number-1 role at Bowling Green State University with last year’s starter graduating to the pro level. He’s definitely one to watch, especially this season as he takes the next step in his college career.
#4. Hugo Fagerblom
There’s no denying that Hugo Fagerblom, drafted in the 7th round back in 2014, has become somewhat of an afterthought.
The Panthers knew he’d be a big project when they added him to their prospect pool, and that turned out to be true.
He has a big frame at 6’6” – which is usually an advantage for goaltenders – but he’s struggled to turn it into success against the lower tiers of competition in Sweden.
The Panthers own Fagerblom’s rights through 2018, and if his track record thus far is any indicator, they won’t be too upset when that time comes.
|1||Henrik Borgstrom||University of Denver||20|
|2||Owen Tippett||Mississauga Steelheads||18|
|3||Adam Mascherin||Kitchener Rangers||19|
|4||Jayce Hawryluk||Springfield Thunderbirds||21|
|6||Aleksi Heponiemi||Swift Current Broncos||18|
|7||Maxim Mamin||CSKA Moskva||22|
|9||Ian McCoshen||Springfield Thunderbirds||22|
|10||Dryden Hunt||Springfield Thunderbirds||21|
|11||Mackenzie Weegar||Springfield Thunderbirds||23|
|12||Thomas Schemitsch||Springfield Thunderbirds||20|
|13||Juho Lammikko||Springfield Thunderbirds||21|
|14||Riley Stillman||Oshawa Generals||19|
|15||Byron Blaine||University of Maine||22|
|16||Jonathan Ang||Peterborough Petes||19|
|17||Ben Finkelstein||St. Lawrence University||19|
|18||Linus Nassen||Lulea HF||19|
|19||Max Gildon||United States Development Team||18|
|20||Matt Buckles||Springfield Thunderbirds||22|
|21||Michael Downing||Springfield Thunderbirds||22|
|22||Josh Brown||Springfield Thunderbirds||23|
|23||Linus Hultstrom||Djurgardens IF||24|
|24||Curtis Valk||Utica Comets||24|
|25||Patrick Shea||University of Maine||20|
|26||Chris Wilkie||University of North Dakota||21|
|27||Karch Bachman||Miami University (Ohio)||20|
|28||Tyler Inamoto||United States Development Team||18|
|29||Francois Beauchemin||Charlottetown Islanders||21|
|30||Reece Scarlett||Springfield Thunderbirds||24|
|31||Ed Wittchow||Springfield Thunderbirds||24|
|32||Joe Wegwerth||University of Notre Dame||21|
|33||Miguel Fidler||Ohio State University||21|
|1||Sam Montembeault||Blainville-Boisbriand Armada||20|
|2||Evan Cowley||University of Denver||22|
|3||Ryan Bednard||Bowling Green State University||20|
|4||Hugo Fagerblom||Wings HC Arlanda||21|
Be sure to follow us on Twitter for Panthers prospect coverage all season long at @fla_prospects.