Continuing with our fresh new format, here’s a new round of Panthers thoughts from the past little while.
1. First up, some prospect news.
Linus Nassen, a 3rd-round pick of the Panthers in 2016, suffered a fractured radial bone in his left forearm after being checked into the boards on January 1st during a game against the Kootenay Ice.
The 19-year old defenseman is in the midst of his first season in North America after the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers selected him in the 2nd round of last summer’s CHL Import Draft.
Up until this season, Nassen played his entire career in Europe. Most of his time over the last three years were spent with Lulea’s junior squad, although he did suit up for 21 games in the SHL – Sweden’s top pro league – last year, recording a goal and an assist.
The native of Norrtälje, Sweden has 22 points in 38 games, which is good for second on his team among defensemen. Fifteen of his 21 assists have come on the power play, the 5th-most among the league’s blueliners.
Nassen is expected to miss about 6-to-8 weeks which isn’t good news for the Tigers who have benefited greatly from his addition to their backend this season.
“He got X-rayed and he’s got a small fracture,” Shaun Clouston – the GM and head coach of the Tigers – told Medicine Hat News. “It’s probably better news than we maybe first thought, there are some smaller bones in your wrist that can be major problems. Hopefully with a month in a cast and a week or two of getting ready, he’s back in five weeks or six weeks.”
“We’ve got some players that can fill in if needed, but you can’t replace Linus Nassen. He’s a very good player, he’s an NHL prospect.”
Bryan McCabe, the Panthers’ Director of Player Development, spoke about Nassen when he joined the Hockey Prospect Radio on Sirius XM last month.
“We worked extremely hard to get Nassen over here this year and kind of get him into a situation that was gonna be good for his development,” said McCabe.
“He’s a great puck-mover, good in transition, sees the ice very well, makes good passes on the breakouts. He’s so happy to be over here and playing a lot of minutes, and he actually said to me he loves the smaller ice a little better than he likes the bigger ice.”
Out of the gate, Nassen played mostly on the Tigers’ top pairing with New York Islanders draft pick and 4th-year defenseman David Quenneville, but the pairings were tweaked in recent weeks, moving Nassen to the second pairing.
He’s one of their go-to defensemen on the power play; he looks like a natural with the puck on his stick at the point.
“He’s got all the tools,” said McCabe. “The skating’s there, the passing’s there, he thinks the game fairly well, he just needs to put on a little muscle, at times be a little more assertive in his defensive zone reads and stuff like that, but he’s got a lot of tools to work with.”
2. Prior to the OHL’s January 10th trade deadline, the Peterborough Petes moved 2016 4th-round pick Jonathan Ang to the Sarnia Sting. Trades like these are common in all three of the Canadian major junior hockey leagues, especially when players are nearing the end of their eligibility.
Ang is in his 4th and final season in the OHL, and with the Petes closer to the bottom of the league standings than the top – surprisingly, after a strong 2016-17 season – they opted to send him off to greener pastures for some assets in return.
The Markham, Ontario native, who turns 20 at the end of January, had a no-trade clause in his OHL contract, so he had to approve the deal before it could go through.
“Jonathan is a player that brings high-end speed and skill,” Sarnia general manager Nick Sinclair said. “His ability to play in all situations will be an added dimension to our team, and his overall game will fit nicely with our current style of play.”
On Thursday night, he suited up for his first game with the Sting and scored the game’s first goal on his first shot just 1:22 into the first period.
He now has 16 goals and 28 assists in 40 games this season.
Fellow 2016 draft pick Riley Stillman was traded the week before to the Hamilton Bulldogs and he too scored the team’s first goal in his first game.
Odds are Ang will turn pro next season, but it’s still a bit too early to say where and how exactly he’ll fit in.
3. It was announced on Thursday morning that Ben Finkelstein, the Panthers’ 7th-round pick at the 2016 Draft, withdrew from the St. Lawrence University hockey program and will join the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL.
From the start of the season on October 6th through December 9th, the Skating Saints played 16 games and won only once. Since then, they’ve won 3 of their last 4 games, but apparently the struggles were enough to get Finkelstein packing.
They’ve also scored 1 goal or fewer in 11 of their 20 games.
Not only that, but the school is investigating its own program for potential NCAA and university violations. School president William Fox recommended the investigation after detailed complaints were received regarding the team’s head coach Mark Morris, who served as the Panthers’ assistant coach during the 2014-15 season.
“The potential NCAA violations are based upon charges that Morris ran practices and video sessions longer than proscribed NCAA-allowed times and more than the allowed days per week,” according to sources of College Hockey News. “The perhaps more explosive allegations revolve around threats towards players, verbal and mental abuse, and forcing players to play with injury.”
Through 20 games this season, the 19-year old sophomore defenseman is 3rd on the team in points – and first among defensemen – with 12 and his 3 goals also leads the backend.
As a freshman, Finkelstein finished 4th on the team in scoring with 23 points in 37 games, a year in which St. Lawrence made it to the ECAC playoffs. His points-per-game average of 0.62 led all first-year NCAA blueliners.
He’s played mostly on the team’s top defensive pairing for the past 2 years.
“Ben is a skilled defenseman that played big minutes for us and we’re disappointed he has decided to leave the program,” head coach Mark Morris said.
“I’d like to thank my teammates and coaches for their support the last year and a half,” Finkelstein said. “The memories and friendships I have made will last a lifetime. With that being said, at this point in my life I need to pursue other options. I wish nothing but the best for the program and will forever be grateful for the opportunities I was given during my time at St. Lawrence.”
Finkelstein will finish the season with USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks, where he’ll step in as the third-oldest player on the team and oldest defenseman. As a result, he’ll likely get prime minutes right from the start, which should be beneficial for him despite a slight drop in competition.
Since he’s already 20, he won’t be eligible to play in the USHL after this season, meaning there’s a good chance he’ll turn pro. He could technically transfer to another college, but he’d have to sit out a year per the NCAA’s transfer rules, and at his age, that’s not ideal.
Finkelstein isn’t talked about much, mostly due to the fact that he was picked in the 7th round, but he’s a really solid prospect with a lot of upside. He’s a smart, smooth-skating defenseman with above-average offensive abilities who fits the mold of a Torey Krug-type player.
“I’m working on everything, but I’m really trying to focus on my defensive side of the game, becoming a shutdown defenseman, just taking away time and space, and really rounding out my game and becoming a 200-foot player,” said Finkelstein during a radio interview at the end of December.
4. Maxim Mamin, the Panthers’ 6th-round pick in 2016, made his NHL debut last week against the Blue Jackets, and for a first game, I thought he was pretty good.
I would’ve liked to see him on the ice a little more than 9:19, especially considering he has that pro experience, not just the 23 games in the AHL this year, but 129 in the KHL over the last 3 years.
Mamin is basically the first real fruit of the Panthers’ new scouting staff, which took over beginning with the 2016 Draft, so it’s safe to assume there were at least several people excited for his debut.
I thought he had a few good shifts in the second period after he settled in a bit, but he didn’t have a chance to do much with the Panthers stuck in their own end a lot during that game. He skates well for his size and has some deceptive speed and he went to the net often.
With the bye week coming up, the Panthers sent him back to the Springfield Thunderbirds, but there’s no doubt he’ll be back eventually. When he gets another shot, he’ll be really effective once he gets a chance to settle in, just like he did in the AHL.
5. We’ve seen Aleksander Barkov score a lot of goals, but he’s not exactly known for his exuberant celebrations.
His celebration during Tuesday’s game against the Blues was no exception.
It wasn’t exactly the prettiest goal – it went in off his skate – but seeing his reaction, it seriously looked like he was contemplating giving the goal back. But then he smiled and all was right again with the world.
Then we found out that Barkov learned of his selection to the All-Star Game while he was getting a haircut.
Turns out he’s more human and less machine than we initially thought.
6. Barkov also said on Thursday that his father, Aleksander Barkov, Sr., still (unsurprisingly) keeps tabs on all of his games.
“He watches every game live,” said Barkov. “He wakes up in the morning and watches the game and after every game, he kind of has some little feedback for me like, how I did, how I played, what I need to do better and stuff like that, so it helps a lot.”
“That’s not only in the NHL, it’s been like that all my life.”
Aleksander Sr. played 518 career games in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league – which Barkov played in as a 16- and 17-year old – and recorded 416 points. He also played 447 games across two different pro leagues in Russia before that.
“My dad played, and everybody is telling me that I’m playing the same way, that I’m a pretty similar player to him,” said Barkov.
Aleksander Sr. is currently the head coach of the MHL’s KRS Junior, which is the junior club of the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star. He’ll also be coaching China’s U20 team at the 2018 Division III World Junior Championship, which begins January 22nd.
7. Paul Vincent was back on the ice with the Panthers during their practice on Thursday at the Ice Den.
He served as the Panthers’ skills and skating coach from 2002 through 2004 before leaving to work with the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks, where he won a Cup in 2010.
He returned to the Panthers for the 2011-12 season and left again at the end of the 2015-16 off-season as part of the team’s retooling both upstairs and on the ice.
Vincent worked a lot with the Panthers’ prospects during development and rookie camps and also put in time with the players during the season, but he wasn’t interested in returning to the organization after Dale Tallon was moved out of the General Manager position in favor of Tom Rowe.
With Tallon back at the helm as the General Manager, it appears Vincent is willing to lend a hand once again.
“We just recently talked about having him back and being around,” said head coach Bob Boughner on Thursday. “He’s a legend in his department and he can only help. There’s a few guys we’d like him to work with.”
“I think he’s gonna start [being around] more consistently with us in February. Hopefully it’s a once, twice a week thing.”
8. Jayce Hawryluk has picked up his game over the last couple of months for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
He started off the season with just 2 goals, 4 assists, and 23 shots in his first 19 games and was bounced around the bottom half of the lineup.
Since the end of November, Hawryluk – who turned 22 on New Years’ Day – has 5 goals, 9 assist, and 39 shots in 17 games, including two 4-game point streaks and 4 multi-point games. He’s also been on the Thunderbirds’ top line for weeks now.
The 2014 2nd-round pick is still waiting for his first NHL call-up, but the Panthers seem to be more interested in allowing him to develop rather than bringing him up at the first sign of success.
They seem to be happy with the improvements in his play over the last while, so there’s no doubt he’ll get the call at some point, especially being a draft pick of Dale Tallon.