A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
Like the Senators before them, a good portion of the Panthers low rank in this list is due to the presence of so much of their young talent already in the NHL roster. With the exception of the top two players on this list, each of their first rounders since 2009 – those who would still plausibly be young enough to feature on these lists – have already established themselves as bonafide NHL’ers, including the first overall pick of 2014 in Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad. A ranking of purely under 25 talent, irrespective of rookie eligibility, would find the Panthers much higher up the ladder with seven roster regulars added to this list.
- Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston (OHL) 6-4”, 212. 11th overall, 2015
- Mike Matheson, D, Boston College (Hockey East) 6-2”, 180. 23rd overall, 2012
- Ian McCoshen, D, Boston College (Hockey East) 6-3”, 205. 31st overall, 2013
- Kyle Rau, C, Minnesota (Big 10) 5-8”, 173. 91st overall, 2011
- Rocco Grimaldi, RW, San Antonio (AHL) 5-6”, 160. 33rd overall, 2011
- Juho Lammikko, RW, Kingston (OHL) 6-3”, 189. 65th overall, 2014
- Jayce Hawryluk, RW, Brandon (WHL) 5-10”, 190. 32nd overall, 2014
- Evan Cowley, G, Denver (NCHC) 6-4”, 182 92nd overall, 2013
- Josh Brown, D, Oshawa (OHL) 6-5”, 213. 152nd overall, 2013
- Thomas Schemitsch, D, Owen Sound (OHL) 6-3”, 205. 88th overall, 2015
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Quinton Howden, LW, San Antonio (AHL) 6-2”, 189. 25th overall, 2010
- Michael Downing, D, Michigan (Big 10) 6-3”, 192. 97th overall, 2013
- Connor Brickley, LW, San Antonio (AHL) 6-0”,190. 50th overall, 2010
- Denis Malgin, C, ZSC (NLA) 5-9”, 176. 102nd overall, 2015
While the Panthers’ system has plenty of potential NHL contributors, there is no one who profiles as a likely top half of lineup regular. On the other hand, the top of this list features three players with very high floors as very likely NHL regulars, albeit of third line and second or third pairing variety.
Top prospect Lawson Crouse was a very divisive player leading up to last year’s draft. Owning a prototype power forward frame and sharing many of those belligerent characteristics in his game, his detractors nevertheless pointed to his lackluster point production with the Kingston Frontenacs. As he demonstrated when suiting up for the Gold Medal winning Canadian entry at the WJC, he plays a very mature, intelligent game (high profile disciplinary incidents aside) and there is some feeling that he could step into an NHL lineup today in an energy line capacity. He may grow into a higher end role, and his hands and speed could support that, although his instincts point to the third line as being his ultimate destination.
Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen demand to be discussed as a duo. Together, they made up one third of Boston College’s stacked blueline corps. The older Matheson has since left his collegiate days behind and will spend this year in the AHL, trying to bring his two way game to the pros. He is a physical defender with good puck skills and mobility (after a sluggish first step) as well as a fantastic slapshot. McCoshen will return to BC for a third season, one that will bring added responsibilities due to departures higher up the depth chart. Twice selected to represent the US at the World Juniors, his game is more defensive in nature. Especially impressive is his gap control as opponents struggle to gain the zone on his side of the ice.
Another natural pairing in Florida’s system is the duo of undersized forwards Kyle Rau and Rocco Grimaldi, neither measuring in at more than 5-8”. Both are former collegians who were selected in the top half of the 2011 draft for their offensive skills. Each went on to post big scoring numbers in NCAA and will now push one another to new heights as teammates in Portland, Maine, home of the Panthers new AHL affiliate. While they both clearly lack much in the way of physical presence, neither is lacking bite. Rau was often used on the PK in Minnesota, while Grimaldi plays with snarl and aggression. Of the two, the shorter yet stockier Grimaldi is closer to the NHL, as he left college one year early to begin his professional journey while Rau played the full four seasons with the Golden Gophers. He may be able to convince the Florida brass that he deserves the roster spot currently held by Shawn Thornton by Christmas.
Next up are a pair of right wingers who spent this past season in the CHL. Juho Lammikko was a Finnish import who spent a good chunk of his season on the opposite wing to Crouse in Kingston. He showed a strong defensive conscience and good passing skills although his offensive numbers were not as strong as they had been in Finland. He has since returned to Finland where he will play with Assat’s men’s team this season. Jayce Hawryluk is almost the complete inverse of Lammikko. A smaller pest with offensive skills, Hawryluk scored over one point per game with the powerhouse Brandon squad of the WHL. While he has plus puck skills, he has yet to come to grips with his limitations as a player and takes on more risk than he should. That said, he does play a responsible two-way game, and seems likely to be able to contribute even if his production dwindles at higher levels.
When it comes to goaltenders, the Panthers have taken a bulk philosophy to stock the organization. In addition to #8 prospect Evan Cowley, the list could easily have included any of Sam Brittain, Colin Stevens, Hugo Fagerblom, Samuel Montembeault or Ryan Bednard. Evan Cowley gets top billing for now after a very strong sophomore season at the University of Denver. Although somewhat raw, his athleticism suggests better things to come.
The Panthers top 10 ends with a couple of brawny blueliners from the OHL in Josh Brown, captain of the Memorial Cup winning Oshawa Generals and Thomas Schemitsch, a recent draftee from Owen Sound. Brown, who has signed his Entry Level Contract and will play in Portland next year, has a limited ceiling with minimal offensive skills, but he makes his mark through his own zone play. He has plus recovery speed and gap control and is a fearless shot blocker. Schemitsch currently has more all-around utility, used by the Attack in all situations as an 18 year old. He has good size, a solid point shot and is reasonably mobile. He could zoom up this list with any progress as a 19 year old.
A quick word about Quinton Howden, formerly a first round pick who has seemingly stalled in the AHL. A versatile player with plus speed and a sense for the physical, he has averaged one point every other game in three seasons with San Antonio. He may have been in line to receive ice time in the NHL last year, but was held back by injuries which limited him to 33 games. Barring a late signing, he will be in a battle with Lawson Crouse to fill the fourth line left wing role for the big club. In spite of his proximity to the NHL, he missed out on a top ten spot due to his failure to make tangible progress since turning pro.
After a strong freshman season with the Wolverines, Michael Downing nearly doubled his point production as a sophomore. He is an excellent skater who may be poised to take a big step forward. Connor Brickley had a strong rookie season in the AHL and plays with plus energy and work ethic. His skill set does not have a “wow” factor, however, and while he should merit his first NHL callup this season, it is hard to project a significant role for him at the highest level just yet. Also worth mention is recent draftee Denis Malgin, an 18 year old who has already spent around half of a season playing with men in Switzerland. His hands are very smooth and he is a strong skater, but like Rau and Grimaldi above, he lacks size. Unlike them, he also lacks strength, and there are legitimate questions as to whether his game can translate to the smaller rinks of North America.
The Florida system is very similar to that of New Jersey which was profiled recently. At the top is an 18 year old forward who is very close to being physically ready to play in the NHL, but for whom there are some questions about his ultimate offensive potential. The remainder of the system is deep in potential future bottom of the lineup contributors. The future, like the sunshine, is brighter in Florida however, as the youthful NHL roster is not as much in need of an injection of prospects. The Panthers will be able to take their time with the current pool and bring them up only when they prove ready to play in their expected roles.