The Florida Panthers have seven prospects playing in the CHL from Michael Frolik, currently ranked in the pole position among the group, to Corey Syvret who is not ranked at this time. They have one prospect in the USHL, John Lee.
Michael Frolik, C – Rimouski
First Round, 10th Overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
6’1, 185 lbs
It’s been a bad news/good news type of year for Michael Frolik so far in 2007-08. During rookie camp, the bad news was he couldn’t seem to find good chemistry with anyone and as a result struggled. The good news was that when invited to the Panthers training camp he was much more in his element and looked good when playing with pro players. When he was assigned back to Rimouski, the bad news was that for the second year in a row he hurt a shoulder, which put him on the sidelines for four weeks. The good news was that once he returned he earned QMJHL Player of the Week honors with six goals and one assist in three games from Oct 22-28. His production early was hot and cold, but he now has nine goals and 27 points in 19 games. The Oceanic are a young team who were hit hard by injuries in the early going. As a result, the entire club battled inconsistency through the early part of the schedule.
Shawn Matthias, C – Belleville
Second Round, 47th Overall (acquired via trade with Detroit February, 2007)
6’4, 205 lbs
You probably won’t hear any of the Detroit brass say this, but by the looks of Shawn Matthias’s start this year, they came out on the short end of the Todd Bertuzzi deal and not by a little bit. With 17 goals and 54 points in only 29 games, the big pivot is fourth in the OHL scoring race. Oshawa coach George Burnett is high on him.
“He’s our go-to player in most every situation. I think he is very determined next year to play at the NHL level.” While last year was a sign of things to come for Matthias, Burnett notes that “he’s improved in every area, he’s much more mature both physically and mentally. He’s taken a huge role leadership-wise. He’s worked very hard at improving his routine. He has an edge over a lot of the players because of his professional approach to the game.”
Where does the coach see Matthias in the future? “I think the great thing about Shawn is that he continues to work on every aspect of his game. His game without the puck and his game with the puck have developed significantly and I think he’s a very well-rounded player. He’s determined not only to play for the Belleville Bulls but also represent his country if possible and ultimately the Florida Panthers.”
Michael Caruso, D – Guelph
Fourth Round, 103rd Overall, 2006 Entry Draft
6’2, 191 lbs.
Coming into the 2007-08 season, Caruso was injured which caused him to miss the Panthers rookie camp and some games early in the Storm’s season. With five goals and 16 points in 23 games thus far, Guelph Coach Dave Barr said that recently the blueliner “has been a very good leader for Guelph on and off the ice, as well as a very reliable player and physical presence.” He further pointed out that his “puck movement has been excellent this year. (He) has made the Guelph Storm a better team because of it.”
That said, Barr does caution that Caruso still needs to work on “making quick decisions with the puck, as well as using his physicality.”
Corey Syvret, D – Guelph
6th round 181 overall, 2007 Entry Draft
6’2, 193 lbs
Plagued with mononucleosis shortly after the season, started Syvret was off to a very good start tallying two goals in six games when the illness struck. After rotating in and out of the lineup during the Panthers rookie camp, he came back to Guelph knowing his responsibilities would be stepped up as Guelph coach Dave Barr was quick to emphasize that “it showed with his play with the puck, as well as his physical play.”
While getting out of the sickhouse has got to be his first priority now, Barr thinks some fine-tuning on his game remains. “Corey is a very good skater with good puck skills,” said the coach. “He needs to use his skating more defensively as well as offensively. Defensively (he needs) to close the gap on the puck carrier and offensively (he needs) to skate the puck away from opposition players as well as join the play more often.
Syvret is back in action and has played 11 games, still with just two goals.
Keaton Ellerby, D – Moose Jaw
First Round, 10th Overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
6’4, 174 lbs
Ellerby has had a tumultuous year. Fresh off being drafted 10th overall by the Panthers, the big blueliner was tabbed by Brent Sutter to play in the Canada/Russia Super Series in August and September. There he looked comfortable handling the puck and opposing forwards garnering two assists in eight games in a shutdown role. Because of this prior commitment he wasn’t able to attend the Florida Rookie Tournament in Kitchener, Ontario in September. This, however, wouldn’t be the end of his travels. Only 16 games into the season with the Kamloops Blazers, the rearguard was dealt to the Moose Jaw Warriors for fellow Florida prospect Brady Calla.
Chad Lang, Moose Jaw’s GM, expects Ellerby to provide “experience and leadership to our youthful defensive core.” He goes on to say that the blueliner will be counted on “to log a lot of minutes in key situations for our team.” While it is no doubt good that he is the go-to guy on the blue line, the defenseman is by no means a finished product. Lang readily admits that Ellerby needs to work on “getting shots through to the net as well as developing a quicker release. He needs to continue to work on his foot speed and positional play as well as his offensive and defensive gap control.”
Ellerby has two assists in 11 games with Moose Jaw.
Michal Repik, RW – Vancouver
Second Round, 40th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft
5’10, 172 lbs
With 17 goals and 39 points in 30 games, Repik has gotten off to a great start this year in Vancouver. Giants Coach Don Hay was quick to give credit to his time spent in the Panthers rookie and exhibition camps which according to Hay “proved to be a huge benefit to the way he’s started this season with the Giants.” Showing that last year’s finish was no mirage, the coach went on to say that “this year, he is more confident with the puck and has risen to the challenge of being one of those on our team expected to be a big offensive leader.”
Of course a player can always improve in some aspect of his game and Hay puts the leadership mantle squarely on Repik’s shoulders.
“He’s now a 19-year-old who’s signed a pro contract,” pointed out the bench boss. “He’s also a third-year player on our team. Being a strong leader this season will improve his development in the future.” The coach also added that he needs to improve on his play at both ends of the rink. “So much of the game now is spent on transition play,” said Hay. “Focusing on being a more responsible player in his own zone will make him a better player as the year moves forward.”
Brady Calla, RW – Kamloops
Third Round, 73rd Overall, 2006 Entry Draft
6’, 190 lbs
Right winger Brady Calla, for the second time in as many years, found himself packing his bags early in the off-season. After coming over to Moose Jaw from Everett last season, he again was dealt this time to Kamloops, ironically for fellow Florida prospect Keaton Ellerby. During his time with Moose Jaw this year, he scored twice and added eight assists in 14 games. So far in Kamloops he has tallied 12 points in 12 games.
Lang sees in Calla “a player who has tremendous leadership skills and he is committed to becoming a better player every day.” He went on to draw attention to the fact that “he sees all situations with our team and is relied upon as a solid two-way forward. He is one of our top penalty killers and is continuing to develop his game offensively as well.”
When queried as to what Calla can do to improve his game Lang said, “Brady needs to continue to work on his skill set.” The GM is confident, his charge, now a fifth-year junior, “understands the type of player he needs to become to be a part of the Florida Panthers organization.”
John Lee, D – Waterloo
Fifth Round, 131st Overall, 2007 Entry Draft
6’1, 173 lbs
If bloodlines are anything to go by, then Florida may have a keeper in John Lee, little brother of Ottawa Senator Brian Lee. A finalist for the coveted Mr. Hockey Award in Minnesota, the blueliner committed to the Denver University for the 2008-09 season. In the meantime, however, he is playing full time for the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks, a team he skated with part-time last season. To date he has three points in 18 games, mostly on the man advantage. In early November, Lee was tabbed to play in the World Junior A Challenge in Trail and Nelson B.C.
Kevin Forbes contributed to this article.