Panthers Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Ian Bross

Shawn Matthias and Michael Caruso climbed the highest on the rankings, while Brady Calla and David Shantz fell the furthest. 

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (1) Michael Frolik, C (8.0 C)
2. (7) Shawn Matthias, C (7.0 B)
3. (5) Michal Repik, RW (7.5 C)
4. (2) Noah Welch, D (7.0 C)
5. (3) Keaton Ellerby, D (7.0 C)
6. (4) Kenndal McArdle, LW (6.5 C)
7. (6) Tyler Plante, G (6.5 C)
8. (9) Derrick Lapoint, D (6.5 C)
9. (12) Evgeni Dadonov, RW (6.5 C)
10. (NR) Michael Caruso, D (6.0 B)
11. (10) Dan Collins, RW (6.5 C)
12. (11) Anthony Stewart, RW (7.0 D)
13. (13) Matt Rust, C (6.5 C)
14. (8) Brady Calla, RW (6.0 B)
15. (16) Martin Lojek, D (6.0 C)
16. (15) Stefan Meyer, LW (6.5 D)
17. (18) John Lee, D (6.5 C)
18. (17) Brian Foster, G (6.0 C)
19. (14) David Shantz, G (6.0 C)
20. (NR) Corey Syvret, D (5.5 C)

1. (1) Michael Frolik, C, 20

Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall, 2006

Czech Michael Frolik remains atop the Panthers Top 20 list. A preliminary lack of chemistry and injuries slowed Frolik’s production this season with the Rimouski Oceanic. Once he was able to finally acclimate himself, however, Frolik never looked back. He was named QMJHL player of the week after his return. He completed the regular season with 41 assists, one shy of his total from the season prior, but with nine fewer games played (44). He also added 24 goals for a total of 65 points.

Frolik’s offensive sensibility is much needed by the Panthers, but he likely won’t be wearing a Panthers sweater until at least the 2009-10 season. He must be signed by June 1 of this year.

2. (7) Shawn Matthias, C, 20

Acquired: via trade, February 2007 (Detroit)

Following a shining performance on the international stage, Matthias’ stock is on the rise. Matthias helped lead Canada to their fourth consecutive gold medal in the 2008 WJC before returning to the OHL’s Belleville Bulls.

Matthias was arguably the most valuable player on the Bulls, who ranked first in their conference. His 32 goals and 47 assists for 79 points in 53 games were good enough for third on the Bulls, but he had the best point-per-game pace (1.49) on the team. Matthias has also been a balanced special teams player, with 11 goals on the man advantage, and five short-handed. He finished the season with a +21 rating.

Matthias will be eager to return to the NHL after his four-game appearance in January. Always the hard worker, look for Matthias to challenge for a spot on the Panthers roster next year.

3. (5) Michal Repik, RW, 19

Acquired: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2007

Repik picked up right where he left off in the WHL, following the 2007 Memorial Cup in which he was tied for first in scoring including the game-winning goal in the championship game.

Now in his third campaign with the Vancouver Giants, Repik has taken on more responsibility than ever following the departures of Wacey Rabbit, Milan Lucic, J.D. Watt and fellow Panther prospect Kenndal McArdle. Repik has responded – his confidence having noticeably grown over recent years.

He has been unhindered by his diminutive size, at 5’10 180 lbs, having the most productive of his WHL career. Repik, a shifty skater, posted career highs in goals (27), assists (34) and total points (61) in 51 games this year despite being out of action for nearly two months with post-concussion syndrome.

Repik possesses a considerable amount of grit and defensive awareness for someone with his amount of skill. Repik will spend one more year in junior hockey.

4. (2) Noah Welch, D, 24

Acquired: via trade, February 2007 (Pittsburgh)

Welch remains the highest ranked defensive prospect on the Panthers Top 20 list. He has been largely inactive this season after undergoing surgery to treat a shoulder injury he suffered in October playing for the Panthers. The extent of Welch’s season thus far is four games played with no points and seven penalty minutes.  

For all intents and purposes, Welch appeared ready to make the jump to becoming an NHL regular prior to his injury. He has returned to practice, but seems unlikely get into games before the end of the season. A graduate of Harvard University, Welch is a heady player with excellent skating ability, a large frame (6’4 212 lbs), and intuitive hockey sense.

Welch will turn 25 during the offseason. Still under contract in 2008-09, his opportunity to man the backline for the Cats is now.

5. (3) Keaton Ellerby, D, 19

Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall, 2007

Ellerby is regarded as a defensive defenseman, though as he matures he is adding some playmaking to his repertoire. Especially after being shipped to Moose Jaw from Kamloops for fellow Panther prospect Brady Calla, Ellerby has shown a greater willingness to handle the puck. After 16 games and three assists with the Blazers, Ellerby added two goals and 21 assists to his season totals with the Warriors.

Good mobility, and nasty – that is, when he wants to be – he has been inconsistent in that regard.  At 6’4 190 lbs, and still young, Ellerby can add more bulk to his somewhat lanky frame. Down the line, Ellerby could blossom into a shutdown defenseman.

6. (4) Kenndal McArdle, LW, 21

Acquired: 1st round, 20th overall, 2005

After helping the Vancouver Giants win the 2007 Memorial Cup, McArdle signed a professional contract with the Panthers.

But after spending an injury-reduced, 36-game season with the Rochester Americans, it became clear that McArdle was struggling in the AHL. He had just scored 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points in 36 games.  He was recently demoted to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, but has been suspended for abuse of officials.

Whether McArdle is putting up points, he can always be counted on for energy and leadership. Though he has been faced with several setbacks this season, with no shortage of character, expect McArdle to rebound accordingly.

McArdle will likely take on a bigger role in the AHL next season.

7. (6) Tyler Plante, G, 20

Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2005

After beginning the season with the Everblades, Plante was moved to Rochester, where he has more or less remained ever since.

But unfortunately for Plante, the Americans’ season has not been a successful one. They currently sit last in the league with a record of 18-38-9. Plante’s statistics, as a result, are bad. As a backup, Plante’s goals-against average (3.03) and save percentage (.899) are virtually identical to those of starter Adam Dennis (BUF), with the exception of his win/loss record – Plante only has three wins on the season. 

But Plante has shown in spite of this that he has the potential to be a very good goaltender.

8. (9) Derrick Lapoint, D, 19

Acquired: 4th Round, 116th Overall, 2006

The Panthers’ top-rated NCAA prospect is defenseman Derrick Lapoint.

One year removed from an exceptional year in the USHL as a member of the Green Bay Gamblers, Lapoint is still trying to settle into a role for himself on the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. As a freshman, Lapoint’s playing time has been limited in favor of his upperclassmen teammates. To date, Lapoint has tallied two goals, along with five assists for seven points in 30 games.

With the skill set Lapoint possesses, it would not be unreasonable to suspect, once he is given an opportunity, he should thrive in one of the top NCAA programs in the nation. Lapoint’s collegiate career is only just getting started.

9. (12) Evgeni Dadonov, RW, 19

Acquired: 3rd round 71st overall, 2007

Evgeni Dadonov is the only Panthers Top 20 prospect currently playing in Europe.

Dadonov is not big, at 5’10 178 lbs, but clever and fearless, showing almost no signs of intimidation whatsoever in a league that is considered by many to be second only to the NHL in talent. Dadonov is producing nicely in the stingy Russian Super League with Traktor Chelyabinsk, totaling seven goals and 13 assists (20 points) in 43 games.

Dadonov may have been able to overcome his modest size in Europe, but he must put on weight and learn the defensive side of the game in order to make the NHL.  The Panthers have until June 2009 to sign him.

10. (NR) Michael Caruso, D, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2006

Caruso makes a return to the Top 20 list in a big way after finishing his fourth season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm.

The defenseman began the season approximately one month late due to an injury, but the OHL veteran didn’t miss a beat upon his return.

For the fourth consecutive year, Caruso has achieved new career highs for goals, assists, and points in a season (10 goals, 24 assists, 34 points). He was also chosen to play in the OHL All Star Classic.

With budding offensive upside to add to an already firmly rooted reputation for defensive stability, he’s likely to be signed this summer and make a contribution right away as a pro.

11. (10) Dan Collins, RW, 21

Acquired: 3rd Round, 90th overall, 2005

Collins is playing in first year of professional hockey. He is a jack of all trades, but despite his versatility, he hasn’t yet begun to stand out on the ice. This covert style of play has haunted him since he was drafted, and has not helped his success. 

He has struggled this season in more ways than one. He has struggled to find himself a home in either Florida (with the Everblades) or Rochester, where he currently resides, and has struggled to leave a strong mark on the scoresheet in either place as well. In the AHL he posted nine points in 30 games, and in the ECHL, 18 points in 28 games.

12. (11) Anthony Stewart, RW, 23

Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2003

Stewart is well-traveled this season. He was called up by the Panthers from Rochester on six separate occasions. In 40 games with Rochester, he recorded 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points with 40 penalty minutes. With the Panthers, he has only managed one assist in 26 games.

The knock on Stewart is his work ethic and commitment. Stewart was even recently criticized publicly by Panthers Coach and General Manager Jacques Martin. While his statistics have improved in the AHL over last season’s, questions abound as to why that production has yet to carry over into the NHL.

Stewart’s window of opportunity is closing with other younger Panther hopefuls closing in on him.

13. (13) Matt Rust, C, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2007

Rust, a University of Michigan Wolverine, retains his rank on the list.

Born in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the 19-year-old Rust brings a complete game, which he also demonstrated in the WJC earlier this year.

Rust’s contributions to the Wolverines as a freshman have been many. He displays a defensive acumen well beyond his years, puts up points and is a faceoff specialist. Rust ranks sixth on the Michigan roster in goals (11) and has 20 points in 35 games. And as much of an impact as he has made with his team, he has also made an equal impact on his opponents. Rust has shown he is anything but afraid to get his nose dirty, and leads all Wolverines in penalty minutes with 65.

14. (8) Brady Calla, RW, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2006

Taking the biggest plunge down the Top 20 list is Brady Calla.  Calla is lightning in a bottle — tremendous speed and boundless energy make him an excellent two-way forward. He sees significant ice time in all situations, on the power play and penalty kill, and is popular everywhere he plays. Calla started the season with the Kamloops Blazers before moving to the Moose Jaw Warriors. Before being traded, Calla tallied, in 14 games, two goals and eight assists; with Moose Jaw, Calla added 10 goals and 20 assists, bringing his combined total to 40 points in 66 games.

More than anything else, he still needs to prove he can score in order to succeed at higher levels.  The Panthers have his rights until June 1 of this year.

15. (16) Martin Lojek, D, 22

Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2003

The third Czech on the Top 20 list, and the only European defenseman, is Martin Lojek.

Lojek disappointed when he arrived at Panthers training camp in poor shape. After beginning the season in Rochester, he worked himself back into form for a call-up to the Panthers but wasn’t able to impress enough to stay. Lojek returned to the Americans, and in 65 games played totaled five goals and three assists for eight points, as well as 72 penalty minutes and a team-worst (among defensemen) plus/minus rating of -15.

The Panthers are looking for Lojek to emerge as a more assertive player on the ice. With the big club dealing with a log jam of sorts on defense, the 6’5 Lojek will have to stand out to break through.

16. (15) Stefan Meyer, LW, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2003

Trading places with Lojek, is a native of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Stefan Meyer.

Meyer suited up for the Panthers for his first and only time this season as an emergency call-up. In four games, with little ice time, he scored no points, and was returned to Rochester. In 62 games in Rochester, he scored 18 goals and 17 assists for a total of 35 points. This current season in Rochester was already Meyer’s third, and most productive, though not by much. His 35 points tie him for fourth on the team.  He has continued to reduce his penalty minutes, but was a dismal -22, the second worst on the team.

At 6’2 200 lbs, Meyer relies on his strength to compensate for a lack of speed. Meyer’s contract with the Panthers is up this summer. 

17. (18) John Lee, D, 19

Acquired: 5th round, 131st overall, 2007

Lee, still known mostly as the younger brother of Brian Lee, is the sole USHL prospect to crack the Top 20.

This season there is not a lot of improvement on the scoresheet to speak of for the 19-year-old. With the Waterloo Black Hawks, in 27 games last season, Lee scored two goals and seven assists; this season, in 51 games, he has just one goal and nine assists.

But Lee’s strengths are supposed to be his skating and ability to move the puck. Lee is still a raw talent, but he has good upside.

Lee is a project, but if his pedigree is any indication, in time, he may be a successful one.

18. (17) Brian Foster, G, 21

Acquired: 5th round, 161st overall, 2005

Foster is currently in his sophomore season with the University of New Hampshire. After a very solid start to the season, the Wildcats’ backup goaltender has seen his numbers decline. Foster backstopped his team to a win in each of his first two games played, but has not been able to duplicate that feat. He has started in a total of six games this season, and his current win/loss record is 2-2-2.

Foster now has an overall goals-against average of 3.03, and a save percentage of .899.

He will soon get more opportunity, as both of his goaltending counterparts will graduate this year. Foster will need to be ready to start as a junior in 2008-09.

19. (14) David Shantz, G, 21

Acquired: 2nd round, 27th overall, 2005

Shantz is the third goaltender on the Top 20 list. After a less than successful 14 games with the Rochester Americans in which he posted a goals-against average of 4.07 and had one win and 10 losses, Shantz was sent to the Everblades in January. Shantz has since won nine games, lost, and tied three. There in 17 games, his goals-against average is 2.72, and his save percentage a respectable .912.

Shantz is not at all flashy, relying instead on solid technique. He is still trying to find his niche as a professional goaltender. At this stage of his career, his development has been slower than anticipated when he was drafted in 2005. Sticking in the AHL should be his goal for next year.

20. (NR) Corey Syvret, D, 19

Acquired: 6th round, 181st overall, 2007

The younger brother of Edmonton Oilers prospect Danny Syvret, Corey Syvret rounds out the Top 20.

Rock solid defensively, Syvret is a key member of one of the top defensive units in the OHL with the Guelph Storm, which allowed the fourth fewest goals of any team by season’s end (180). At 6’2 195 lbs, he has good mobility and does not shy from physical play. 

Despite battling lingering illness which limited his games played once again this season (48), Syvret was still an able contributor, with seven goals and nine assists.  Though his scoring pace fell significantly below what it was last season, Syvret’s best days are still ahead of him.