Top 10 prospects
1. Michael Frolik, C
2. Shawn Matthias, C
3. Michal Repik, RW
4. Keaton Ellerby, D
5. Kenndal McArdle, RW
6. Tyler Plante, G
7. Derrick LaPoint, D
8. Dan Collins, RW
9. Evgeni Dadonov, RW
10. Michael Caruso, D
Of last season’s new Panthers, it was Richard Zednik most of all, a one-time 30-goal scorer, who was brought in to help heal an anemic Panthers attack. Since then, however, Zednik’s future has been thrown into question, after suffering a now-infamous neck injury. Regardless, by season’s end, the team-wide scoring total was below the NHL average. Offense, particularly goal scoring, is a big need.
An equally pressing concern is the defensive personnel – as right now the team has a top-pair puckmover and the rest enveloped in a fog of uncertainty. Twenty-four-year-old Jay Bouwmeester leads the way at the rearguard position; then, Mike Van Ryn remains a question mark, coming off of injury. Noah Welch, as well, who for all intents and purposes missed the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Karlis Skrastins was steady after being acquired at the trade deadline in a deal that sent Ruslan Salei to Colorado, but he only skated with the team in 17 games. The rest of the defensive corps is overpopulated by bottom-pair defensemen, all of whom happen to be pending unrestricted free agents.
The top three prospects in the Panthers organization are all forwards. Michael Frolik, Shawn Matthias, and Michal Repik are developing into valuable assets in the system, all of whom having enjoyed relative success this year. Frolik continued to round out his game in the QMJHL, and was eventually rewarded with a professional contract; Matthias’ Belleville Bulls fell a game short of an OHL championship, defeated by newly-hired Panthers head coach, Peter DeBoer, and his Kitchener Rangers, and then again in the Memorial cup semi-final; Repik survived a concussion to take his Vancouver Giants on his shoulders with career-high scoring totals and carry them to the second round of the WHL playoffs.
Meanwhile back in Florida, 2004 first-round pick Rostislav Olesz is increasingly proving, when he is healthy, that is, that he can be an effective two-way hockey player. This past season was also Kamil Kreps’ rookie year; he himself is gradually becoming more and more of a contributor. All of this bodes well for the future up front. However, in the short term, unless one of the prospects, such as Frolik or Matthias, can step in and offer their services, more likely the latter, then there will still be a hole to fill come next season.
As has been the case since drafting Bouwmeester in 2002, the Panthers organization lacks a bona fide top-pair-projected defenseman. It also lacks a bluechip goaltending prospect.
Tyler Plante’s progress has been slow-going thus far. He made his AHL debut this past season, but as the sidekick to Adam Dennis with the Amerks. This came at the expense of David Shantz, whose roster spot Plante hijacked, cuing a subsequent demotion to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. Not yet able to settle in at the AHL level, his stock has continued to fall. This will at the very least allow Shantz an opportunity to getting starting-minutes between the pipes, though it also suggests it will take time yet for Shantz to come into his own. Farther down the list, the University of New Hampshire’s Brian Foster is also still somewhat of a mystery due to lack of playing time. The junior will assume the starting role for the first time this season.
The growth rate of the top defenders in the Panthers system is difficult to project. Derrick LaPoint should be reasonably expected to remain in the NCAA with top program North Dakota for another couple of seasons at the minimum, where he hasn’t shown what he can do to date. No one knows for certain either how the oft-criticized, oft-scrutinized Keaton Ellerby will fare, in this, his first year in the pros, and the same can be said for Michael Caruso.
The 2008 Entry Draft will be Jacques Martin’s second go-around as GM, his first since taking on the job full time, since he was relieved of his head coaching duties at the conclusion of last season.
In last year’s draft in Columbus, Martin utilized his inaugural pick to take the mean, albeit raw defender from Alberta Ellerby 10th overall, higher than many would have anticipated. He then set his sights on the slick Czech scorer Michal Repik in the second round. He continued on in the following round by grabbing Russian Evgeny Dadonov, and finished with fellow-Russian Sergei Gayduchenko. The Panthers chose three European-born draftees in 2007 (out of eight picks), the most they have chosen in one draft, going back to 2003 and the nine-round format. The diversity of the Panthers draft choices is directly attributable to Martin, who, in stark contrast to his most recent predecessors, routinely extends his reach outside of North American borders to bring in fresh talent.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: No first-round selection (traded to Nashville)