Two familiar names occupy the top spots on the Panthers Top 20 list, which also contains several newcomers, including a few from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Top 20 at a Glance
1. Michael Frolik, C (8.0 C)
2. Shawn Matthias, C (7.5 B)
3. Jacob Markstrom, G (8.0 D)
4. Michal Repik, RW (7.5 C)
5. Keaton Ellerby, D (7.5 D)
6. Colby Robak, D (7.5 D)
7. Kenndal McArdle, LW (6.5 C)
8. Tyler Plante, G (6.5 C)
9. Evgeni Dadonov, RW (7.0 D)
10. Matt Rust, C (6.5 C)
11. Michael Caruso, D (6.0 B)
12. Derrick Lapoint, D (6.5 C)
13. Anthony Stewart, LW (7.0 D)
14. Adam Comrie, D (6.5 C)
15. Brady Calla, RW (6.0 B)
16. A.J. Jenks, RW (6.5 C)
17. John Lee, D (6.5 C)
18. Stefan Meyer, LW (6.5 D)
19. Tanner Glass, LW (5.5 B)
20. Luke Beaverson, D (6.0 C)
1. (1) Michael Frolik, C, 21
Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2006
Still standing atop the rankings and on the cusp of NHL readiness is Czech pivot, Michael Frolik. Signed to an entry-level contract in late May, Frolik could steal a spot on a Panthers squad short on scoring forwards in 2008-09. It is within the realm of possibility that, should most up-and-comers such as Stephen Weiss, Rostislav Olesz, David Booth, and to an extent, Kamil Kreps fail to satisfactorily deliver their fair share of the offensive load, Frolik could stand in as an alternative option.
At the very least, Frolik’s scoring flair should provide a much-needed spark for the Rochester Americans. In either case, those offensive capabilities will be a welcome addition, whether he makes the jump to the professional game in the AHL, or even directly to the NHL.
2. (2) Shawn Matthias, C, 21
Acquired: via trade, February 2007 (Detroit)
Like Frolik, Matthias is a candidate to make his Panthers debut as a rookie in 2008-09. In fact, Matthias may be an even safer bet to accomplish that feat, being a dominant force in the OHL with the Belleville Bulls last season. Though it would be a fallacy to assume that Matthias is a shoo-in Calder finalist, he’s big, he’s strong, and possesses a polished all-around game, and would certainly provide an added dimension of grit the Panthers would love to have.
Matthias had a four-game assignment in the NHL last January during which he scored twice. Eager to play, whether at his natural center-ice position or maybe on the wing, Matthias seems poised to make his breakthrough in training camp.
3. (NR) Jacob Markstrom, G, 18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 31st Overall, 2008
Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom is the first newcomer to the top 20 list. The 2008 draft pick, the first of two Panthers second-round picks only a few short months ago, was perceived as perhaps the goaltender with the greatest potential in his class. Organizationally, the acquisition of Markstrom was of great necessity for the Panthers, as it would be with many teams — to find a goalie with “elite” upside. The downside is, however, the native of Gavle, Sweden is under contract in his home country for two more seasons.
Beyond that even, Markstrom has declared he would listen to offers to play professionally elsewhere in Europe. Though Markstrom’s excitement was evident after being drafted by the Panthers, his future in North America can not be guaranteed.
4. (3) Michal Repik, RW, 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 40th Overall, 2007
Repik has spent the last three seasons in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, and each year he has cumulatively improved his statistical output. Repik has terrific instincts in all areas of the game, but putting up points is his specialty. Though he has all the makings of a finesse player, Repik is courageous enough to enter traffic areas, and he takes full advantage.
Repik will handle the puck on a string on the outside or plant in front of the net for a rebound; he’ll take a hit to make a play, though suffering a concussion last season may be cause for concern going forward. And so, Repik will walk tenouously as he begins his ascent from one level of play to the next.
5. (5) Keaton Ellerby, D, 20
Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2007
Last season, Ellerby started out struggling to find his form. Success wasn’t easily earned until a trade halfway into the year instilled valuable insight in the then 19-year-old. A change of scenery suited Ellerby well and provided the jumpstart necessary to salvage what, at the time, was destined to be a disappointing season.
Now, the top priority for Ellerby will be adding size to his 6’4 frame, and getting his start in professional hockey in a few months’ time should provide plenty of motivation. Reaching that milestone puts Ellerby ahead of his projected growth rate, and affords the opportunity to become a key contributor in 2007-08.
6. (NR) Colby Robak, D, 18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 46th Overall, 2008
Closely behind Ellerby in the sixth spot is the Panthers second pick overall in 2008, Colby Robak. The Panthers surrendered a fourth-round pick to climb three spots in the draft order to ensure Robak was theirs, which should illustrate clearly how highly they think of the Wheat Kings defender.
With Ellerby’s imminent advancement from the junior ranks to the pros, it seems undeniable the Panthers took extra special care to select the offensively adept Robak as his successor. His developmental success will be a priority among Florida’s pool of prospects, and the Panthers believe Robak’s situation in Brandon will be one conducive to getting good experience and education.
7. (6) Kenndal McArdle, LW, 21
Acquired: 1st Round, 20th Overall, 2005
McArdle is still rebounding from various adversities he has been faced with this past season. Injuries and unanticipated demotions that followed have set McArdle back some.
But McArdle yet remains the top left wing in the Panthers organization, whose speed, tenacity, and hard work fit him ideally within the style of play the team has committed to adopting in the Peter DeBoer era. And though McArdle is behind pace, he should be given every opportunity in Rochester this year.
8. (7) Tyler Plante, G, 21
Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2005
The changes in Rochester are sure to greatly affect many individual players, and Tyler Plante is no exception. The way has been cleared and now is the time when Plante will be expected to take charge. The Panthers now being the sole affiliate of the Rochester Americans allows Plante to battle for the starting goaltender role. Plante has the ability, but his consistency in his performance has gone unproven to date.
In order to cement his position, he will have to outdo 24-year-old AHL veteran goaltender Chris Beckford-Tseu, signed by the Panthers in July. The Panthers can allow Plante time to adjust, however, the transition lying ahead should still stand as the single most important step thus far on his developmental path.
9. (11) Evgeni Dadonov, RW, 20
Acquired: 3rd Round 71st Overall, 2007
A pleasantly surprising performance last season pushes Dadonov into the Panthers top 10. The final year of the Russian Super League was something of a breakthrough for Dadonov, with 20 points in 43 games of the regular season playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk. Dadonov will be at Panthers training camp, though by most accounts he will return to his Russian club shortly thereafter.
When Dadonov does rejoin his team for the Continental Hockey League’s inaugural season, it will likely be with the added attention of opposing defenses. If so, his ability to cope with added pressure will be a preeminent concern, regarding his size.
10. (13) Matt Rust, C, 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 101st Overall, 2007
An intelligent, heady player, winner of the University’s Athletic-Academic Achievement award, Rust has managed to play well in just about any type of situation he was thrown into. In particular, Rust excelled this past year on the Wolverines energy line with Carl Hagelin and Aaron Palushaj (STL). He did an exceptional job on the penalty kill, too, but beyond energy and defensive play, Rust has a still-developing scoring touch, which will show through more in the coming season. Rust was sixth on the team in total points in 2007-08, and with the senior tandem of Chad Kolarik and Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter (PHO) no longer in the picture, Rust’s offensive role should be expanded in his sophomore season.
11. (12) Michael Caruso, D, 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 103rd Overall, 2006
Coming off an all-star caliber year with the Guelph Storm in the OHL last season, Caruso signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers in May. Caruso has good hockey sense and good mobility; once acclimatized, once he adjusts to the physical tolls of the professional game, he could very well become a stabilizing presence on a vastly different Amerks team from a season ago. Caruso could find himself in any number of roles in the short term. In the long term, whether he finds a spot with Rochester next season or not, he will continue to be one of the more multi-faceted, more complete defenders in the Panthers organization.
12. (8) Derrick Lapoint, D, 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 116th Overall, 2006
LaPoint hasn’t made his presence felt with North Dakota yet. Despite the departures of Robbie Bina and Taylor Chorney (EDM), playing time will not come cheaply for the Wisconsin-born defender, as he will be immediately challenged by new recruits such as Corey Fienhage.
LaPoint was a dynamic and dangerous player in the USHL, but hasn’t lived up to those expectations at the NCAA level. LaPoint is due to demonstrate his offensive prowess, and should get the chance to do so. Such is the risk run by joining a prestigious program such as UND: should LaPoint lag behind, he could in time find himself overtaken by underclassmen.
13. (9) Anthony Stewart, LW, 23
Acquired: 1st Round, 25th Overall, 2003
Stewart continues his fall down the rankings as he nears the end of prospecthood. Stewart has wandered all corners of the Panther system, dating all the way back to 2004-05 and the Panthers affiliation with the San Antonio Rampage. Stewart was dominant among players his own age before entering professional hockey, and after several years, hasn’t been able to duplicate that against physically mature professional athletes.
Even going back to when he was drafted, his physicality aside, questions surrounded Stewart’s hockey sense. After several attempts with the Panthers to prove his doubters wrong, Stewart’s inability to put up points has lent credence to their concerns. The Panthers have tried to light a fire under Stewart, when GM Jacques Martin criticized his work ethic publicly to no avail. Everything now hinges on his training camp showing, which could make or break Stewart’s NHL future.
14. (NR) Adam Comrie, D, 18
Acquired: 3rd Round, 80th Overall, 2008
Comrie was one of the bigger defenders available in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and was a surprise to have fallen to the third round. Comrie took a big step forward last year, his first in the OHL, as a member of the Saginaw Spirit. He improved his defensive play, and put up good numbers as well. Comrie tallied 10 goals and 18 assists, and was a +17 in 2007-08.
Comrie is gritty and tough. Described as a good potential “complementary defenseman” by Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Luce upon being drafted, he adds depth as he is capable of filling any number of roles from the back end.
15. (14) Brady Calla, RW, 20
Acquired: Acquired: 3rd Round, 73rd Overall, 2006
Another May signing is the speedy, hard-hitting Brady Calla. Precisely where Calla will get his professional start is at this point difficult to project, discounting his six-game appearance in the AHL at the end of last year. Perhaps it will be as an energy player with the Amerks, or perhaps grooming his attacking skills with the Everblades, where top-line minutes should be easier to come by. It would certainly help Calla’s cause to add to his resume an improved scoring touch. Calla would be an exemplary player with his universally acclaimed high level of character under newly appointed coach Benoit Groulx.
16. (NR) A.J. Jenks, LW, 18
Acquired: 4th Round, 100th Overall, 2008
The final 2008 draft pick to make his way into the top 20 is A.J. Jenks. In many ways, Jenks is the embodiment of many of the characteristics the Panthers are looking for in the coming years as they begin to integrate additional young players into their lineup. New Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer’s philosophy stresses speed and forechecking; Jenks is an aggressive player with good instincts in traffic and along the boards who can play multiple forward positions. In fact, whether he directly influenced the Panthers selection, DeBoer was particularly familiar with Jenks prior to joining the Panthers organization, having faced him as the coach of the Kitchener Rangers, and expressed his pleasure to see Jenks added to the organization.
17. (17) John Lee, D, 19
Acquired: Acquired: 5th Round, 131st Overall, 2007
In the fall, Lee will officially make the move from the USHL to the NCAA with the University of Denver. The move should help to accelerate Lee’s maturation as a player, and so he endures in his location on the top 20 list for the time being, despite coming off an about-average season with the Waterloo Blackhawks. Previously, Lee’s development had been more or less stagnant. Even so, Lee should still be termed something of a project — progress may not necessarily be immediate — the fact remains unchanged that he possesses a raw, natural skating ability and hockey sense which has barely been tapped into.
18. (16) Stefan Meyer, LW, 23
Acquired: 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2003
Meyer has shown in the last couple years he has good finishing ability, a propensity for grinding out goals. However, the 2003 draft pick’s skating ability is simply not up to par, especially under the guidelines of the new Panthers system. Perhaps David Booth’s 2007-08 season stands as a testament to what Meyer could himself accomplish, given the same opportunity. A relative veteran in the system, if he were able to improve his speed and acceleration, his weakness in comparison to his counterparts, it wouldn’t be at all unrealistic for Meyer to steal a spot in the Florida lineup with a stand-out training camp performance.
19. (NR) Tanner Glass, LW, 24
Acquired: 9th Round, 265th Overall, 2003
Glass makes his first ever appearance on the top 20 list after a half season with the big club in Florida. Glass is a team-first player in every sense, doing whatever needs to be done in order to make a mark. Last season, Glass showed the willingness to skate, forecheck hard, and drop the gloves every now and then as well. If he does reprise his role as an energy player for the Panthers in 2008-09, he won’t remain on this list very long. In the meantime, however, some recognition is deserved for the Dartmouth grad whose intangibles are his ‘A’ game.
20. (NR) Luke Beaverson, D, 23
Acquired: 9th Round, 283rd Overall, 2004
The Panthers may also make good with another ninth-round draft pick. Beaverson musters up his first appearance on the top 20 after completing a strong four-year campaign with the University of Alaska-Anchorage. The Panthers tend to seek out high-character players, especially in their late-round draft selections, and Beaverson is no exception. Captain last season, Beaverson signed a professional contract with the Panthers after earning the Jack Peterson Student-Athlete award as well as the WCHA Academic All-Conference honors for the third time in his career. Beaverson is big, strong and durable, having played in 30 or more games in each of his seasons with UAA. Smart, a leader, and physically imposing, Beaverson will make a fine addition to the Panthers pro system.