Jacques Martin took the reins of the Panthers front office in September 2006. Since then, the organization’s prospect pool has seen gradual, but definite growth, capped off in its current state with the spoils of the 2008 Entry Draft.
Beginning this season, the Panthers are the sole affiliate of the AHL Rochester Americans. The talent they are integating into the organization was found not just in high draft picks, but also trades and free agent signings.
Glass was bumped off the roster after half a year in Florida. It was a long enough stay to suggest he would return, but for now his NHL career is halted at 41 games. His return is more likely if he can distinguish himself by putting up more points in the minors.
Meyer, whose stint was even shorter, is becoming a fixture with Rochester. With only four games played in a Panther uniform, he reinforced his status as a go-to guy on an Amerks team that hasn’t been able to find success in recent years. In 2007-08, his second year in Rochester, he had more points on the team than any other Panther.
Kenndal McArdle left junior hockey at the end of last year, but an injury slowed his progression in the pro game. After finishing the 2007-08 season in the ECHL in order to rehabilitate the injury, McArdle has returned to Rochester. The first-round pick in 2005, who has top-six NHL potential, has been allotted ice time in that role, and on the power play.
The late arrivals at the left wing position are Andrew Sweetland and A.J. Jenks. Both are somewhat of wildcards. The Panthers downplayed Jenks’ future potential after selecting him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, when in some projections he was off the board by the end of the second round. Sweetland’s acquisition was not without intrigue. Sweetland is a skill player who will be expected to produce, yet currently, has not done so with his new team. He has good hands, and good hockey sense. Whether it translates will be determined.
Also on the depth chart is the energetic, gritty Mike Duco, and the versatile Ryan Watson. Duco entered professional hockey at the start of the 2008-09 season. Watson remains in the NCAA with Western Michigan.
To date, there have been several players at the position to crack the NHL lineup from the center ice position. David Brine and Drew Larman each played a handful of games last season as emergency call-ups, and Michael Frolik has played five games in the new season, and is currently playing on the top line.
The top two talents up the middle are Shawn Matthias and Frolik. Both are natural centers who will almost certainly see a significant amount of play on the wing at some point in their careers. Matthias, a power forward, as recently as training camp seemed poised to break in with the Panthers. The team decided to take a more patient approach with the 20-year-old, however, and cut him from the roster shortly before the season began. The Panthers’ handling of Frolik has been similar. Head coach Peter DeBoer has rotated the talented Frolik in and out of the lineup to meet the team need for speed. He appeared in two out of the first five games, but is now getting regular minutes.
Also noteworthy is the University of Michigan’s Matt Rust, who, though he is not big, excels in many areas of the game. Rust is also stepping into a more prominent offensive role with the Wolverines. At the bottom of the list is Denis Stasyuk, whose rights would have expired under normal circumstances. Instead, Stasyuk is still Panthers property due to the absence of an IIHF transfer agreement. Stasyuk totaled nine points dating back to the start of the 2006-07 season, three of which have come in 11 games during 2008-09.
At the right wing position, only Anthony Stewart has played a game in the NHL. Stewart continues to linger in the vicinity of becoming a full-time NHL player. As the year nears its close, his chances appear as promising as they have been in years. A surprising standout training camp performance has earned the 24-year-old a look in the Panther lineup. He has dressed in two games this season.
Also at the pro level are Michal Repik, Brady Calla, and Dan Collins. The three are with Rochester, and only Collins has a year of experience behind him. Calla entered 2008-09 with AHL six games played, and Repik with none. It’s Repik who will be leaned on as a point producer now and in years to come. Repik, with his skill, has legitimate top-six potential. As does Evgeny Dadonov, in his second year with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Zach Bearson is still with University of Wisconsin, but is not on the Badgers roster, as he and the team have mutually parted ways. Bearson still intends to remain enrolled until completing his degree. He’s no longer an NHL prospect.
The pool of defensemen is deep in the Panthers organization, though none have been able to surface at the NHL level. Instead, the bulk of the talent lies in the AHL. Keaton Ellerby, Michael Caruso, Jason Garrison, and Luke Beaverson have all turned pro — Ellerby and Caruso from junior, and Garrison and Beaverson from the NCAA.
Garrison came out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth a year prior to his graduation. If the widespread interest in Garrison was any indicator, he could prove a late bloomer of sorts, and a bargain of a free agent signing.
Ellerby and Caruso fast-tracked their way to their current setting from major junior, both in their first year of eligibility, at age 20. As a result, players such as Jordan Henry, Franklin MacDonald, Peter Aston, and free agent signing James DeLory, find their AHL jobs in jeopardy. Still in junior are 2008 draft choices Colby Robak and Adam Comrie, as well as a former teammate of Caruso, Corey Syvret. Robak and Comrie both continue to improve, immediately following their selections — Robak with six points in 10 games played, and Comrie with nine in 10 games played in 2008-09.
John Lee and Matthew Bartkowski began their collegiate hockey careers in the fall, Lee with the University of Denver and Bartkowski with Ohio State, ending two-year tenures in the USHL. They join Derrick LaPoint and Matt Duffy in the NCAA ranks. LaPoint’s stock has fallen over the course of the year. He has recently begun his sophomore year with the University of North Dakota. Duffy is now in his fourth and final year with the University of Maine. It is uncertain whether the Panthers will pursue him at the end of the season.
Spencer Dillon began the calendar year idle, and is idle still. Dillon was removed from the Northern Michigan roster two seasons ago for a rules violation. The Panthers retain his rights.
Developing goaltenders hasn’t come easily for the Panthers, and Jacques Martin and company may have caught a break in the 2008 Entry Draft. The Panthers took Jacob Markstrom with their first pick, 31st overall. Markstrom is perhaps the first goaltender with elite upside that the Panthers have had since they acquired Roberto Luongo in 2000. Markstrom currently plays in the SEL. Also in Europe, in the KHL, is 2007 draft choice Sergei Gayduchenko. The rangy Russian goaltender, standing 6’5, plays with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv.
Back in North America, Tyler Plante and David Shantz, both 2005 draft picks, have traded places numerous times in minor pro. In the AHL and ECHL, neither have lived up to Panthers’ hopes so far. Plante for the time being has beaten out Shantz, who is now assigned to the non-affiliated ECHL Dayton Bombers, but still has much to prove.
The current state of the organization is improved from years past. There is simultaneously more high-end talent and depth at each position. The Panthers also now have the ability to develop such talent more effectively. When in the past prospects were prematurely thrust into NHL activity, Rochester is now a place where young players can go to hone their skills under the Panthers banner.
With Frolik, Matthias, Repik, and Dadonov, there is great potential at the forward positions. On the backline, Ellerby, Robak and Caruso, with Markstrom tending the goal, are all reasons to be optimistic about the Panthers future.