Panthers 2008-09 AHL/ECHL prospects update

By Ian Bross

The Rochester Americans have struggled so far this season, for the second consecutive year. As a result of that and the economy, despite having no such difficulty in the past, the team has seen fan attendance drop.

Long-time affiliate Buffalo Sabres have left Rochester to partner with the Portland Pirates. In their stead, the Panthers are charged with the task of supplying the team’s talent. Seemingly, the organization was prepared, fresh with talented young NHL hopefuls, plenty of whom graduated from their respective junior careers in time to make the move.

Injuries and inexperience have factored into the Amerks’ troubles, who sit in last place in the AHL standings, with a record of 8-21-0-2.

Forwards


Shawn Matthias

Acquired: via trade, February 2007 (Detroit)

Matthias’ arrival in Rochester was highly anticipated. It was believed, prior to the season’s start, that he could bypass the AHL squad in favor of the NHL, coming off a big year in the OHL with the Belleville Bulls. More than this, that he could be an impact player as a rookie with the Panthers. Though he didn’t make the big club out of training camp, Matthias would be at the forefront of a new incoming class of Panther prospects, who made the transition with the promise of a turn-around season.

As the season got underway, and the Amerks floundered, so too did Matthias. The team’s inability to score was not made any less severe by Matthias’ efforts. An output of two points, one goal and one assist, was all Matthias could muster in October, with a -13 rating.  In November, Matthias scored twice more before the Panthers called his name on Nov. 28, in response to unyielding injury difficulties.

On the season, Matthias has three goals, one assist and a -20, in 21 games for Rochester.


Michal Repik

Acquired: 2nd Round, 40th Overall, 2007

Along with Matthias, Repik was to be relied on to rejuvenate an offense that was next to last in terms of goals for in 2007-08. Entering his first professional season, Repik was coming off of a career year with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Continually improving his scoring totals from year to year, he seemed poised to make an impact in Rochester, given the opportunity.

With that opportunity came a great deal of responsibility that as a rookie, Repik was not yet ready for. Thrust immediately into a spot on the Amerks’ top line, Repik could only manage one point in his first five games. A smaller but a quick player, Repik has been affected by the added physicality of the professional game, but has gradually adjusted to the game’s added speed.

In November, Repik began to score on a consistent basis. He had his first multi-point game on Nov. 30, and a little over a week later, was called up to the Panthers. He was reassigned to Rochester on December 15. Even in his brief absence, Repik’s six goals and eight assists currently tie him for the team lead in points with 14.


Kenndal McArdle

Acquired: 1st Round, 20th Overall, 2005

McArdle skated with the Americans last season, and this year, was one of many looking to capitalize on more available playing time. Any improvement in McArdle’s productivity has been marginal. He has, however, apparently become a more adjusted player.

If any consolation, McArdle has done good things aside from scoring. McArdle is a hard worker who takes the body and checks effectively. He has logged lots of time on the penalty kill. Certainly, McArdle’s mediocre stats are not the root of the Amerks’ problems. But the bar, in that regard, is set higher for the first-round draft pick, among fellow teammates who went undrafted and offer similar grinding capabilities.

McArdle had a short-lived appearance with the Panthers in early December, until he was sent back to Rochester in favor of Repik.


Stefan Meyer

Acquired: 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2003

Of all Panther prospects who dressed for the Americans last season, none had more goals or total points than Meyer. Once again this season, Meyer is the team’s top goal scorer so far, even if only with seven tallies. Meyer has been with Rochester since 2005-06. He has muscled his way onto the scoresheet, but has not made significant progress, in more than three seasons, in other vital areas. Despite being a successful player around the net, in particular, Meyer lacks foot speed, and his skating is a bit awkward. As such, the second-round pick more than five years ago, seems destined for an AHL career. 

Tanner Glass
Acquired: 9th Round, 265th Overall, 2003

Glass had gone 10 games without a point, through the end of November and the beginning of December. Upon staving off the slump, Glass was called up to the Panthers. The appearance was a brief one. But Glass is identified by the other aspects of the game that he excels in – penalty killing, forechecking, grit, and outright hard work. Excesses of injuries aside, Glass is relied on for the aforementioned strengths, more so than goal scoring. But of the latter, Glass’ ceiling of potential is a low one.

Even so, Glass’ work ethic puts him in high regard with Amerks coach Benoit Groulx, who has seen his team lag along at parts of the season. The reward has been quality playing time; and if that time should ignite more offense, Glass’ favor with the Panthers should surely improve as well.

Mike Duco
Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

Coming off of a 30-goal OHL season, Duco has managed seven goals so far, on and off of the fourth line, a total good enough to tie Stefan Meyer for best on the team. Duco gets a fair share of power-play time but otherwise, he forechecks aggressively, and takes the body with great pleasure.

He plays big for his size, and appears to be one of the quicker Amerks on a nightly basis, always with a jump in his step. And of course, he is one of the grittier players as well, leading the team in penalty minutes with 88. Duco brings a very much unique combination of skills to the table. How those talents take him along in the future, and where, is the question. 


David Brine

Acquired: Free Agent, 2006

Brine has established himself as the Amerks’ top defensive center. He has limited offensive potential, resulting in two goals and seven assists in 30 games. Though he doesn’t have much of a scoring touch, he forechecks well and has good hustle. Brine rarely takes a night, or a shift, off for that matter. At his current course, he still projects to primarily be a defensive specialist. Brine will continue to make a name for himself in a checking role, and anything else will be a bonus.

Drew Larman
Acquired: Free Agent, 2005

Points came easier for Larman last year, and even the year before. In 2008-09, where goals have been hard to come by, he has settled into his checking responsibilities. Larman skates on the Rochester energy line, and is a staple penalty killer. He is not on pace to break the single digits in goals, currently with two in 26 games. He has added four assists, and has a -1 rating. Not much has changed for Larman in a positive way. An NHL opportunity, even for a handful of games, as he had last season, seems to be growing all the more distant. 
 

Dan Collins

Acquired: 3rd Round, 90th overall, 2005

Compared to when he first broke in with the Amerks, Collins has taken a few small steps forward. At this point in 2007-08, Collins was sent to the Florida Everblades, where he played the majority of the season. Though Collins is on pace to eclipse last year’s goal totals with the Rochester, he has yet to a record a single assist in 21 games played. His four-point total is comprised entirely of goals.

Suffice it to say, his point totals are nothing to write home about. Going back to his days in junior hockey, he was a capable special teams player. He has been surpassed in those areas by others on the team. Collins’ role on the Amerks roster isn’t clearly defined. As the season moves along, he could again find himself on the outside of the roster looking in unless things change.


Andrew Sweetland

Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

Sweetland’s journey to professional hockey began in Canadian Junior ‘A’ hockey, as a member of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Couchiching Terriers. He was added to the Americans’ roster after putting in a year in the NCAA with the University of Maine. Sweetland’s appeal was his offensive potential, indicated by his apparent yet raw skill. It is wholly obvious now, just how raw a player Sweetland is. Though he is by no means small, he is somewhat shy in the physicality department, and his play away from the puck has left something to be desired. He has been a scratch on and off this season as a result, and in total, has only delivered one point – an assist – in 18 games. He was demoted to the Everblades on Dec. 15.


Brady Calla

Acquired: 3rd Round, 73rd Overall, 2006

Last year Calla’s four points in six games helped earn him a professional contract with the Panthers soon after. Things didn’t go as smoothly once the 2008-09 season got underway. The Amerks were 1-7-0-0 in their first eight games, when Calla was reassigned to the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. Calla is a familiar name in Kamloops, having skated with the Blazers last season.

Defensemen

Jason Garrison
Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

Sub-par offensive production has been symptomatic of the Amerks’ maladies to date. The league-worst Amerks have scored a league-worst number of goals – 59 in 31 games. Garrison makes up one portion of a three-way tie for the team lead in points, with forwards Repik and Janis Sprukts. Garrison currently has two goals and 12 assists.

Garrison has been the bright spot on the Amerks blue line all season, having relatively few growing pains whatsoever in his first year out of college.  He has emerged as the perhaps the team’s top defender, playing more minutes than any of his counterparts, while killing penalties, and quarterbacking the power play. Though not reckless per se, Garrison does sometimes stray out of position a little too often – a minor fault in an otherwise pleasantly surprising start to a professional career.


Keaton Ellerby

Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2007

Ellerby’s integration to the Amerks since signing in the spring could potentially have been premature. Ellerby was one of several incoming, inexperienced defenders when the 2008-09 season began. Absent from the first several games, he became accustomed, in harsh fashion, to professional play. A baptism by fire, for Ellerby, with high individual expectations like so many other of his rookie peers to be immediately dependable in his position.

The 20-year-old has survived reasonably well. With 26 games played, he has six assists, and his plus/minus is currently a moderate -8. As for Ellerby’s supposed mean streak, he has been a much more disciplined player since departing from juniors. He has found effectiveness in more technically sound defensive play instead.


Michael Caruso

Acquired: 4th Round, 103rd Overall, 2006

Caruso, another rookie, is steadier as of late than at the beginning of the season, visibly getting more comfortable as it has gone along. He has good skating ability, but has a tendency to lose the appropriate positioning in the defensive zone. Ideally, Caruso will learn to play a simpler game, which will come more naturally to him, and he will benefit from. He has one point, an assist, and a -9 rating. He and Garrison have each skated in 30 games for Rochester this season, more than any other defender on the team. 

Peter Aston
Acquired: 6th Round, 155th Overall, 2005

With goaltender Mike Brodeur ostensibly providing stability in goal, the Amerks are getting increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of goal scoring. Defensemen have made a point of pinching in and joining the play more frequently. Peter Aston is no exception. Aston, as a matter of fact, seems to be one of the more responsive rearguards to the new philosophy, albeit without a whole lot of results.

All season long, Aston has been in and out of the lineup, spending time as a healthy scratch. The opportunity, then, was there for Aston, not the most physical player, to perhaps stand out as a two-way defenseman. Aston has two assists in a 14 games played this season. Though there haven’t been any dramatic changes in Aston’s numbers, he has shown definite drive to make himself a regular contributor – the first step, if he hopes to progress any further.


Jordan Henry   

Acquired: Free Agent, 2007

Henry did not play with the Americans in October, held out of action due to an injury. Making his first appearance with Rochester in the first week of November, Henry has been with the team ever since, and has been one of the steadier members of an oft-punished defensive unit. While most of his peers dwell in the negative plus/minus, Henry has managed to keep an even rating. He is in fact the only defenseman on the team, currently, to do so.

Even before the season, Henry has appeared to be an improved player. As of late, with Ellerby as his partner, Henry has joined the play more offensively, and played with more grit and assertiveness. Of the group of blueliners returning from a season ago, Henry seems to have made the most progress.


Franklin MacDonald

Acquired: Free Agent, 2006

Now in his third professional campaign, MacDonald has been consistent on multiple levels. MacDonald’s point totals aren’t overwhelming: five points, a goal and an assist, in 23 games played. Yet, entering action on December 21, he and Henry were the only defenders on the Amerks roster without a negative plus/minus. MacDonald currently has a -3 rating. In each of the previous two seasons, MacDonald has spent time in the ECHL with the Everblades. Though he has been a scratch at times, he has remained on the Amerks roster all season long.


Luke Beaverson

Acquired: 9th Round, 283rd Overall, 2004

Beaverson began the year with Rochester, as they stumbled out of the gates. Then injured, he only played in a handful of additional games before being reassigned to the Everblades. In Rochester, Beaverson had one assist, and a -3 rating, in eight games played. With the Everblades, he has two assists in 10 games played, and a +3 rating. It appears Beaverson’s progression through the pro ranks will be taken one step at a time.

Goaltending

Tyler Plante
Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2005

With Plante not yet ready to start in Rochester, the team acquired Chris Beckford-Tseu via free agency, formerly of Peoria Rivermen, before the season began. Plante did initially win the backup role to Beckford-Tseu, and the team intended to increase his playing time as the season progressed.

Four starts for Plante in the month of October went awry, all resulting in losses. Plante was responsible for 17 goals against over that span. Things seemed like they might turn around the following month, when he made a successful relief appearance on Nov. 1. But after one final start, which only lasted a shade over a dozen minutes, Plante was sent to the Dayton Bombers of the ECHL.

David Shantz
Acquired: 2nd round, 27th overall, 2005

Shantz joined the Amerks in mid-November after a fairly successful run with the Dayton Bombers.  In place of Plante, Shantz, expectedly, could do little to improve the unfavorable conditions in Rochester. Appearing in five games, Shantz had no wins to his credit.

Consistency has been hampering Shantz since he entered professional hockey. Not simply over the course of a season, but over the course of games as well. This season, in each his three starts in Rochester, Shantz has been unable to keep his save percentage above .900 or better. He is back in the ECHL once again, now with the Elmira Jackals.