Opportunities for prospects in the Florida Panthers system were omnipresent during the 2013-14 season. Whether those opportunities came in the form of the NCAA tournament, professional hockey debuts, or calls to the NHL, several hungry young prospects distinguished themselves by their play, effort and skills.
Fastest Skater: Quinton Howden, LW, Florida Panthers (NHL)
Quinton Howden is an extremely fast skater who is capable of playing in a lot of different situations for the Panthers. He is a solid defensive player, which combined with his skating ability, makes him an offensive threat in shorthanded situations. He played 16 games with the Panthers at the end of the 2013-14 regular season and is expected to compete for a regular spot in the NHL lineup next year.
Wilson came into the 2013-14 season trying to make the AHL squad on a full-time basis, after having spent the majority of his previous season in the ECHL. Unfortunately for the big winger and former captain of the Owen Sound Attack, he again started his year in Cincinnati, but continued to work hard and soon earned a call to the AHL. There, he forced his way onto the roster with his ceaseless effort and a willingness to do any job asked of him. He worked his way into a top-six role, killing penalties and seeing time on the power play, and eventually received an opportunity to play a handful of games in the NHL.
Hardest Shot: Alex Petrovic, D, San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
Until he graduates, this award likely belongs to Petrovic, who can unleash huge shots from the point when he torques up his 6'4 frame and fires the puck at the net. He struggled with injuries in the early part of the season, but still ripped 80 shots at the AHL level and looks to be on track for an NHL role in the near future.
Clapperton was a fifth-round draft pick in 2012, and although he was known for his ability to put the puck in the net, few could have anticipated that over the first half of the 2013-14 season Clapperton would be at or near the top of the QMJHL scoring tables. Although he cooled off as the season ran down, he still finished the year as the Armada's (Clapperton was traded to Rimouski after the end of the season) top scorer with 62 points in just 53 games.
Underachiever: Yaroslav Kosov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
Kosov finished his third season in the KHL with just four points in 32 games while playing under ten minutes per game for coach Mike Keenan. Although he has yet to reach his 21st birthday, Kosov's lack of offensive progression and inability to find additional ice time is troubling. Kosov brings a good physical, two-way game with speed and size, and he has shown flashes of his potential during international play in the past, but his production thus far has been underwhelming.
Most Improved: Mackenzie Weegar, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Until the Panthers selected him near the end of the seventh round in last summer's NHL draft, few outside of Halifax knew much about the offensive-minded defenseman. Last year was Weegar's initial season of play in major junior hockey, and although he showed flashes of ability, his body of work was limited. In his second season, Weegar made himself known as a speedy, reliable blueliner who pushes the puck forward with flare and vision. He improved his scoring rate to close to a point per game, and finished fourth in the QMJHL among defenseman in total points.
Highest Risk/Reward prospect: Sam Brittain, G, Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
Brittain's college hockey career was a story of extremes. His freshman season saw him become one of the top first-year goaltenders in the country. His second year was spent in the training room rehabilitating a knee injury that cost him most of the season. His junior year saw him lose his starting role as he struggled to stop the puck. Finally, in his senior tour, Brittain regained his freshman form and dominated the competition while finishing near the top of every goaltending category. If he continues to play as he did during his final college season, the rewards will be significant and Brittain could easily become a NHL goaltender.
Best Defensive Prospect: Mike Matheson, D, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Matheson, last year's Breakout Player for the 2013-14 season, is one of the best skaters in the organization, and his breakout passes, offensive instincts, and vision with the puck on his stick are outstanding. Further, Matheson has improved his defensive-zone patience and awareness to the point where he can stop attacking forwards and create turnovers in his own zone. In April, Matheson announced his decision to remain at BC for his junior season, which will likely be his last before joining the Panthers blue line.
Prospect of the Year: Vince Trocheck, C, Florida Panthers (NHL)
Trocheck's initial professional season looked like a race to the big leagues. Coming off of his OHL player of the year performance, Trocheck hit the ice in San Antonio with his typical enthusiasm and non-stop work rate. He quickly took over the top spot on the Rampage scoring list and held it until his NHL call up in early March. Despite playing the final two months of the season in the NHL, he still finished second in San Antonio scoring with 42 points in 55 games.
In 20 NHL games, Trocheck scored five goals and three assists. His most notable achievement in the NHL last season was the continuation of his endless energy and play in all situations. He averaged better than two minutes per game on both the powerplay and the penalty kill unit and ended the season sixth overall in Florida in shifts played per game. He also played a regular shift with the Team USA's World Championships team in Minsk at the season's end.
Breakout player for 2014-15 season: Ian McCoshen, D, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Last season's breakout player was a defenseman from Boston College and this year's winner is as well. McCoshen enters his sophomore season in much the same place as did his occasional defensive partner Matheson. He has a tremendous upside potential in the offensive zone, and despite faltering in his own end and chasing the play at times, McCoshen looks well on track for stabilizing that aspect of his game. With Matheson's return to BC, McCoshen has a great opportunity to shine in a secondary role and play a relaxed yet intense game for the Eagles.