Panthers 2008-09 AHL/ECHL prospects review

By Ian Bross

Florida Panthers prospects again made their hockey home in the minor pro leagues with the ECHL Florida Everblades and the AHL Rochester Americans. The Amerks, for the third year in a row, ended near the bottom of the league standings. With a record of 29-43-0-8, they finished in second to last, better only than the Springfield Falcons.

Forwards

Shawn Matthias
Acquired: via trade, February 2007 (Detroit)

The 2008-09 season was not a kind one to Matthias, who struggled under a mountain of pressure as a rookie in Rochester. The Amerks rested their hopes on their young newcomers after two consecutive seasons without success. But rather than help solve the problems in Rochester, Matthias mirrored them.

One of the team’s primary deficiencies — offense — was helped little by Matthias’ inability to score. Coming from a productive junior season last year, he scored just 10 goals and 10 assists in 61 pro games. At the top of Matthias’ list for improvement should be to raise his energy level and work level to meet the pace of the professional game. He had the worst plus/minus on the Amerks, a -34.

Matthias was simply was not ready to lead the team. Next season, Matthias will set his sights on making the Panthers roster. If he winds up in Rochester again, he should be helped along by an influx of veterans the Amerks front office has made a commitment to providing in 2009-10.

Michal Repik
Acquired: 2nd Round, 40th Overall, 2007

Similar to Matthias, Repik was hoped to be an impact player offensively. In his first year out of junior, he too was not quite able to meet the demand. However, he would become a relative bright spot for the Amerks. Repik’s most productive stretch was in late January and early February, and finished the year just shy of 50 points, with 19 goals and 30 assists in 75 games. He is in all likelihood the Amerks’ most talented player. His potential apparent, Repik’s first season helped to sustain the hope that he could become an offensive catalyst on the pro circuit, which the team still desperately needs.  

Mike Duco
Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

Duco has an engaging on-ice persona. Listed at 5’10, he is always looking to take the body, he never stops battling along the boards, and he shows no fear in going to high-traffic areas. He will sometimes manage to get under his opponents’ skin with his play. He is always active and was charged with 147 penalty minutes on the season. More than just energy, Duco provides a spark offensively as well. He recorded 14 goals and 14 assists in 68 games. With his skill set, Duco has been a valuable asset to the Amerks in his first year.

Kenndal McArdle
Acquired: 1st Round, 20th Overall, 2005

Only a couple of years ago, McArdle joined the pro ranks, thought to have the upside of a power forward. In two seasons with the Amerks since leaving junior, McArdle’s destiny has seemed to have shifted. McArdle’s skills are somewhat limited. His rate of production hasn’t changed much this year compared to last, with 12 goals and 12 assists in 58 games.

Indeed he has done good things aside from scoring. McArdle works undeniably hard. The Panthers are benefitting from more depth than in previous years. The pressure to perform in Rochester is ever present. Effective checking may earn sporadic visits to the Panthers lineup, but it won’t guarantee a long-term role.

Stefan Meyer
Acquired: 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2003

Meyer has been a staple on the Amerks roster since his arrival in 2005-06. He has never come close to an extended stay with the Panthers. He only dressed with the team for four games last season as the result of numerous injuries. Meyer completed his fourth season with Rochester, scoring 18 goals and 22 assists in 65 games, the same output as last season. The 24-year-old’s stick skills and passing ability is lacking. For Meyer, it seems as though the AHL will be his home for the remainder of his days in hockey. Turning 25 during the summer, his future with the organization is unclear.

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

The 2008-09 season was Glass’ second since departing Dartmouth college. An injury requiring surgery took Glass out of action for several weeks. But over the rest of the way, he has found a niche as a penalty killing and defensive specialist. The hallmark of his game is his willingness to do his team’s dirty work. He is a valuable member of the Amerks, even if contributing only 13 points all year. He’ll be 26 in November and should not be counted out to one day crack the NHL.

Drew Larman
Acquired: Free Agent, 2005

Larman has played four years with the Rochester Americans after his OHL days were over. After dealing with injuries each year, he stayed healthy, but in terms of output, it was not his best. Larman is a physical, two-way forward with little offensive flair. He grinded out 10 goals and 13 assists in his 61 games. Of all the Amerks’ regulars, Larman had the best plus/minus at +4. His current contract has expired. Whether he remains in the organization is uncertain.

 
David Brine
Acquired: Free Agent, 2006

Among all other Amerks, Brine represents the epitome of checking forwards. He can always be counted on to work hard on the boards, and is an excellent forechecker. But Brine is also very responsible — he tracks the play well, and lends good puck support. He is not much offensively, though; on the scoresheet, Brine scored eight times and had 23 assists in 79 games with a minus three rating. One of the iron men on the team, he missed only one game during the season. As long as Brine is in Rochester, his role is set.

Dan Collins
Acquired: 3rd Round, 90th overall, 2005

Collins split last season between the Amerks and the Everblades, and set his sights on sticking in Rochester this time around. Collins remained with the team all along, but he didn’t receive a lot of quality ice time, especially in the latter stages of the season. He seemed to have fallen out of favor with head coach Benoit Groulx. He averaged approximately one point per month throughout the season, with seven points in 56 games. Collins is neither a scorer, nor a dominant defensive forward. He is at his best when he is skating and working hard. Unlike Brine, for example, his role is still relatively undefined.

Andrew Sweetland
Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

Entering the fold as a free agent with offensive upside, Sweetland split the year with the Amerks and the Everblades. In 48 games with Rochester, he scored just one goal and two assists. He had 10 goals and 13 assists with the Everblades in 23 games. It goes without saying that Sweetland, for all his latent skills, didn’t accomplish as much as he was brought in to. Sweetland is tall but easily physically overpowered and his skating needs work. He will have to iron out all aspects of his game if he is to emerge from the ECHL.

Brady Calla
Acquired: 3rd Round, 73rd Overall, 2006

This was to be Calla’s first full season as a professional. He played eight games with the Amerks, notching one assist. Calla then returned to junior, where he remained from then on. He’ll again pursue the move to the pros next year. 

Defensemen

Jason Garrison
Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

After three years in the NCAA, Garrison made a smooth transition into professional hockey with Rochester. Garrison appears very comfortable on the ice, not at all hesitating in his style. He is a free-wheeling defender who was definitely more impactful helping to generate chances than stop them.

Garrison scored eight goals and assisted on 27 others in 75 games. He has terrific hockey sense, which has made him an ideal power-play quarterback. It is a task he is greatly experienced with. Garrison played in one game with the Panthers this year as an injury call-up. He will need to learn pick his spots better in the future, and continue refining his coverage and positioning if he is to return.   

Keaton Ellerby
Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2007

Another newcomer on the defensive corps, Ellerby’s maturation as a player has been as evident as it has been expedient. He first started to find his stride in January, before the game caught up to him again. With a half a season under his belt, the 20-year-old emerged as probably the team’s steadiest presence on the blueline. Once acclimated, Ellerby started to settle in and played a smart, sensible game. He has played with improved discipline (beyond his far-reduced total of 44 penalty minutes).  He also recorded three goals and 20 assists in 75 games.

Ellerby doesn’t stray from proper position, he makes crisp first passes and shows great poise with the puck on the boards and carrying up ice. He is an extremely fluid skater. Ellerby still needs to add more weight to his lanky 6’4 frame before he can be considered a viable NHL defenseman.

Michael Caruso
Acquired: 4th Round, 103rd Overall, 2006

Caruso rounds out the trio of rookie defenders. All in all the 20-year-old’s debut has been a good one, though his play is not as impressive as Ellerby, or as flashy as Garrison. Caruso scored one goal, and had nine assists in 73 games. Caruso always looks to make the safest possible play. He can best be characterized by his simplistic approach, whether making a safe pass on the transition or putting the puck on goal for a rebound or deflection. Caruso is a good skater with a solid build who should continue to improve.

Franklin MacDonald
Acquired: Free Agent, 2006

Sometimes paired with Garrison, MacDonald’s defensive game has come a long way. He is a great deal more reliable now than even when the season first began. He is smart about jumping into the play.

Of his defensive counterparts, the 24-year-old defenseman registered the top plus/minus rating, at +1. The points, though, were scarce — a goal and eight assists in 61 games. Yet learning restraint is a major step for MacDonald, whose ability to get involved in the attack was his major attraction. It is essential for MacDonald to adapt his game this way if he is to have any longevity as a pro. 

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

Since his arrival in Rochester, Aston has been haunted by a lack of consistency. This year, he was occasionally rotated in and out as the Amerks’ No. 6 or 7 defenseman. At other times he was involved, and standing out for all the right reasons. Early on, Aston eagerly joined the rush, and took up a more active interest in offensive participation. When results began to fizzle, Aston’s usefulness waned, leading to his occasional upheaval from the starting corps. In the end, Aston was little more successful than last season. He had two goals and eight assists in 53 games and a minus-10 rating.

Jordan Henry  
Acquired: Free Agent, 2007

Henry has made marked progress this season, his second as a pro. He came into camp with improved strength, and he is a more explosive skater as a result. Henry’s start was belated due to injury, but once he was healthy, he showed off a more assertive, more aggressive style of play. Sometimes he will step over the line, evidenced by the 111 penalty minutes he accumulated over the course of 69 games. Henry also was credited with four goals and 12 assists. He will need to learn to temper himself.

Luke Beaverson
Acquired: 9th Round, 283rd Overall, 2004

After leaving the NCAA, Beaverson opened 2008-09 with Rochester, when the team floundered. Beaverson suffered a minor injury, and eventually ended up with the Everblades.  Fifteen total games with the Amerks saw him earn one assist. His plus/minus rating was a -3. Things went a bit more smoothly for Beaverson in the ECHL, where he played 28 games. The 6’5 227-pound defender was a +5. He hasn’t yet proven to be ready to for a full-time job in the AHL.

Matt Duffy
Acquired: 4th Round, 104th Overall, 2005

Duffy joined the Amerks and then the Everblades down the stretch after his season at Maine was over. The 23-year-old Duffy quickly went to work in his first game, scoring two assists. He wasn’t with the Amerks long, but looked as though he belonged. With no shortage of opportunity on the power play, the defenseman was able to score two goals and four assists in nine games. Duffy is a two-way defender who can get involved in the offense as well as take the body. 

Goaltending

Two former second-round picks, two goaltenders with poor results.

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

Plante began the season in Rochester as the backup to newly-acquired Chris Beckford-Tseu. He struggled mightily from the onset. In his first game, he was ousted before the conclusion of the first period. He would lose his first five starts. His cumulative goals-against average was then a dismal 5.10.

The Amerks eventually dismissed Beckford-Tseu as the starter as well, and found their man in Mike Brodeur. Plante’s standing continued to dwindle. He had a 20-game stay with the Dayton Bombers before an eventual comeback of sorts to Rochester in February. He had only one questionable performance in those eight games. Plante finished the season in Rochester with a 3.25 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in 19 games. His numbers with the Bombers were even worse.

Though his play had shown some improvement, he certainly hasn’t yet achieved significant enough consistency to start anytime soon. Plante has one more year on his contract.

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

The arrival of Beckford-Tseu, and then Brodeur soon thereafter, pointed out Shantz’s shortcomings. Though he has appeared in a Rochester uniform each of the last three seasons, most of Shantz’s time has been spent in the ECHL. In 2008-09, Shantz was a member of the Dayton Bombers, as well as the Elmira Jackals. He had a combined record of 15-13-3-1. His goals-against average was 3.03, and his save percentage was .898. He played 12 games in the AHL. Shantz is at the end of his contract and will not likely be re-signed.