Top 10 Prospects
Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, and Bryan Allen make up a trio of defensemen under contract to return to the team next season. Nick Boynton, one of a number of pending free agents, fell out of favor near the end of the season, and would therefore seem unlikely to return.
Of all Panthers headed for free agency, none will be more sought-after than Jay Bouwmeester. The 25-year-old defenseman has spent the entirety of his career with Florida, as their cornerstone defender. His name has been omnipresent in trade rumors since last season as a result of unsuccessful talks to negotiate a new contract. Routinely depended on to log upwards of 30 minutes of ice time per game, his departure would have a profound impact. Compensating for his absence would be no simple task.
Also an area of need is the offense, which has lacked productivity in recent years. With new head coach Peter DeBoer at the helm, the team’s goal total rose from that of a season ago, but still remained in the lower half of the league. David Booth has been a bright spot up front, registering his first 30-goal season in 2008-09. There were also the welcome additions of Michael Frolik, who made his rookie debut, and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Cory Stillman. The young Frolik got off to a slow start, however, and Stillman was among the long list of Panthers to miss significant time with an injury. Once again, offense will be an area the Panthers might like to address.
At this time last year, the top three prospects in the Panthers system were all forwards. Currently, they possess a favorable blend of players at different positions. There is loads of promise in goal with Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom. The 19-year-old has performed commendably in the SEL, and represented his home country in the WJCs, helping to lead them to a silver medal. He is entering the final year of his present contract with Brynas. Also working their way into the fold behind Markstrom is the NCAA tandem of Marc Cheverie and Brian Foster. Each performed swimmingly taking on full-time starting duty for Denver University and the University of New Hampshire, respectively.
Half of the Panthers’ current top 10 listing is comprised of defensemen, from Keaton Ellerby at the four spot, to Adam Comrie at the 10th. Not far behind is Matt Bartkowski, a seventh-round selection last year, after making a splash for Ohio State University as a freshman. Ellerby, last year’s free agent acquisition Jason Garrison, and Michael Caruso all already made their entry into the pros, playing out their rookie campaigns in 2008-09. They have developed well thus far.
And finally, at forward, Shawn Matthias and Michal Repik both went pro in 2008-09 with the Rochester Americans. It was a tumultuous season for the Amerks, from which few players, including Matthias, escaped from unscathed. Repik adjusted well, however, hinting at his talent and potential. Matthias indeed struggled, but remains at the top of the Panthers prospect list, and is far from a lost cause.
No longer are the Panthers lacking their bluechip goaltending prospect, after Markstrom fell into their hands early in the second round last year. Still, as has been true for a number of years, scoring forwards have been absent from the Panthers’ organizational depth chart. Opting for power instead of skill has paid few dividends — Nathan Horton in 2003 being the lone exception. The 2007 Entry Draft marked a change of course in the team’s approach, snatching gifted Europeans Michal Repik in round two, and Evgeni Dadonov in round three. Both players measure less than six feet tall. Similarly, all of the forward depth has been skewed to the right side and center, the most noteworthy left wing being Kenndal McArdle, who is settled in the lowermost quarter of the top 20 list.
The departure of Jacques Martin, general manager of three seasons, to the Montreal Canadiens casts a degree of uncertainty on the Florida franchise. Any drafting patterns in past years could be moot, but then again Florida needs to work off the list its scouts made all year long.
Presumably, any chance to attain an offensively adept forward would be seized upon, considering the NHL squad has been lacking in this area in recent years. But building depth and replenishing talent will be the ultimate priority whomsoever is calling the shots, with a handful of prospects entering or nearing entry to the NHL. The Panthers already have a solid foundation of talent at each position. They can certainly afford to pursue the best player available, free of any gaping holes in their organizational ranks.
Whether Bouwmeester flies the coop as a free agent or not, the Panthers may look to continue bolstering their blueline corps by picking the Illinois native. Moore is a defenseman who is regarded for his exceptional skating. He also has good size as an 18-year-old at 6’2 180 lbs, and can hold his own on the offense. If Florida does indeed decide to take a defenseman, another alternative may be to gamble on the undersized power=play specialist Ryan Ellis. Ellis is coming off of an impressive performance in the Memorial Cup, as a member of the champion Windsor Spitfires.