Emphasis on drafting NCAA talent has dwindled Florida Panthers CHL prospect pool

By Brian Fogarty
Juho Lammikko - Florida Panthers

Photo: Finnish forward Juho Lammikko is in his first season of North American hockey, playing for the Kingston Frontenacs. Lammikko was picked in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

Under general manager Dale Tallon, the Florida Panthers have been among the foremost practitioners of drafting college-bound players and thereby gaining an extra two years of development before having to make decisions on their futures. As such, the number of Florida’s prospects playing junior hockey is relatively limited. In fact, the team currently has only four players in the Canadian major junior leagues, and two more playing in the USHL before they too go off to college.

WHL

Jayce Hawryluk, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 2nd round (32nd overall), 2014

Hawryluk shot out of the gate this fall, scoring five points in his first two games after being returned to the Wheat Kings from an extended stay at the Panthers preseason training camp. Through 26 games, Hawryluk has scored 13 goals and added 21 assists for Brandon. Hawryluk was also named to the WHL’s team for the Subway Super Series, where he tallied an assist in two games against the Russian national junior team. Although not the tallest player at 5’10, Hawryluk packs a ton of strength, speed, and agility into his 196-pound frame, and he is a fearless attacker on the ice. Panthers staff have made it clear in the past that they see Hawryluk as an NHL player in the near future, and it would not be at all surprising to see him signed to a professional contract before the end of the season. Hawryluk should be strong candidate for Team Canada’s junior team for the upcoming world championships.

OHL

Juho Lammikko, LW, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 3rd round (65th overall), 2014

Lammikko has an enticing combination of size and vision, and he has the stick-handling ability to get the most out of both of those attributes. Lammikko has been getting a lot of ice time with the Frontenacs top scorers, and although his points total so far has been mildly disappointing with just 18 points in 24 games, the Finnish winger looks to be adjusting nicely to North American play. In his last 12 games, Lammikko has notched 11 points, and his play at both ends of the ice has been solid if not spectacular. He will be an interesting player to track over the remainder of the season, especially since he should earn a spot on Finland’s World Juniors team for the holiday tournament.

Joshua Brown, D, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 6th round (152nd overall), 2013

Brown returned to Oshawa this year after taking part in both Florida’s and San Antonio’s training camps. The two-time captain for the Generals is a big (6’4, 215 pounds), stay-at-home defenseman who works extremely hard on the ice. The overager plays hard in his own zone and is used primarily against the opponents’ biggest and best players, but he lacks offensive skills and will never be considered a scorer at any level. In his 17 games played this season, Brown has a single goal and three assists. Despite those low point totals, he has a solid plus/minus rating at plus-eight, especially considering the quality of competition he goes up against each game.

QMJHL

Christopher Clapperton, LW, Rimouski Oceanic
Acquired: 5th round (122nd overall), 2013

After leading the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in scoring last year, Clapperton was traded to Rimouski for his overage season but has given the Oceanic mixed results so far. Clapperton’s shortcomings have been well-stated through his career: an undersized winger with heavy feet who despite his strong and accurate shot could struggle to make his way through the higher professional leagues. However, his ability to put the puck in the net and make things happen in the offensive zone is something every team needs, and so he has always been interesting to monitor.

Unfortunately, when Clapperton’s shots are not finding their mark, his value becomes limited, and he has been having a hard time consistently scoring this season. His total production is similar to last year’s, with 15 goals and 15 assists through 25 games. His production has been very inconsistent however, as he has gone on several cold streaks, including a nine-game goalless streak through October.

USHL

Miguel Fidler, LW, Lincoln Stars
Acquired: 5th round (143rd overall), 2014

Fidler is playing out a year in the USHL in preparation for his move to Ohio State next year. He is winger who plays on the edge with some moderate scoring ability, but is known more for his agitating style of play. He is not the kind of player who makes his team better, but he can certainly be a player that makes the other team a bit worse.

Joe Wegwerth, RW, Green Bay Gamblers
Acquired: 4th round (92nd overall), 2014

Like Fidler, Wegwerth is also a recent Panthers draft pick playing another year of USHL hockey before moving on to the collegiate game (he is slated to play for Notre Dame next year). Wegwerth is a huge, punishing shutdown player on the right side. Having several years of development at Notre Dame should help set Wegerth up for a potential professional career as a defensive forward at the AHL level, or possibly the NHL if everything falls into place.

Florida Panthers Top Performing Non-Junior Prospect: October

One of the more interesting prospect stories so far this year has been the journey of Rocco Grimaldi. Playing in his first professional season after leaving the University of North Dakota, Grimaldi dazzled fans in Florida’s training camp, then-after being sent down to the AHL to start the year-scored three goals in his first eight professional games. Since then, Grimaldi has been called up to the NHL twice to fill in for injured forwards, and although it took him a few games to get his name on the scoresheet, he scored his first NHL goal in dramatic fashion, helping to lead the Panthers in a come-from-behind effort against Nashville. Grimaldi also achieved a hockey rarity: playing for San Antonio in the afternoon, then getting a call to the NHL and playing that same night for the Panthers. Grimaldi’s speed and ceaseless energy make him an exciting player to watch every time he is on the ice.

Vince Trocheck¬†also made the trip from San Antonio to south Florida, and there he has scored 11 points in just 14 games while playing a responsible role all over the ice. His quickness gets him to the spots that his hockey sense dictates, and he always seems to be in the right place on the ice. Despite having played in only about half of Florida’s game this season, Trocheck is top-ten on the team in scoring.

Florida Panthers Prospect of the Month: October

There can be no doubt that the system’s top prospect performance so far this season belongs to Aaron Ekblad. Last summer’s first-overall Aaron Ekblad - Florida Panthers Prospect of the Month, October, 2014draft pick has been a tremendous player for the Panthers, logging around 22 minutes of ice time each game and playing at a level few could have guessed at before the season started. Yes, there were high expectations for one of the handful of former OHL age-exempted players, but Ekblad’s awareness on the ice, absolute refusal to panic, and his surprising level of offensive jump has him right at the top of the early-season Calder Trophy candidates. The most amazing thing about his play so far this year is that Ekblad seems to be getting better with each game, doing the little things right and making adjustments to his game that veteran defensemen struggle to make. He is a superstar in the making.