Jacob Markstrom tops a deep Florida Panthers prospect pool

By Mike Burrell
Photo: Top prospect for the Florida Panthers, Jacob Markstrom. (Photo Courtesy of www.eliteprospects.com)

Jacob Markstrom tops an impressive list of prospects for the Florida Panthers. Among the new faces to the top of the prospect pool are first round picks Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, and Quinton Howden, as well as off-season trade acquisition Michael Grabner. Between the draft and off-season trades, the Panthers added 14 prospects to their pool, making it one of the deepest in the NHL.

1. (1) Jacob Markstrom, (8.5 C)
2. (NR) Erik Gudbranson, (8.0 B)
3. (NR) Nick Bjugstad, (7.5 C)
4. (NR) Michael Grabner, (7.5 B)
5. (3) Keaton Ellerby, (7.0 C)
6. (7) Colby Robak, (7.0 C)
7. (4) Michal Repik, (7 C)
8. (5) Alexander Salak, (6.5 B)
9. (NR) Quinton Howden, (7.0 C)
10. (NR) John McFarland, (7.0 C)
11. (NR) Alexander Petrovic, (7.0 C)
12. (10) Evgeni Dadonov, (7.0 C)
13. (9) Jason Garrison, (6.5 B)
14. (18) A.J. Jenks, (7.0 C)
15. (8) Drew Shore, (7.0 C)
16. (11) Josh Birkholz, (7.0 C)
17. (15) Marc Cheverie, (7.0 D)
18. (17) Garrett Wilson, (6.5 C)
19. (NR) Connor Brickley, (6.5 C)
20. (14) Adam Comrie, (6.5 C)

1. (1) Jacob Markstrom, G, 21
Acquired 2nd round, 31st overall, 2008

Some would argue Jacob Markstrom is the most highly touted goaltending prospect in the world. He certainly has the potential to become an elite goalie at the NHL level.

Markstrom is big, tall and plays a butterfly style. He has poise, good positioning and a fine glove hand. He still needs a fair amount of work on his rebound control though.

A big part of what makes Markstrom so special is his ability to carry his team on his shoulders. He grabbed the starting role for Brynas of the SEL during the 2007-08 season and has been phenomenal since. He is the main reason that his team has exceeded expectations the past few years. This year, Markstrom had a save percentage of .927 and a GAA of 2.01, good enough to lead the league in both categories.

Markstrom let the Panthers know at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft that he intended to fulfill his contract with the SEL. Now that he has, he will certainly be the starter for the Panthers’ farm team next season.

2. (NR) Erik Gudbranson, D, 18
Acquired 1st round, 3rd overall, 2010

Gudbranson was the Panthers’ first pick of the 2010 NHL Entry draft and was selected 3rd overall.

He has drawn comparisons to Chris Pronger, although he isn’t expected to ever be as dominant. He does, however, have the potential to be a very physical, mean stay-at-home defenseman. He may have some untapped offensive potential too, particularly if he can develop his shot from the point.

Although anything’s possible, it’s unlikely that Gudbrandson will make the jump to playing pro next season. Instead he’ll go back to the OHL and play for the Kingston Frontenacs.

3. (NR) Nick Bjugstad, F, 18
Acquired 1st round, 19th overall, 2010

Bjugstad, Florida’s second selection in the first round of this summer’s draft, is the Panthers’ top forward prospect. He played high school hockey this past season, scoring 29 goals and 31 assists in just 25 games.

At 6’5, 188 pounds, Bjugstad projects to be a top-six forward with size, skill and a hard shot. He works hard on the ice and could potentially develop into a power forward.

Bjugstad began taking college courses this year so that he could begin playing for the University of Minnesota this fall instead of having to wait another season.

4. (NR) Michael Grabner, W, 22
Acquired along with forward Steve Bernier and a 2010 first-round draft pick, in a trade with Vancouver, 2010

Grabner has already shown flashes of what he can do at the NHL level. Last year he played in 20 games for the Vancouver Canucks, scoring 11 points and notching his first career hat-trick. He’ll see a lot more ice-time this upcoming season and could see his point production improve as the Panthers will rely on him to add some much-needed offense.

Grabner uses his explosive speed to create opportunities. He has strong stick-handling abilities and an accurate shot. He does have work to do defensively though. He also has trouble winning battles in the corners.

5. (3) Keaton Ellerby, D, 22
Acquired 1st round, 10th overall, 2007

Shutdown defenseman tend to take longer to develop and although Ellerby has not done anything to grab anyone’s attention as of late, he still has the potential to turn into a very good player.

Ellerby is a strong skater with a big a body who makes smart decisions with the puck. He has shown some offensive skills as well while playing for the Amerks in the AHL. Last season he had a hat-trick for them as well as a four-point game.

Ellerby began last season in Rochester and was called up to the Panthers in March. He’ll likely begin the 2010-11 season with the big club.

6. (7) Colby Robak, D, 20
Acquired 2nd Round, 46th Overall, 2008

Robak had a surprisingly good 2008-09 season after being drafted in 2008. This past season, his fourth with the Brandon Wheat Kings, was even better. He had 16 goals and 66 points in 71 games during the regular season. In the playoffs he had 3 goals and 12 points in 15 games. He also had the opportunity to play for the Memorial Cup, although his team, which hosted the event, lost in overtime to the Windsor Spitfires.

Robak is a very mobile, talented and smart defenseman. He plays with poise, sees the ice well and makes crisp passes.

7. (4) Michal Repik, F, 21
Acquired 2nd round, 40th overall, 2007

Repik had a slightly better season than last year. He scored 53 points in 60 games, a four-point improvement in 15 fewer games. He had trouble producing when called up to the Panthers, putting up only three goals and two assists in 19 games.

Repik is a strong, quick skater and moves well laterally. He’s also confident with the puck and has a nose for the net.

8. (5) Alexander Salak, G, 23
Acquired through free Agency (2009)

Salak signed an entry-level contract with the panthers last off-season. He surprised everyone though with his strong play and earned himself the starting role for much of the season in Rochester. In the months of October and November, Salak won 13 of the 15 games he played. He also finished the season with a .910 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average.

Salak is a quick, athletic goaltender who plays an aggressive style.

It looks as though Salak will have to battle Markstrom for ice-time with Florida’s farm team.

9. (NR) Quinton Howden, F, 18
Acquired 1st round, 25th overall, 2010

In 2007, Howden was the first overall selection in the WHL Bantam Draft. This year, he was Florida’s last pick in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. He’s a two-way player with some offensive potential. More importantly though, Howden will kill penalties and fill a defensive role.

At best Howden may one day become a second-liner but more likely he’ll become a very good third liner who can contribute on both special teams. He scored 28 goals and 65 points in 65 games this season for Moose Jaw in the WHL.

10. (NR) John McFarland, F, 18
Acquired 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2010

There was a time when OHL forward John McFarland was believed to be a future top five pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he has produced less than expected and there have been questions about his attitude.

Although he only scored 50 points in 64 games, McFarland worked this year on playing a more complete game. His coach, Mike Foligno, praised him for working hard to become a two-way player.

McFarland has what it takes to be a very good, tough, top-six forward if he can work on becoming the offensive threat that most believe he can be.

11. (NR) Alexander Petrovic, D, 18
Acquired 2nd round, 36th overall, 2010

Unfortunately for Petrovic, the thing most people will remember of him this season is when he fought Dylan McIIrath (NYR) during the CHL prospects game. Petrovic came out on the losing end and hasn’t been quite the same since.

That said, Petrovic should be able to regain his confidence with time. At 6’4 and 193 pounds, he’s a physical, stay-at-home defenseman. He’s only 18, but he has already grown into his large frame. Petrovic plays the game with an edge but can also log big minutes, making him a very valuable player. In 57 games with the Red Deer Rebels, Petrovic posted 8 goals, 27 assists, and 87 penalty minutes.

Expect him to return to the WHL for one more, if not two more seasons.

12. (10) Evgeni Dadonov, F, 21
Acquired 3rd Round, 71st Overall, 2007

Dadonov is a very intriguing prospect. He came overseas this past season for his first season in North America after playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. On the one hand he scored less than some may have hoped for, posting 17 goals and 40 points through 76 games, but on the other hand he was better defensively than most expected.

Dadonov is small but makes up for it with skill. He also isn’t afraid to go into the corners or battle for the puck. While the knock on him used to be his defensive play, he appears to be developing a more complete game.

13. (9) Jason Garrison, D, 25
Acquired through free agency, 2008

The 25-year old Garrison won’t be considered a prospect for much longer. He proved last year though that he can be a serviceable defenseman for the organization.

Garrison bounced around between the AHL and NHL last year, playing half the season in each league. He’s a mobile defenseman who’s comfortable carrying the puck. He has strong offensive awareness and puts up points on a consistent basis. The downside to his game is his lack of physicality.

Expect Garrison to challenge for a spot with the Panthers this season.

14. (18) A.J. Jenks, C, 20
Acquired 4th round, 100th overall, 2008

Jenks, captain of the Plymouth Whalers, quietly had a very good season in the OHL. He scored 23 goals and 63 points in 52 games. He was also voted the most underrated player in the league and best face-off man in the league by OHL coaches.

Jenks plays a solid two-way, power forward game with intensity and physicality. He’ll play for the Panthers’ farm team next season.

15. (8) Drew Shore, C, 19
Acquired 2nd round, 44th overall, 2009

Shore had disappointing start to his NCAA career. He scored only 5 goals and 19 points in 41 games while playing mostly in a third-line situation.

The 19-year old still has offensive potential and the ability to be a strong two-way player but he has a lot of work to do. He has been criticized for being a non-factor far too frequently, often disappearing for stretches of time.

16. (11) Josh Birkholz, F, 19
Acquired 3rd round, 67th overall, 2009

Birkkholz will join the Everett Silvertips this upcoming season after leaving the University of Minnesota. He announced his decision to leave the NCAA while facing a suspension for violating Minnesota’s team rules. There are rumors that he failed multiple drug tests. Birkholz insists that he made the decision to go to Everett regardless of t
he suspension.

Birkholz has size, speed and skill. He’s hard on the forecheck, battles hard, plays well at both ends of the night and has the ability to score goals.

17. (15) Marc Cheverie, G, 23
Acquired 7th round, 193rd overall, 2006

The Panthers clearly have a ton of depth at the goaltending position because Cheverie is another prospect who could very well play in the NHL one day.

Cheverie had another very strong season, statistically even better than the season before. He posted a save percentage of .932 and a goals against average of 2.08 playing for the University of Denver. He also won 24 of 35 games. He’s a quick, athletic goalie with very good reflexes, especially considering how tall he is. He also likes to come out and aggressively challenge the opposition.

Unless a trade occurs, Cheverie may find himself starting the season in the ECHL simply because he’ll have to compete with Markstrom and Salak for playing time.

18. (17) Garrett Wilson, F, 19
Acquired: 4th round, 107 overall, 2009

Wilson, a gritty two-way player, made a major jump in 2009-10 from the season before. He went from scoring 35 points in 52 games in 2008-09 to scoring 36 goals and 61 points in 65 games, showing an offensive side to his game not seen before.

Wilson is known more for his defensive awareness though. He was rated the hardest worker in the OHL by the league’s coaches. He’ll return to Owen Sound next season.

19. (NR) Connor Brickley, F, 18

Acquired 2nd round, 50th overall, 2010

Brickley, one of Florida’s new 2010 draftees, is another good two-way player. He led his team, Des Moines of the USHL, with 22 goals. He also scored 21 assists for 43 points in 51 games.

He plays a gritty game and is strong on the forecheck. Although he still needs a lot of development, Brickley looks like a future bottom-six forward at the NHL level.

Brickley will attend the University of Vermont for the upcoming season.

20. (14) Adam Comrie, D, 20
Acquired 3rd round, 80th overall, 2008

Comrie is another mobile defenseman. He’s a bit of a long-term project, as the defensive side to his game isn’t quite there yet, but offensively he has a fair amount of potential. He saw an increase in production this season, scoring 14 goals and 40 points in 68 games for the Guelph Storm of the OHL. Comrie can also play a feisty and physical game.

The defenseman projects to be a middle-pairing defenseman with offensive ability, similar to Bryan McCabe.