Florida Panthers sitting on stockpile of NCAA prospects

By David Hahn
Photo: Michael Downing had 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 36 games in his sophomore season with the University of Michigan . (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Photo: Michael Downing had 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 36 games in his sophomore season with the University of Michigan . (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

 

 

The Florida Panthers are loaded with collegiate prospects, with ten that finished this season in a collegiate program. Florida has long been considered a patient organization, one that allows their prospects to develop at their own pace, something the NCAA offers. This season, a few special talents rose above the rest—including a dynamic Hobey Baker Award nominee.

A trio of Panthers prospects in Europe had varying degrees of success. They haven’t taken the major steps ahead that some of their collegiate counterparts have, yet are still noteworthy considering their intangible qualities.

NCAA

Ron Boyd, D, Michigan State University (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 183rd overall, 2010

Ron (R.J.) Boyd recently finished his collegiate career at Michigan State, a long journey for a player who is capable in his own end. As a Florida native, Boyd journeyed through the famed Cushing Academy, a testament to what scouts saw in him before his collegiate career. Certainly not a flashy or overly offensive player, Boyd excels on the penalty kill and making simple, effective outlet passes on the rush.

Boyd was not immediately signed by the Panthers at the conclusion of the season, and his status moving forward is questionable. He joined the South Carolina Stingrays at the end of the year, and did not register a point in three games.

Evan Cowley, G, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2013

There was a lot of fight in Cowley’s game this season in Denver, where the sophomore goalie had to fend off freshman challenger Tanner Jaillet for playing time. Still, he appeared in 20 games, posting a 2.16 goals-against average with a .924 save percentage—finishing the year with three shutouts and a 9-6-2 record.

Standing at 6’4, 185 pounds and demonstrating effective lateral movement, Cowley outperformed Jaillet, yet still played in seven less games. He will need to take a step forward in order to show the Denver coaching staff that he is capable of minutes reserved for a starting goaltender. There is a bit of a risk here, as Cowley’s development might take a hit if he takes a backseat next season.

Michael Downing, D, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2013

As a teammate of Zach Hyman’s at Michigan, Downing has been an underrated contributor for the Wolverines. Downing is quickly rising up the Panthers prospects chart thanks to a steady, consistent game. This season, he scored six times and assisted on 16 others, while choosing his opportunities to jump into the rush effectively.

The former USHL Clark Cup Champion will be a big part of Michigan’s resurgence moving forward, as he just completed his sophomore season. As an All-Rookie team member last year, his ceiling continues to rise and he could potentially become one of the highest scoring NCAA defenseman as soon as next year.

Ben Gallacher, D, University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2010

With three other players hailing from Calgary on the roster, Ben Gallacher’s unique route to UMass was a circuitous one. The former Ohio State defenseman left the Buckeyes following the 2011-12 season, then spent a year with Green Bay in the USHL before signing on with the Minutemen.

Gallacher is a gritty, combative defenseman who often goes over the line in the heat of competition. He is difficult to play against, yet features a slowly-evolving offensive game. He is eligible to return for a senior season with UMass, but considering the routes he has previously chosen, nothing is off the table.

Zach Hyman, C, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2010

Over his first 114 collegiate games, Zach Hyman produced a grand total of 35 points. Then, perhaps a product of being stronger and wiser in his senior season, Hyman exploded for a 22 goal, 32 assist season. Those point totals resulted in the capable, two-way winger being named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, strong company for a player who was previously an afterthought.

Hyman was the recipient of numerous awards this season. He was named a Big Ten All-Star, an NCAA All-American, and was a finalist for the 11th Annual Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup, a prestigious award given to an athlete who was an outstanding role model. Hyman has yet to officially sign with Florida, and may decide to test free-agency like fellow collegiate standout and Columbus prospect Mike Reilly.

Mike Matheson, D, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted 1st round, 23rd overall, 2012

The first of two Boston College defenseman in the Panthers system, Matheson has been an offensive juggernaut, often taking games over thanks to his pure skating ability and offensive instincts. The Boston College captain finished his third consecutive season with at least 20 points, a testament to his puck-moving abilities.

Matheson signed his entry-level contract with Florida following the conclusion of his junior season with the Eagles. He reported to San Antonio of the AHL on an amateur try-out and got his feet wet, picking up a pair of assists in five games.

Ian McCoshen, D, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2013

As a high second round pick, expectations have been high for Boston College defenseman Ian McCoshen. The offensive game is slowly coming around, as he has gotten more icetime as a result. He logged plenty of minutes this season en route to scoring six times and assisting on 10 others.

McCoshen made the United States World Junior Team for the second year in a row, and again was underwhelming at the tournament. He finished without a point, and the U.S. was unable to factor into the medal discussion. McCoshen does have one of the hardest shots in Hockey East, but his occasional mistakes in his own zone may be preventing him from taking that next step in his development.

Kyle Rau, C/LW, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2011

One of the most consistent forwards to come out of the NCAA lately, Kyle Rau has been a point-per-game producer over the entire course of his four-year collegiate career. Four years in a row with at least 40 points is spectacular production, especially when you consider that Rau did that with different linemates through various stages of rebuild in Minnesota.

The former “Mr. Minnesota” captained the Gophers over the last two seasons, guiding them to the Big Ten Championship this year. He appeared in seven AHL games with San Antonio, picking up three points along the way. Rau is expected to compete for a spot with the Panthers next year, where it will be interesting to see how his production translates to the professional game.

Colin Stevens, G, Union College (ECAC)
Signed as a free agent, 2015

Wherever Colin Stevens has gone, success hasn’t been far behind. The owner of two ECAC Championships and an NCAA title, Stevens recently chose to sign with the Panthers after being courted as a free agent. The acquisition was for good reason, as Stevens is coming off a season where he went 16-15-0 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

Far from a raw product, Stevens is prepared for the professional game. He is a capable goaltender; always in control and rarely caught out of position. He is expected to begin next season in the AHL with San Antonio.

Ed Wittchow, D, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted 6th round, 154th overall, 2011

You won’t confuse Ed Wittchow with the Duncan Keiths and Erik Karlssons of the world, but the Wisconsin product did not register a point this season in 25 games. It’s not the most important part of player evaluation, especially for a guy like Wittchow who prides himself on his defensive game. He is known for his punishing physicality, sometimes going too far and getting himself suspended—which has happened three times over the course of his career.

Despite his limitations, Wittchow was steady for Wisconsin. He missed two months with a broken finger, but still put his body on the line for his teammates. As a result, Wittchow was named co-captain for the 2015-16 season.

Europe

Alexander Delnov, LW, Mamonty Yugry (MHL)
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2012

At the beginning of the season, Delnov returned to Russia instead of signing with the Panthers, disappointing those who hoped he would stay in North America. Delnov starred previously for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, but opted to return home to play in Russia’s top-tier junior league.

He was among the MHL’s leading scorers, putting home 15 goals and assisting on 33 others in 42 regular season games. He was especially strong in the playoffs, adding another 13 points in 9 games. Following the season, Delnov signed a two-year contract with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk of the KHL—bad news for Panthers fans.

Hugo Fagerblom, G, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
Drafted 7th round, 182nd overall, 2014

Standing at 6’6, 207 pounds, Fagerblom has come up through the Frolunda system and has steadily been challenged along the way. Fagerblom guided his team to the J20 SM Finals, where they fell just short. Despite the setback, he finished with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .937 save-percentage in the playoffs.

Fagerblom was loaned out in the middle of the season for a brief spell with a Swedish Tier-3 team, a surprising move perhaps facilitated due to lack of playing time. He did dress on a couple occasions for Frolunda’s senior team in the SHL, but did not make an appearance. The lanky goaltender is expected to challenge for the starting position as soon as next season.

Yaroslav Kosov, RW, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2011

Among the Panthers’ European prospects, the lack of development from Kosov has to be concerning. Over the last four seasons, Kosov has yet to surpass 10 points in a single year, despite consistent playing time. He helped guide Metallurg to a Gagarin Cup last season, playing an effective bottom-six game, but the offense just isn’t there.

Kosov is a capable skater, but his game may be better suited for the North American game, considering that he finishes his checks well and plays with a bit of an edge. He does have scoring pedigree, but if he doesn’t get out of the KHL soon, the well may be dry by the time the Panthers want him to come over.