Erik Gudbranson highlights large contingent of Florida Panthers junior prospects

By Mike Burrell
Photo: Since being picked third overall in the 2010 draft, Erik Gudbranson has been one of the more hotly discussed defensive prospects in the OHL. (Photo Courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)

The Florida Panthers have nine prospects playing at the junior level, all of which are playing in Canada. Four of them are playing in the OHL, three are in the WHL, Benjamin Gallacher is playing in the AJHL and Zachary Hyman is in the OJHL. Seven of the Panthers’ junior prospects come from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and three of them were taken in the first round.

OHL

Erik Gudbranson, D, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 1st Round (3rd Overall) in 2010
January, 1992, Ht: 6’3, Wt: 195 lbs.

Gudbranson nearly made the NHL this season after being drafted third overall in the summer. He was good enough in preseason to earn a spot on opening night but the Panthers were unable to reach a deal on a contract with him and so he was sent back to Kingston to play for the Frontenacs.

With three goals and eight assists in 20 games, some people might be expecting Gudbranson to produce more offensively in his third year playing in the OHL. That’s never been his game though and while there might be some untapped offensive potential in him, he’s continuing to grow into a shutdown defenseman. Interestingly, Gudbranson has been racking up a lot more penalty minutes this season. Last year he had 68 in 41 games. So far, he already has 46 penalty minutes in just 20 games. Part of his increase in penalty minutes is due to a seeming greater willingness to drop the gloves. He had six fights all of last season in the OHL while has already dropped the gloves four times this season.

Gudbranson was named to Team OHL of the Subway Super Series and made assistant captain.

Garrett Wilson, LW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 4th Round (107th Overall) in 2009
March 16, 1992, Ht: 6’2, Wt: 199 lbs.

Wilson, in his fourth year of playing the OHL, has dramatically improved his overall game. He has been producing at a high pace, leading the Owen Sound Attack with 19 goals and 39 points in 24 games. He is a gritty two-way player known for playing well in all three zones.

Wilson was named the fourth OHL player of the week on Oct. 19th. He had led Owen Sound to three straight victories, scoring seven goals including a hat trick and two shorthanded goals. He was name first star in all three games. He went on to be named the league’s October player of the month. He had 14 goals and 24 assists in 12 games during the month of October.

He is currentlyin the top-five in goals and points in the OHL and leads the league with a plus-24 rating.

Wilson was also named an assistant captain for Team OHL of the Subway Super Series.

John McFarland, C, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: 2nd Round (33rd Overall) in 2010
April 2nd, 1992, Ht: 6’0, Wt: 192 lbs.

Although McFarland is playing for a weak team in Sudbury, each year it’s expected that his offensive numbers will improve and that hasn’t happened yet. He’s currently in his third season in the OHL. Last year he had 20 goals and 50 points in 64 games and he looks about on pace to put up the same numbers.

McFarland was praised last season for improving his defensive play and becoming a much more responsible player. So far this season, he has looked even stronger on the defensive end of the puck.

Although becoming a more well-rounded player gives him a better chance at sticking in the pros, at some point he’ll need to put the offensive skills everyone knows he has to use and start producing bigger numbers if he wants to develop into a top-six player at the NHL level.

McFarland missed a few weeks this season with an ankle injury.

Corey Durocher, LW, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 6th Round (153rd Overall) in 2010
May 30th, 1992, Ht: 6’2, Wt: 173 lbs.

Durocher plays alongside fellow Panthers prospect Gudbranson in Kingston. With five goals and 11 assists in 22 games, he is showing improvement from his rookie year. He has already matched the number of assists he had last season.

Durocher, drafted in the sixth round of the draft this past summer, is not expected to be a big prospect for the Panthers. What the organization hopes is that at 6’3 and 173 pounds he can become a late-blooming power forward with the ability to produce points, although it’s a long shot. He was also one of the younger players eligible for the draft, meaning he still has a fair amount of time to work on his development.

In order to become the power forward his large frame gives him the potential to be, Durocher will need to bulk up and get stronger, as well as hone his abilities to become a solid net-front presence.

WHL

Quinton Howden, LW, Moose Jaw Warriors
Acquired: 1st Round (25th Overall) in 2010
January 12th, 1992, Ht: 6’3, Wt: 183 lbs.

Howden, now playing in his fourth season with the Moose Jaw Warriors, is continuing to build on last season, in which he had 65 points in 65 games. So far, he has 15 goals and 30 points in 24 games this year.

The 18-year-old quietly plays a very good all-around game and probably goes underrated as far as prospects go. He’s a solid skater, is good on faceoffs, works hard and has the skill-set to produce consistently offensively. He projects to be a top six player in the NHL or, at worst, a third-line forward who can contribute offensively.

Howden was named to the Subway Super Series Team WHL, where he scored a goal.

Alexander Petrovic, D, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 2nd Round (36th Overall) in 2010
March 3rd, 1992, Ht: 6’4, Wt: 193 lbs.

Petrovic, known more for being a shutdown defenseman, is showing an improvement offensively this season. He has 22 points in 26 games, compared to 27 points in 57 games last year. During the month of October he had 11 points in 11 games.

The 18-year-old is in his fourth season with the Red Deer Rebels. He is a physically tough defenseman who is used to shutdown the opposition’s best players. He has a hard shot and a decent pass. Despite not being a strong skater, he moves the puck well. He also isn’t afraid to clear the net for his goalie.

He definitely has the potential to be a top four stay-at-home defenseman in the NHL. After
a tough end to the season last year, Petrovic has bounced back with strong play for Red Deer.

Petrovic was also named to Team WHL for the Subway Super Series.

Josh Birkholz RW, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 3rd Round (67th Overall) in 2009
March 28th, 1991, Ht: 6’1, Wt: 185 lbs.

Birkholz is a frustrating prospect. He has the build, skating ability and puck-handling to be a strong power forward and yet there is something missing.

Questions about his character arose last year when the University of Minnesota suspended Birkholz. The 19-year-old decided to leave and join the Everett Silvertips this year, although he claims he planned to leave regardless of the suspension.

Almost half of Birkholz’s 11 points accumulated in 26 games came from a single game in November in which he had a hat-trick and two assists. In most games this season though, he has completely disappeared. He was held pointless through eight straight games in October.

What makes Birkholz difficult to understand is that he has the tools to dominate games but can’t seem to get his act together.

OJHL

Zachary Hyman, RW, Hamilton Red Wings
Acquired: 5th Round (123rd Overall) in 2010
June 6th, 1992, Ht: 6’2, Wt: 195 lbs.

There is growing belief that Hyman could very well be the biggest steal of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft although it will be awhile before that can be truly determined. Hyman plays for the Hamilton Red Wings of the OJHL, making it impossible to accurately measure him against other players of his draft year. Hyman has scored at a two-and-a-half points per game pace, with 22 goals and 30 assists in 21 games.

Hyman, like the other Panthers prospects drafted in the summer, is a big body. His strong skating and athletic ability, good hockey sense and soft hands give him the tools necessary to take his game to the next level.

Again, because Hyman is playing at a lower tier, it’s difficult to get a good read on him and we likely won’t be able to get a better grasp on how good he is until next season when he begins playing at Princeton.

AJHL

Benjamin Gallacher, D, Camrose Kodiaks
Acquired: 4th Round (93rd Overall) in 2010
July 11th, 1992, Ht: 5’11, Wt: 183 lbs.

Like Hyman, Gallacher has being playing at a lower tier with aspirations of playing college hockey in the U.S. He has committed to Ohio State University.

Unlike the other Panthers prospects playing junior, Gallacher is a small defenseman. He plays a two-way game, knowing when to stay in position defensively and when to jump into the rush.

This is Gallacher’s third season with the Camrose Kodiaks. He has 22 points in 34 games. He tallied four points on Oct. 29, all of which were assists. Gallacher has also had two games where he has been served with 14 penalty minutes.