Florida Panthers boast strong center depth at collegiate level

By Alessandro Seren Rosso
Photo: Nick Bjugstad has the tools to one day develop into a top-line center for the Florida Panthers. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Florida Panthers have been pretty busy drafting from the NCAA over the past few seasons and they currently own the rights to ten college players. The franchise has been less active on the European front, even if they now feature in their lineup players like Evgeni Dadonov and Dmitry Kulikov. There are currently four Panthers’ prospects playing in Europe.


NCAA

Nick Bjugstad, C, 18
Acquired: 1st round, 19th overall, 2010


The 2010 Panthers’ first round pick enjoyed a good freshman season in the University of Minnesota. The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey was a project pick though and the competition he faced wasn’t the toughest at the high school level. One year after he consolidated his status also thanks to a good WJC campaign, where he helped Team USA to grab a bronze medal, and he also scored an OT game-winner, during the round robin game against Team Finland.

The nephew of the former NHLer Scott Bjugstad is a key player in the Florida prospect pool and surely the franchise’s management see him as a future first liner center. Bjugstad’s sophomore season will be important to fully understand his true potential and likelihood of getting a successful career in the NHL.

Drew Shore, C, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 44th overall, 2009

Drew Shore is among the most improved players within the Panthers organization as he became the top line center for the University of Denver and become one of the top scorers on the team too. Shore has all it takes to become a solid two-way forward at the NHL level and during the 2010-11 campaign he also showed some welcome offensive production, being able to become a point per game player at the NCAA level as sophomore. He just got WCHA Second All-Star Team honors.

Shore enjoyed some success on the international stage, winning a gold medal at the 2009 U18 WJC and skating in the latest WJC, where he played with Panthers’ Bjugstad to the bronze medal. Recently he stated that he’s going to spend in Denver next season as well. A further year of development, as well as his bag of skills and face-off abilities, will help him in having a better chance to crack in the Panthers’ lineup next season.


Connor Brickley, C, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 50th overall, 2010

With Connor Brickley, the Florida Panthers have yet another center trying to rise up the team’s depth chart. Brickley, the nephew of former NHL player Andy Brickley, is a two-way center with good physical play and some knack for the more defensive roles. After a rather productive season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, where he got USHL All-Star team honors, the second round pick decided to commit to the University of Vermont, where he just finished playing his freshman campaign.

On the international stage, Brickley won the Gold Medal at the 2010 U18 WJC with team USA. His hockey family is most likely ready to support him on the path toward his NHL career, but he needs to improve in several areas of his game before getting a realistic chance.

Joe Basaraba, RW, 18
Acquired: 3rd round, 69th overall, 2010

The Canadian forward has just had a successful freshmen season as his team, Minnesota-Duluth, just won the National Championship. His first season in the NCAA wasn’t that productive (five points through 36 games), but Basaraba is just 18 and thus has plenty of time in front of him to further develop his skills. The big winger, native of Ontario, is still at this time a long shot for the NHL, but his hard shot and physical presence give him the foundation to potentially develop into a solid checking winger.

Sam Brittain, G, 18
Acquired: 4th round, 92nd overall, 2010

After collecting some awards during his junior career in the AMHL and spending a season in the AJHL, Brittain opted for the college route as he joined Drew Shore at the University of Denver. Brittain’s first season was very good as he got an inclusion in the WCHA All-Rookie Team. The large goalie however has still plenty of work to do for the future, even if right now he looks like a very solid pick for a fourth rounder. He will need to repeat this year’s success next year to get a realistic chance to be considered one of the franchise’s top prospects.


Corban Knight, C, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 135th overall, 2009

The late 1990 born Corban Knight had a very good sophomore season for the University of North Dakota, posting 44 points in 44 games, with 30 assists. Knight is one of the many two-way players within the organization. His package of skills includes excellent skating abilities and very good offensive skills. His playmaking abilities also are a good asset. Knight is a very solid pick for a fifth round, but he needs to develop physically. He has NHL potential.

Derrick Lapoint, D, 22
Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall, 2006

Lapoint is a good puck-moving defenseman who has been named to the WCHA All-Academy Team for three straight seasons. The 22-year-old blueliner might have some hard time in cracking the Panthers lineup as the franchise features many young and reliable defensive players, like Keaton Ellerby and Dmitri Kulikov. One year in the AHL might do very well for the 2006 selection.


John Lee, D, 22
Acquired: 5th round, 131st overall, 2007

John Lee is another Panthers’ prospect playing for the University of Denver. He is a good defensive player who can hit and block shots, as well as getting on the score sheet from time to time. He can develop into an NHL blueliner, but he needs some seasoning before getting a good chance. Like for Lapoint, one year in the AHL will help his development.


Wade Megan, C, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2009

During the latest two NHL drafts, the Panthers did their best in order to secure a good amount of centers and Megan is yet another one. The 20-year-old didn’t progress much production-wise from last year as his surname was present in the score sheets only thirteen times, opposed to last year’s twelve. At this stage of development, the power forward is a long shot for the Panthers organization.

Ryan Watson, LW, 23
Acquired: 7th round, 191st overall, 2007

Ryan Watson is still a project pick and considering his age most likely he will never be an NHL player. This year Watson scored a career-high of 14 points, and this might qualify him for a career in the minor leagues or in Europe.


Europe

Joonas Donskoi, RW, 18
Acquired: 4th round, 99th overall, 2010

Donskoi has showed many steps forward during this year as he played a rather important role in the Finnish Elite League with his Karpat Oulu. In 52 regular season games, Donskoi scored sixteen goals and 27 points. The right-handed winger is an intelligent player who can either score or give an assist and is known to make people around him look better. He looks like a very, very solid pick for a fourth round and has all the tools to become a top six player, especially if he manages to add some strength and meat. He signed a one-year extension with Karpat in January so he might cross the pond in the summer of 2012.


Roman Derlyuk, D, 24
Acquired: 6th round, 164th overall, 2005

Many Panthers fans most likely didn’t even remember about this 2005 selection, but Roman Derlyuk made many step forwards in the latest couple of seasons and there are many rumors in Russia that the Panthers are going to offer him a contract this summer. In any case Derlyuk has been an important player in the KHL runners-up squad last year (and had a fight with Sergei Fedorov) and this year he moved with the rest of the team to Dynamo Moscow after the two franchises merged last summer. During the 2010-11 campaign Derlyuk scored fourteen points in 44 games, still a decent production for a defensive defenseman. The large-sized blueliner also skated with Team Russia during the preparation stages for the WC, but has been cut before the tournament. It’s still unclear where he will spend next season as his contract is set to run out in late April 2011.


Sergei Gayduchenko, G, 21
Acquired: 7th round, 202nd overall, 2007

The large goalkeeper from Kiev is another player who has progressed a lot during the latest couple of years. Gaiduchenko moved from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to CSKA Moscow this summer and the transfer gave him a chance to play a little bit more then in his old team. However, his stats weren’t great as CSKA was one of the worst franchises of the season. In 23 games he had a 2.90 goals against average and a .893 saves percentage. Gaiduchenko is under contract with the Red Army for another year, then he might be interested in joining the Panthers organization, at least on a try-out basis. He’s still a long shot, but his size and athleticism would be a good starting point for his career in the more demanding North American environment.