Florida Panthers own large and diverse group at CHL level

By HF Staff
Photo: Erik Gudbranson brings a combination of size, skill, and snarl to the Panthers organization. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Panthers restocked their junior ranks with eight picks from the 2010 draft that included the player chosen third overall, defenseman Erik Gudbranson. With the addition of three players taken in the 2009 draft and March’s free agent signing of Val-d’Or Foreurs’ Jonathan Hazen, the Panthers have twelve players in the junior ranks.

OHL

Erik Gubranson, D, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 1st round, 3rd overall, 2010


Erik Gudbranson, the big defenseman playing for the Kingston Frontenacs and the Panthers third overall pick in the 2010 draft, produced what could best be called a solid season. Gudbranson was sent back to Kingston from the Panthers training camp at the start of the season due more to contract difficulties rather than NHL readiness. The 6’4, 206-pound Gudbranson made the most of his return to the OHL. His drive and determination kept him active and hungry, and he took the opportunity to play a season with his younger brother Alex, and work on some aspects of his game that needed improvement. The results came in the form of 12 goals and 22 assists for the Frontenacs, along with 105 penalty minutes. His 12 goals in 44 games marked a sharp improvement from the two goals of his previous season with Kingston. Gudbranson also made Team Canada’s U-20 team, posting three goals and two assists in seven games at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York. His five points were second among Canada’s defensemen on the Silver Medal team loaded with quality prospects at defense.

Gudbranson is a fiery player, strong and mature for his age, with an NHL-ready body and mentality. His physicality and hard hits saw him suspended November for five games after a particularly hard hit that left Ottawa 67’s player Cosimo Fontana with a concussion. Gudbranson later received an eight-game, second-infraction suspension for an elbow shot to Oshawa’s J.P. Labardo. The second suspension came just two games after Gudbranson had been suspended by his team for an apparent outburst against Frontenac coaches for their lack of commitment to the team. Suspensions aside, Gudbranson should not be considered a dirty player, rather a big, strong man playing in league where his size and mentality set him apart from his rivals.

John McFarland, C, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2010

John McFarland‘s season was a mixed bag of success and setback. In June, McFarland sat and watched while his once-top-five draft ranking slipped past and the first night of the draft ended without his name being called. The Panthers snatched him up at the beginning of the second day, and McFarland set out to prove wrong those teams that passed on his speed, goal-scoring ability, and nearly unlimited offensive potential. Beginning the season with the Sudbury Wolves where he had enjoyed two productive years, McFarland got off to a quick start, scoring six goals and adding four assists in his first dozen games. The Wolves then traded their former first overall pick to Saginaw, where his goal-scoring touch continued at a solid pace with 19 goals in 37 games, but his assists (formerly averaging just under 0.5 per game) dropped significantly (down to 0.24 per game). McFarland and the Spirit were recently eliminated from the OHL playoffs after a tough playoff series with the Windsor Spitfires. Through 12 games in the first two rounds, McFarland had five goals and four assists, making him third on the team in playoff goals scored.

McFarland still has a lot to prove, and the past season has done little to help him quiet his critics. At times he can be among the league’s best scorers, such as in early January when the Spirit named McFarland their player of the week after he posted four goals and an assist in three games. On the other hand, McFarland had numerous scoreless streaks during the season where he saw his plus/minus results tumble (he finished the season even in the plus/minus category).

The Panthers, however, are banking that McFarland can capitalize on his scoring touch at the NHL level. Florida recently signed McFarland to a three-year entry level contract and will bring the speedy forward to training camp. There is a slight chance that McFarland could find himself in a Panthers sweater this fall, but likely he will spend another year at Saginaw trying to find consistency in his play.


Garrett Wilson, LW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 4th round, 107th, 2009

Garrett Wilson had a career season in 2010-11. As captain of the OHL’s Western Conference regular season champions, Wilson finished with career highs in both goals (40) and assists (46) in 66 games, with 114 penalty minutes and a stellar plus-33 for the year. His 86 points ranked him second on the Attack in scoring, and 16th overall in the OHL. Wilson’s success continued in the playoffs. He was named OHL Player of the Week for the week ending April 24th, when he led all OHL players with seven points, including three goals and four assists.

Wilson just turned twenty in March, and weighs in at 6’3 and 206 pounds. He is a rangy, two-way winger who has shown quality leadership, grit and the willingness to drop the gloves. While not the fastest skater in the group, Wilson will dig the puck out of the corners, gets to the front of the net to score the dirty goals, and leads through hard work and dedication. His production this year will certainly help his NHL cause, but odds are he will spend at least a year in the AHL, sharpening his skills and adjusting to the professional game. When he does make it to the NHL, it will likely be as a bottom-line winger who can contribute goals while controlling the tempo of the game.


Corey Durocher, LW, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 6th round, 163rd overall, 2010

The 2010-11 season did little to determine Corey Durocher‘s NHL future. A project player taken deep in the 2010 draft, Durocher’s season, though not key to his potential, does shed some light on his development as a player. In 63 games played, the 18-year-old winger scored 14 goals (a slightly slower pace than in his OHL rookie campaign), but did double his assist output to 23 (up from 11 the previous year). He plays in all situations, earning time on both the power play and the penalty kill, but did not get the kind of ice time necessary to have a break-out OHL season.

Durocher skates well at 6’3, and has the hands and skill to have a shot at the next level, but he needs to add more weight and muscle beyond his listed 183 pounds before he can be considered for the NHL. He does have time to grow though. He will turn nineteen in May and should come into the 2011-12 season bigger, stronger and hungry for more ice time with the Frontenacs. If so, he could get an opportunity to answer some of the questions regarding his ability to improve on his goal totals and his willingness to assume more leadership inside the Kingston locker room.


David Pacan, C, Niagara IceDogs
Acquired: Trade with Chicago, March 2011

David Pacan appears to be headed in the right direction after a tumultuous 2010-11 season that began with his dismissal from the University of Vermont team for violation of the student code of conduct. At the time, Pacan was prospect for the Chicago Blackhawks. Pacan packed his bags and headed to Canada and the OHL, where he planted himself firmly in the IceDogs clubhouse (the IceDogs had selected Pacan in the 2006 priority draft). In February, the Blackhawks traded Pacan along with Jack Skille and Hugh Jessiman to the Florida Panthers.

Still, the upheaval did little to dampen Pacan’s offensive output. Prior to the trade to Florida, Pacan had scored 14 goals and 28 assists in 47 games (0.89 points per game). After the trade, Pacan scored more than a point per game, netting six goals and adding 13 assists in just 17 games, increasing the per-game output in both categories. Pacan ended the season fifth on his team in scoring, and was a respectable plus-24. His production has decreased slightly in the OHL playoffs, but through the first 13 games he posted five goals and 4 assists.

Pacan is another tall, lanky forward (6’3, 187 pounds) in the Panthers’ system. He has a long way to go to get to the NHL, but 2010-11 was a good step forward on the path.


QMJHL

Jonathan Hazen, RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 2011

Jonathon Hazen finished his four-year career with the Foreurs by leading the team in nearly every statistical category, including goals (41), assists (42), power-play goals (18), as well as two short-handed goals. He finished 10th in the QMJHL in overall scoring with 83 points in 63 games. Hazen was named one of the QMJHL Three Stars of the Week in January after posting six goals and three assists in three games.

Val-d’ Or was swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Quebec. Hazen’s junior career ended after the first game of the series after he was suspended for a nasty boarding hit on Quebec’s Mikael Tam.

The Panthers rewarded Hazen’s efforts this season with a three-year entry-level contract. Hazen will play in the AHL next year, but could be a valuable piece for the Panthers in the future. He is a speedy but smaller player than most of the Panthers junior-level prospects at 6’0, 170 pounds, with solid offensive skills and instincts.

WHL

Quinton Howden, LW, Moose Jaw Warriors
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2010

2010-11 was a stellar season for Quinton Howden. His summer began with his first-round selection in the NHL draft. Howden followed that by being named alternate captain and scoring 40 goals and 39 assists for the Warriors, getting named to the second-team WHL Eastern Conference all-star team, being awarded the WHL Player of the Week in February, winning a silver medal and scoring two goals with three assists for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, adding another five goals with two assists in six playoff games, and finishing the season with a three-year contract with the Panthers. All told, Howden played in 73 games during 2010-11, scored 47 goals with 44 assists for a total of 91 points.

Howden has excellent wheels and has been considered among the best skaters in the WHL. He plays a solid defensive game and can be a dangerous short-handed threat on the penalty kill. Given Florida’s lack of skilled depth at left-wing, Howden could find himself skating on the third line for the NHL club in 2011-12.

Alexander Petrovic, D, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall, 2010

Alexander Petrovic became an assist machine in 2010-11, nearly tripling his helper output from the previous season with 50 assists in 69 games. He also added seven goals and 140 penalty minutes to the Red Deer effort. Petrovic finished the year with a career-high plus-27 while typically playing against the opposition’s top lines. His fine results in his own end suggest that some of the early criticisms of his defensive play may be put to rest. Petrovic, like most of the other members of his Panther 2010 draft class, recently signed an entry-level contract.

Petrovic is another big, physical, and agile defensemen locked into the Panthers’ crowded stable. He is agile and strong, has a booming shot, and can move the puck well out of his own zone, but it is the physical game that Petrovic enjoys. He hits with authority, will drop the gloves with anyone, and punishes opponents in the corners. With his recent contract in hand and his improved game, Petrovic will be given a chance to make the NHL club this year. The Panthers have significant depth along the blue line, and if Gudbranson signs a contract with the club this year, Petrovic could be the odd man out.

Josh Birkholz, RW, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 3rd round, 67th overall, 2009

The move from the University of Minnesota to the WHL underscored the entire 2010-11 season for Josh Birkholz. Some mystery surrounded the move, with talk of a possible suspension for violation of Minnesota’s team rules. Positive spin portrayed the move as a quest for more games and a season that would more closely match that of a professional schedule. There can be no doubt that he got more game experience at Everett than he would have in the NCAA, but his role on the Silvertips was limited. He finished the season with 18 goals and 11assists in 68 games, disappointing results on a disappointed team. The Silvertips ended the season swept from the first round of the playoffs. Birkholz’s playoff contribution consisted of two assists in four games.

Birkholz sits at a critical junction in his hockey career. He may return to the Silvertips as an overager, but he will have plenty of competition for one of the three available overage spots. It is possible that Birkholz could sign a deal with the Panthers and move into the professional ranks, but that seems unlikely at this stage.

Canadian Junior A

Benjamin Gallacher, D, Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
Acquired: 4th round, 93rd overall, 2010

Benjamin Gallacher played his final season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2010-11 in preparation for his freshman season at Ohio State in 2011-12. He appeared in 37 regular season and 18 playoff games, in which he scored a total of eight goals with 27 assists. Gallacher received two separate suspensions during the season. The first was a two-game suspension in February for a major penalty and game misconduct. In March, Gallacher was tagged with his second disciplinary action which carried a three-game suspension for a match penalty for checking from behind. At 5’10, the 18-year-old defender is among the smallest of the Panthers’ defense prospects, but he will get an opportunity to develop over the next several years in the NCAA before the Panthers will need to make a decision on his future.

Zachary Hyman, RW, Hamilton Red Wings (OJHL)
Acquired: 5th round, 123rd overall, 2010

Zachary Hyman capped his Junior A career in style in 2010-11 as Hamilton’s captain and scoring leader. Hyman tallied 42 goals and 60 assists in 43 games and finished second overall in league scoring. He was named league Player of the Month for October after posting 27 points in 10 games and received the OJHL Most Gentlemanly Player award.

Hyman is an intriguing prospect. His intentions to attend Princeton next season were the driving force behind his choice of junior league (playing in Junior A enabled Hyman to maintain his NCAA eligibility). Prior to the draft in 2010, many scouts and prognosticators had labeled the 6’2, 195-pound winger as one of the top junior players in his draft year, some going so far as to compare his abilities to those of Taylor Hall (EDM) or Tyler Seguin (BOS). Unfortunately for Hyman, projecting Junior A players can be extremely difficult based on the overall skill level in the league. As a fifth-round pick, however, Hyman’s future is full of nothing but upside potential. Rest assured that the Panthers will be monitoring his development over the next couple of years.


USHL

R.J. Boyd, D, Chicago Steel
Acquired: 7th round, 183rd overall, 2010

R.J. Boyd transferred mid-year to the USHL from Sacred Heart University. In his 33 games with the Steel, Boyd scored just two goals with no assists. At 6’2, he has the frame for an NHL defenseman, but he will need to bulk up from his current weight of 175 pounds. The 18-year-old native of Fort Meyers, Florida plays a two-way game, but will need to post much better results than his current 0.06 points-per-game pace in order to have any chance at furthering his professional hockey career.


Article was written by Brian Fogarty.