Minor league pool for Florida Panthers deep on defense, thin on skill

By HF Staff
Photo: Brady Calla split time between the AHL and ECHL over the past two seasons. He has yet to display the skill level needed to play at the NHL level. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Florida Panthers American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans, had a dismal year. They finished last in the Western Conference, allowed more goals than any other team in their conference, and scored fewer than all but three teams. The affiliation between the Panthers and the Americans expired at the end of the season. At this time, it remains unclear whether or not the affiliation will be renewed, or if the Panthers will begin a new relationship with another AHL team.

The East Coast Hockey League affiliate, the Cincinnati Cylcones, faired a bit better by finishing their season with a record of 33 wins and 39 losses (ten of those losses were in overtime or shoot outs) and making the ECHL playoffs. The Cyclones lost their first-round series to Reading in four games.


Forward

Evgeni Dadonov, RW, 22

Dadonov started the season in Rochester, where he played in 24 games and tallied 16 points (eight goals, eight assists). In December, the Panthers called Dadonov up to the NHL, where he spent the remainder of the season, getting more and more playing time as the season progressed. He finished the NHL season with eight goals and nine assists while averaging about 15 minutes of ice time in 36 games.

With the deep lack of scoring potential in the current system, the 5’10, 178-pound winger will have little competition for a spot in the Panthers’ lineup now that he has proven himself capable of NHL-level play. General Manager Dale Tallon will continue to look for scorers, either through the draft, trade or free agency, so Dadonov must continue to work on his strength and consistency. However, at just 22 years old, he should be wearing a Panthers sweater for years to come.

Michal Repik, RW, 22

Repik started the 2010-11 season in the AHL, but after posting four goals and 18 assists in his first 17 games, the Panthers called him up to replace the injured Steve Bernier. Once there, Repik played on the club’s fourth line, averaging about 10 minutes of ice time in eight games. During that first callup, he scored a goal and an assist, but was a minus-four, and was sent back down to Rochester. He would be recalled and sent down twice in February, and finally managed to stick with the big team at the end of the month. Overall, he played in 31 games in Florida, scoring just two goals and six assists, but leveled out his plus/minus at minus-four for the year. In his time in Rochester, the 22-year-old Czech winger scored 11 goals with 34 assists in 53 games.

Repik was under-utilized on the Panthers’ fourth line. He is a speedy, offensively talented winger with loads of potential and he has the ability to put the puck in the net, but at 5’10 and 180 pounds, he is not well-suited for an energy line. His entry-level contract expired at the end of the season, but he should receive at least a qualifying offer from the Panthers, and have a decent shot at making the team this fall.

Anthony Luciani, RW, 21

Luciani started the season with the OHL‘s Erie Otters, where he had the best of his three years with the Junior club, despite missing three weeks with a broken wrist. Luciani scored 29 goals and added 49 assists in 54 games. With the Otters down three games to one and facing elimination in their first-round playoff series against the Windsor Spitfires, Luciani posted two consecutive four-point games, including a four-goal, overtime-winning game. For his efforts, Luciani earned OHL Player of the Week, but the Otters were eventually eliminated after losing game seven. Once out of the playoffs, Luciani signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers.

Luciani played in three games for Rochester in which the small forward from Maple, Ontario scored two goals and an assist.

Luciani’s future with the Panthers is uncertain. In his early years at Erie, Luciani was quick to drop the gloves and fight, but he has developed away from that propensity and towards a scoring role. At 5’8 and 203 pounds, he does not seem to fit the mold of players that General Manager Dale Tallon has been collecting, and will have a difficult time playing bottom-line minutes in the NHL. If Luciani is going to make a career in the NHL, it will have to be as a scoring-line winger, and in order get there he will need to utilize his quickness, smooth skating, sharp wrist shot and puck-handling abilities. Small players typically take longer to reach the NHL than their larger counterparts, so he will likely spend at least a few seasons in the AHL learning how to play the professional game against much larger players.

Kenndal McArdle, LW, 24

Kenndal McArdle had an up-and-down season in 2010-11. The 24-year-old winger started the season with the Panthers, but played in only one of their first four games. He was waived on October 18th, but cleared waivers and was assigned to Rochester. McArdle would make three more trips to South Florida, playing in a total of 11 games without a point to show for it. He averaged just over ten minutes of ice time per game on the bottom line. McArdle had more success in his 54 games with Rochester, scoring 14 goals off of 97 shots with 12 assists playing top-line minutes in all situations. He also accumulated 106 penalty minutes.

McArdle has the skill and speed to make it in the NHL, but he lacks focus at time and is prone to mental errors. Though not the biggest player at 5’11, 200 pounds, he uses his body well and has a good compete level. Unfortunately, his inconsistency limits his opportunities in the NHL, and he may a player who can contribute at the top level of the minor leagues, but is unable to make a successful transition to the NHL. However, he is only 24 years old, and still has some time-albeit limited-to develop his play into that worthy of his potential.

A.J. Jenks, LW, 20

The 2010-11 season did not start the way that A.J. Jenks had hoped. During rookie camp prior to the season’s start, Panthers medical staff discovered that Jenks would need a corrective procedure for an irregular heartbeat. The operation went smoothly, and five weeks later, Jenks was back on the ice. He played in all but one of the Americans’ final 64 games, netting eight goals and 13 assists. Perhaps the best indication of his offensive abilities can be found in the team’s shootouts. Jenks participated in eight of the Americans’ shootouts, scoring three times, and often was the team’s first shooter.

Jenks will continue to develop his power-forward game in the AHL. He has surprising speed, and at 6’2, 210 pounds, he has the potential to be a solid two-way forward in the NHL. Jenks will need to improve his physical game, and use his size and quickness more to get to the net and score the dirty goals.

Brady Calla, RW, 23

Calla spent most of the 2010-11 season with the Cyclones (35 games, 7 goals, 16 assists), but did get 15 games in Rochester (two goals, two assists). The 6’0 winger failed to make much of an impact at the AHL level, and in 62 total AHL games over the past four seasons, Calla has produced only five goals and ten assists, with a shooting percentage below seven percent on 72 shots.

Calla is a decent skater, and has the size to be an NHL player, but he may not have the skill level to excel at the upper levels of professional hockey. He turned 23 in March, and appears destined to be a minor league depth player.

Jordan Knackstedt, RW, 22

Knackstedt joined the organization along with teammate Jeff LoVecchio after a trade with the Bruins in December. In 22 games with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, Knackstedt scored seven goals with five assists. In Rochester, his output remained consistent, scoring five goals and nine assists in 44 games, playing mostly on the bottom two lines.

In four AHL seasons and 209 games, Knackstedt scored at a .44 points-per-game pace, which would translate to about five goals and ten assists per season in the NHL. Knackstedt is a big right wing at 6’2, 195 pounds, and a decent skater, but will find that as Panthers continue rebuilding, more quality players will be competing for the third and fourth lines at the NHL and AHL levels. Knackstedt will need to improve his output and decision making in order to have any chance at cracking the Panther lineup. His contract has expired, and he is currently a restricted free agent whose rights still belong to the Panthers.

Jeff LoVecchio, LW

LoVecchio’s never found the back of the net at the start of the season. After 22 games in Providence, the Panthers granted LoVecchio a change of scenery. After the trade, the Florida assigned LoVecchio to Rochester, where he played 51 games, scoring eight goals with eight assists. LoVecchio’s plus-time during his time with Rochester stands out amongst his other stats. As one of the few Americans that finished with a positive plus/minus for the year (third overall on the team behind only defense prospect Keaton Ellerby and forward Scott Timmins), LoVecchio displayed defensive responsibility that may bode well for his future.

LoVecchio is a great skater with good size at 6’2, though he could benefit from adding some weight to his 195 pounds. However, he is 25 years old, and the clock is running down on his NHL opportunities. LoVecchio will be an unrestricted free agency July 1st, and it is uncertain whether or not the Panthers will try to re-sign him. Wherever he ends up, he will likely continue to see extended time in the AHL.

Mike Duco, LW

2010-11 was an interesting year for Mike Duco. He led the Americans team in goals with 20 and added 11 assists. He was also third on the team in penalty minutes with 126, including 12 fights, two misconducts, four unsportsmanlike conducts, and 14 other penalties for aggressive acts such as roughing, elbowing, and boarding. Duco saw action in two NHL games for the Panthers, during which he had a total of 17 minutes of ice time and 10 minutes of penalties (for two fights).

Duco is a solid skater with good hands, and has a nose for the net. He also has a reputation as a loose cannon. In one of his early NHL games in 2009, Duco created a stir by racking up 27 minutes of penalties on one shift. In order to find a permanent spot in today’s NHL, he will have to learn how to better control that aggression, and use it tactically instead of just losing his cool and putting his team at a disadvantage.

Duco simply is not big enough at 5’10 and 200 pounds to face off against NHL enforcers, but he could carve a niche for himself by being the pesky fly who can score goals, much in the vein of Sean Avery (NYR). That can be a difficult road to travel, and not many players excel at it. Maybe Duco can, but he will probably be doing it in the AHL next season. His one-year contract has expired, but his goal output this season has probably earned him a qualifying offer from the Panthers.

Jake Hauswirth, LW

Hauswirth, along with a 2011 third-round draft pick, came to the Panthers in the Dennis Wideman (WAS) trade in February. Prior to the trade, Hauswirth had posted ten goals and four assists with the ECHL South Caroline Stingrays. The Panthers assigned Hauswirth to their ECHL affiliate, where he contributed two goals and two assists in twelve games.

He is a big body at 6’5 and 210 pounds, and is a good skater with a two-way mentality and some ability to score. Hauswirth is 23 years old, and his contract with the Panthers runs through the 2012 season. Next season, he will likely continue to learn the game at the ECHL level, but may push for a bottom-line spot in the AHL.

Scott Timmins, C, 21

Timmins ended his 2010-11 campaign on the Panthers’ injured list after suffering a concussion in early March. The 19-year-old center played 19 games with the Panthers before his injury, scoring one goal while averaging just over ten minutes per game. He had started the season in Rochester, but was recalled after potting 10 goals with 12 assists in his first 44 games of professional play. He led his AHL team in plus/minus with a solid plus-10 on a team that was badly outscored all season.

Timmins began skating again near the end of the season, and should have no serious long-term effects from his concussion. He will get a chance to compete for the fourth-line center spot on the Panthers’ squad in the fall, and remains under contract with the team through the 2013 season.


Defense

Adam Comrie, D, 20

Adam Comrie spent a lot of time traveling between Cincinnati and Rochester, having been recalled and sent down a total of six times during the 2010-11 season. During his stays in Rochester, Comrie was marginally effective. He played in a total of 43 games for the Americans without scoring a goal despite 53 shots on goal. He did have five helpers, but finished minus-15.

Comrie was more successful against the relatively weaker competition in the ECHL. In 13 games, he scored four goals with four assists.

The blueliner stands at 6’4 and 205 pounds, yet another tall defenseman in the stacked Florida system. Given the depth that Florida has at the blue line, Comrie is going to have to find ways to contribute if he is going to make his way to the NHL. Until then, expect Comrie to spend more time bouncing between the AHL and the ECHL.

Colby Robak, D, 21

The 2010-11 season marked Colby Robak‘s rookie year in the AHL, and it went about as well as could be expected for a 20-year-old defenseman (Robak turned 21 in April). At times the offensive-minded Robak played like a player ready to move up to the big leagues, and at other times he looked out of his depth. Robak played all but three games for the Americans, netting seven goals on 87 shots, along with 17 assists.

At 6’3, Robak is a fantastic skater. He has a hard, heavy shot and moves the puck well. He should get a long look at Panthers camp, but is destined to spend the 2011-12 season in the AHL, with intermittent recalls to Florida for injury spot duty. His future as an NHL regular seems to be only a matter of time and experience, but adding weight and more physicality to his game will serve him well.

Evan Oberg, D, 23

Oberg, a 6’0, 165 pound puck-moving defenseman from Forestburg, Alberta, spent most of the season in Manitoba playing for Vancouver’s AHL squad. There he played in 38 games and tallied six goals and five assists. He also played in two games for Vancouver, both of little note. In February, the Panthers acquired Oberg along with a 2013 third-round draft pick in return for Chris Higgins (VAN).

In Rochester, Oberg played in five games (one goal, one assist) before suffering a season-ending neck injury caused by a boarding incident in a game against Hamilton.

Oberg turned 23 in February, and has shown some potential both in the AHL and during his days at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, though his injury is certain to set back his development. He appears to be recovering as expected, and looks as though he will be ready to play in the upcoming season. When he does return, he should receive a decent amount of ice time in the AHL as he tries to get back on track.

Eric Selleck, D, 23

Selleck made an impact in rookie season as a professional hockey player, not on the scoreboard, but on the scoresheet. Selleck registered a team-leading 214 penalty minutes in 2010-11, placing him twelfth overall in the AHL. He did manage to add five goals and 11 assists in his 67 games despite spending an average of over three minutes per game in the penalty box. For a bottom line player, that amounts to about a third of his ice time.

Selleck’s propensity for violence comes as no surprise, however. Signed out of the Division III school SUNY-Oswego where he managed to accumulate 93 penalty minutes in 54 games, Selleck came to the Panthers as a 6’2, 210-pound enforcer with scoring touch. His NHL future will be predicated more on his ability to throw punches than to score. Unfortunately for Selleck, enforcer roles are diminishing at the NHL level, where teams have been choosing to ice more productive players who will also handle things physically as warranted. Because of that trend, Selleck will likely spend much of his career in the minor leagues unless he focuses more on developing his offense.

Michael Caruso, D, 22

Caruso continued his steady defensive play in the AHL during 2010-11 season. He finished the year with 75 games played, scored five goals with three assists, and racked up 77 penalty minutes. Caruso had the type of season that young stay-at-home defensemen covet: a season where only the coaches and players notice them.

Caruso has a future as a bottom-paring defenseman in the NHL. He is a leader on the ice, and has the mentality to be an NHL blueliner. He is responsible and solid in his own end, can skate, and has a calm presence on the ice. He is 6’2, 191 pounds and is just 22 years old. Given the depth of quality competition along the Florida blue line, he will almost certainly spend next season in the AHL, where he can continue to refine his game and add more muscle.


James DeLory, D/W, 23

Delory, a 6’4, 212 pound defenseman turned winger, started the season with the Cyclones, but after 21 games played with no points to show for it, he was demoted and sent to the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs of the Central Hockey League. There, he played in 36 games, scored seven goals, added seven assists, and accumulated 81 penalty minutes.

At 23 years of age, Delory looks to be a marginal prospect, at best. He is under contract with the Panthers until 2012, but will likely play out his career at the lower levels of the minor leagues.


Goaltender

Jacob Markstrom, G, 21

Markstrom put together a solid first year in North America before suffering a season-ending knee injury in early February. The tall Swede played in 37 AHL games, posting a .901 save percentage and a 2.98 goals-against average with one shutout. Markstrom was in the net for three overtime shootouts, during which he faced 13 shots and allowed only three goals. His record for the year stood at 16 wins (two on shootouts), 20 losses, and one shoot-out loss. Five of Markstom’s losses came in games where he allowed two or fewer goals, demonstrating a significant lack of offensive support. In fact, in Markstrom’s 21 total losses, the Americans’ average offensive output was a meager 1.66 goals per game.

Markstrom made his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils January 23rd in relief of Scott Clemmensen (FLA) who had allowed two goals on eight shots. Markstrom played the second and third periods, allowing two goals on 14 shots.

There can be little doubt that Markstrom is the top prospect in the Panthers organization. He is just 21 years old, has international experience including backstopping Sweden‘s World Championship squad in 2010 (where he went 3-0 in three games, with a dazzling .944 save percentage and 1.33 goals-against average) and is considered by many to be one of the top goaltending prospects in the world. Markstrom had successful knee surgery in March. The team expects a full recovery, and Markstrom should be back in time for training camp in the fall where he will compete for a job in the NHL. His playing time in Florida will be determined in large part by Florida’s moves this offseason. Last season’s starting goaltender Thomas Vokoun is an unrestricted free agent, and backup Scott Clemmensen is not the kind of netminder that a playoff team relies on to carry the team through the season. Clemmensen still has one year left on his contract, however, and if the Panthers bring in a high-salary free agent goalie, Markstrom could find himself back in the AHL next season. He will not be there for long though.

Tyler Plante, G, 24

After teammate Jacob Markstrom‘s season-ending injury, Tyler Plante was left to carry the load for the Americans. He did so with adequate but not spectacular results. In 35 games, he posted a .909 save percentage and a pedestrian 3.12 goals against average. He ended the season with a record of 13 wins and 19 losses with two of those losses coming in shootouts.

At 24 years old, Plante has plenty of time to develop his skills for the NHL. He is a tall netminder at 6’3, 190 pounds, and is mentally tough, but he finds himself trapped behind Jacob Markstrom on the Panthers depth chart. Much of what happens with Plante’s career over the next couple of years will be determined by the Panthers’ front office and their netminder decisions. Although he will likely play in the AHL next season, if Markstrom jumps to the big leagues, Plante will like get starting goaltender ice time with the minor league team.

Marc Cheverie, G, 24

Cheverie’s first professional season started in Cincinnati. After 30 games, Cheverie took his 3.11 goals against average and .896 save percentage, and moved them to Rochester to back up Tyler Plante. Cheverie was less than stellar at the AHL level, posting a startling 3.91 goals against average and .888 save percentage in 15 games.

Cheverie has a long way to go in his professional hockey career, and is buried in the Panthers depth chart. Yet another tall netminder in the Florida organization (only starter Thomas Vokoun and prospect Brian Foster are shorter than 6’3), the 6’3 Cheverie has quick hands, and good movement in the crease. Like the rest of the goaltending depth for Florida, Cheverie’s fate is determined by those above him, but all things being equal, he should get good playing time in the AHL next season.

Brian Foster, G, 24

Deep down on the Panthers’ depth chart, Brian Foster started the season in the CHL, but like others above him, moved up a rung on the ladder after Jacob Markstrom’s injury. In 19 regular season games in the ECHL, Foster posted a record of 11 wins and eight losses, with a respectable 2.30 goals against average and .918 save percentage. His results at the CHL level were not as good, saving just 88.4 percent of the shots he faced, and allowing 3.20 goals per game.

Foster will likely start the season in the ECHL, where he looks to continue his success at that level.


Article was written by Brian Fogarty.