The Florida Panthers AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, finished the 2014-15 season with a 45-23-7-1 record, which was good enough for first place in the West Division. However, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs. It was a team that relied heavily on veterans like Bobby Butler, Mark Mancari, Shane O’Brien and Brett Olson, while prospects Connor Brickley and Rocco Grimaldi made swift progression throughout the season.
This year, the team’s affiliate is the Portland Pirates but not a lot has changed in terms of its makeup. The top two scorers are Robbie Schremp, who is 29, and Shane Harper, 26. Because the Panthers have had success drafting early in the first round, the team’s AHL affiliate has been void of high-profile prospects. That said, there are a number of mid-tier prospects who are contributing to the success of this year’s team. As of early January, the Pirates had a record of 18-13-1-0 and were third in the Atlantic Division.
Florida has ECHL ties with the Manchester Monarchs, who have moved from the AHL to the ECHL this season. The team’s agreement with the Cincinnati Cyclones expired at the end of the 2014-15 season.
Sam Brittain, G, 23
In his first full season in the AHL, former University of Denver standout Sam Brittain has slowly become more comfortable throughout the first few months. He is backing up veteran Mike McKenna, a 32 year old who, statistically, hasn’t been much better than Brittain this season. Early in the season it made sense for the team to ride McKenna as Brittain struggled, but his past six starts have been positive.
He allowed 18 goals in his first five starts, including a game in which he was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Since the start of December he has allowed just 12 goals through six starts. Unfortunately for Brittain, McKenna also had a career month of December, meaning the 23-year-old will be in tough to earn starts in the second half of the season.
Logan Shaw, RW, 23
Currently with the Panthers, Shaw got off to a surprisingly hot start with Portland this season, scoring seven goals in 13 games, warranting a call up. In Florida, he has shown what has made him an effective AHLer, utilizing his size and shot to create chances for himself and teammates. It has been a tremendous climb thus far for a player who spent half of the 2013-14 season in the ECHL and only scored once in 46 games in the AHL that same season.
Chase Balisy, RW, 23
California native Chase Balisy has provided secondary scoring to Portland this season, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations after a 20-goal rookie campaign last season with the St. John’s IceCaps. The Panthers signed Balisy for organization depth, but also consider him a prospect with high offensive instincts and NHL potential. However, through 33 games, Balisy has just four goals and nine assists. Balisy has been playing second line minutes with Kyle Rau and Wayne Simpson.
Connor Brickley, LW, 23
After a 47-point AHL rookie campaign last season, Brickley made the Panthers out of camp but has since spent some time in Portland. He was recalled to the Pirates in November and was sent back to Florida two weeks later. Though he has looked comfortable at times in Florida, he was a healthy scratch for much of December. On Jan. 4 he was assigned to the Pirates once again.
John McFarland, LW, 23
Once a highly-touted prospect, it hasn’t been easy for John McFarland since turning pro, but at 23 he continues to improve. This year, McFarland has been given an increase in ice time, as well as more minutes on the team’s second power-play unit, where he has three goals. In 36 games he has already eclipsed last season’s goal total (he has 13) and is fourth on the Pirates in scoring. For the most part, he has provided a stabilizing force on the team’s top line, playing alongside leading scorer Schremp.
Rocco Grimaldi, C, 22
Grimaldi, like Brickley, has been back and forth between the Panthers and the Pirates, but to a greater extent. Grimaldi didn’t crack Florida’s 23-man roster out of training camp but earned his first game of the season with the team on Oct. 31. He then played nine games in November and three in December. In total, Grimaldi has played in 22 games with Portland, as opposed to 14 with Florida. Naturally, he has been a much more effective player in the AHL, as the diminutive center is still learning to navigate in the NHL, where time and space is more limited. Grimaldi has 15 points in 22 games with the Pirates.
Kyle Rau, C, 22
The fact that Kyle Rau, a rookie, is second on the Pirates in goal scoring is hardly a surprise. Rau recorded four straight forty-plus point seasons at the University of Minnesota before signing a contract with the Panthers last year, and now has 15 goals in 36 games. It’s not as if he is doing his scoring with proven point producers, either, as he spends the majority of his ice time between Wayne Simpson and Chase Balisy. He does, however earn ample power play time, but just two of his 15 goals have come with the man advantage.
There are some defensive deficiencies in his game, but he only continues to improve offensively. December was his best month as he recorded nine points in 12 games, and he had points in back-to-back games to begin the New Year.
Greg McKegg, C, 23
Greg McKegg was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Zach Hyman to provide secondary scoring. He now has 19 points in 31 games, and is sixth on the team in scoring. A St. Thomas, Ontario native, he recorded a hat trick in just his fourth game with the team, but has cooled off in recent months, scoring just twice in the 22 games since. In fact, McKegg hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 11. He does, however, have seven assists since then.
Mike Matheson, D, 21
The Panthers’ top defense prospect has handled the transition to pro hockey quite well. Matheson, a first round pick in 2012, spent three seasons at Boston College before signing his first pro contract. Typically playing on the first or second pairing, Matheson got off to a great start, scoring six points in his first 16 games. Though his offense hasn’t been as consistent since, he has remained an integral part of the stable blue line. His nine points in 31 games ranks third on the team amongst defensemen scoring, he has recorded at least one shot in all but three games and his plus-12 is the best rating on the team.
MacKenzie Weegar, D, 22
In his second season as a pro, MacKenzie Weegar has had surprising success with the Pirates, especially considering he spent half of last season in the ECHL. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound rearguard has good offensive instincts and has earned himself time on the power-play this season. Through 30 games he has 11 points, already bettering his total from last season. Weegar’s month of December was particularly good, as he recorded seven points in 11 games.
Jonathan Racine, D, 22
Montreal native Jonathan Racine isn’t going to earn top-pairing minutes at any level, but he has filled a role—and excelled—this season with Portland. He brings a steadying presence to the team’s second and third pairing and provides intimidating physical play. The most outstanding part of Racine’s season is the goal he scored against the Springfield Falcons on Dec. 27, the first of his pro career, ending a 156 game drought. Since that game, Racine has five points in five games.
Colin Stevens, G, 22
Stevens has made the best out of a difficult situation with the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs. The free-agent signing out of Union College has played in 14 of the Monarchs 33 games and is one of six different goaltenders to take the net for the team. It’s difficult to judge goaltenders based on numbers at the ECHL level, but Stevens has been decent, recording a 7-5-1 record to go along with a .906 save percentage and 2.63 goals against average. He’ll likely need an injury to either Brittain or McKenna to see any time in the AHL this season.
Joshua Brown, D, 21
The captain of the 2014-15 Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals, Josh Brown was unable to crack the Pirates lineup out of training camp and the team has been rather patient with the 6-foot-4, 215-pound physical defender. He has played just once for the Pirates this season as opposed to 33 games with Manchester. There, Brown is fifth on the team in scoring amongst defensemen with one goal and eight assists. His 54 penalty minutes is fourth on the team.
Other Notable Prospects
Lawson Crouse didn’t have a memorable World Junior Championships for Canada, but he has been a steady offensive force for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. He has gone without a point in consecutive games just once this season, and has 20 points in his past 19 games, dating to the beginning of November.
Prospect of the Month: Denis Malgin
Denis Malgin doesn’t get much attention as a teenager playing light minutes in Switzerland, but the diminutive center showcased his skills at the World Junior Championships where he finished with nine points in six games. Six of those points were recorded in the regulation round against Belarus, but Malgin looked dangerous against stiffer competition, including the tournament opener against the Swedes, in which he collected a pair of assists.
Malgin was selected in the fourth round of the 2015 draft and is a project in every sense of the word. He has nine points in 26 games with ZSC Lions in Switzerland, but certainly could put up big numbers in junior if he opted to play there; he was selected by Rouyn Noranda of the QMJHL in the CHL Import Draft and is still eligible to play next season.