The Florida Panthers are one of the feel-good stories of the 2015-16 NHL season. The team grabbed the Atlantic division lead at the beginning of February and had a 12-game winning streak in January. Understandably, soon-to-be 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr has been garnering most of the attention, along with Roberto Luongo, who has been having a renaissance year between the pipes. But it’s the organization’s strong foundation of young players which has led to a lot of the team’s success.
Not many of the players who have made huge impacts for the Panthers are still considered prospects according to Hockey’s Future. Rather, the team’s patience with its core group of young players seems to have paid off, while secondary prospects have made great strides and filled roles. With the trade deadline approaching, General Manager Dale Tallon has several young AHL players at his disposal who might be due for increased opportunity elsewhere.
Quinton Howden, C, 24
It hasn’t been a linear path to the NHL for former first-round pick Quinton Howden, but the 24-year-old seems to have found his spot in the Panthers lineup this season. The offense that was once there in junior with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors hasn’t quite translated to the NHL, but Howden has made himself useful this season with his ability to crash, bang and cause turnovers with his size and speed.
He had appeared in a combined 34 games with the Panthers over the past two seasons but has played in 43 of the team’s first 51 games this year, scoring six goals and adding four assists. Comfortable in his role, the offense has now started to come for the Winnipeg native—two of his six goals have come in a recent five-game stretch, against contenders Washington and Chicago.
Corban Knight, C, 25
Like Howden, Corban Knight seems to have stuck with the Panthers. After starting the year with Portland of the AHL, Knight has been filling a bottom-six role for Florida since mid-December. Knight was recalled to fill the void left by the injured Derek MacKenzie and played in all 12 games during the team’s win streak. He has seven points in 19 games since the recall and has even kept his spot in the lineup since the return of MacKenzie.
Rocco Grimaldi, C, 23
A spot in the Panthers lineup was Rocco Grimaldi’s to lose after a promising rookie campaign in which he recorded 42 points in 64 AHL games and appeared in seven NHL games. That much was proven true when Grimaldi received an early call-up to Florida, but the diminutive pivot couldn’t provide much offense in the 14 games he played, scoring just once and adding one assist. He played more than 14 minutes per game in four of his first seven games with the Panthers but was reduced to 10 minutes or less in five of his next seven. Grimaldi was demoted to Portland of the AHL in December, where he has 18 points in 28 games.
Logan Shaw, RW, 23
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Panthers organization this season is Logan Shaw. The Nova Scotia native was an afterthought leading into this season, one year removed from a 2013-14 campaign which he split between the AHL and ECHL. But Shaw made strides last season, recording 25 points in 69 AHL games and found an extra gear in regard to his skating stride.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound winger began 2015-16 with Portland, scoring seven goals in 13 games before being recalled to fill a hole in the Panthers lineup. That was on Oct. 30; he has been in the NHL since. Through 30 games Shaw has four goals and two assists and has gained more trust from Head Coach Gerard Gallant with each passing game, often playing 12-plus minutes a night.
Connor Brickley, LW, 23
Though he made the Panthers roster on opening night, Connor Brickley was unable to earn steady ice time and has since been assigned to Portland. The 6-foot-0, 203-pound winger played in 23 NHL games and scored just once. Despite being 23-years-old he is only in his second year of pro hockey, so a return to the AHL isn’t an indictment on his chances to be a full-time NHLer.
Alex Petrovic, D, 23
As expected, defensive defenseman Alex Petrovic has graduated from prospect status this season. He entered the year having already played in 46 games for the Panthers, and after a 33-game stint in 2014-15 has solidified his value in the organization with continued strong play. Petrovic plays just under 20 minutes per night and has seven points in 38 games. He scored his first career NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 26.
Top performing non-NHL prospects
The Brandon Wheat Kings are coming on strong toward the end of the WHL season and Panthers prospect Jayce Hawryluk is a big reason why. In January, the Manitoba native recorded 11 points in eight games, and in three February games, Hawryluk has eight points; he scored his third hat trick of the season on Feb. 5 against Prince George.
Top defensive prospects Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen enjoyed great Januarys. In his first season as a pro, Matheson has settled nicely into the Portland Pirates top four, earning more minutes and responsibility as the season has progressed. He had three points in nine games during the month and also had a plus-five rating. Matheson is a team-leading plus-14.
McCoshen, a 20-year-old junior at Boston College, began the month with a five-game point streak, totaling nine points, including a two goal and two assist performance against rival Boston University. McCoshen has six goals and 11 assists in 27 games, establishing a new career high in points.
January Prospect of the Month: Samuel Montembeault
It wasn’t a pretty month of November for Samuel Montembeault, the team’s third-round pick in 2015. The lanky goaltender posted a .866 save percentage in nine appearances. Yet, Team Canada called upon him to backup Mason McDonald at the World Junior Championships while Mackenzie Blackwood served his suspension. That stint seemed to have been a catalyst for his improved play in the New Year.
Montembeault surrendered four goals in his first game in January but didn’t give up more than three in any of his subsequent eight appearances. He posted a 5-3 record in the month, despite the Armada being one of the QMJHL’s worst teams. His save percentage rose considerably to .926 while he recorded a 1.89 goals-against average on the month. On the season, Montembeault has a 12-12-5 record and a save percentage of .897.