Florida Panthers very well represented in CHL

By Brian Fogarty
Photo: Logan Shaw is one of 10 players currently playing in the CHL for the Florida Panthers. Shaw is known for his combination of size and skill. (Photo courtesy of Dave Connell/HF)

Eleven Panthers prospects currently play in juniors, with four in the OHL (two are on the same Saginaw team), three in the QMJHL, three in the WHL, and one player in the USHL.

OHL

John McFarland, C/LW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 2nd round (33rd overall) in 2010

After a couple of years of disappointing production, McFarland finally seems to be putting together a solid season of junior hockey. His 17 goals lead the Spirit, and his over a point-per-game production easily bests his career high of 52 points in 58 games. At 19, McFarland is expected to increase his production, and he has done so in what will certainly be his last year of junior hockey.

McFarland has all of the skills necessary to become a solid pro player. He skates well, handles the puck, and possesses a quick and accurate shot. If he is able to put his game together and go hard on every shift, he could form himself into a top-six forward based on his talents. Moving to the left wing will certainly increase his odds of moving up in the Panthers organization. The enigma of his game is inconsistency. McFarland was recently suspended for two games after being assessed a game misconduct penalty for abusing game officials, just two days after posting a four-goal game.

Vincent Trocheck, C, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 3rd round (64th overall) in 2011

Trocheck is having a remarkable year thus far, and seems intent of proving that he has a bright NHL future. Trocheck stood out in the USA Hockey junior development camp this summer. He impressed coaches and staff at the Panthers fall development camp. Then, after heading back to the OHL, Trocheck has dazzled with his tenacity, speed, defense and scoring. On a team that has allowed 35 more goals than it has scored, Trocheck stands out with a team-high plus-five. He is tied for eighth overall in the OHL scoring race, with 36 points in 26 games.

Aside from his skills and talent, one aspect of Trocheck’s game that truly sets him apart from most other players is his remarkable durability. In his third year of junior hockey, Trocheck has yet to miss a game due to injury. When he served a one-game suspension in early November (for losing his helmet during a fight at the opening puck drop), the lost game broke a streak of 154 consecutive games played. Further, Trocheck does not just show up for games, he makes an impact. Since October 14th, he has managed a point in all but four Saginaw games and he has posted eight multiple-point games. Most of those games were played without his linemate and scoring sensation Brandon Saad (CHI).

David Pacan, C, Niagara IceDogs
Acquired: Trade with Chicago, February 9th, 2011

Pacan is doing all of the things that he needs to in order to further his hockey career. Playing an overage year for Niagara, Pacan has added almost 20 pounds of muscle weight to his 6’3 frame. He has been scoring at just over a point-per-game pace, and has collected 15 goals and 16 assists in 26 games. He continues to play a defensively responsible game.

Whether or not his early season success will help to translate to a professional contract with the Panthers and their deep stable of young and talented centermen is yet to be determined. Although he is not likely to become a top-six player in the NHL, Pacan does have bottom-line potential with his size and scoring ability.

Corey Durocher, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 6th round (153rd overall) in 2010

The trade that sent Durocher from Kingston to Sault Ste. Marie has reinvigorated Durocher’s spirit and confidence. The nineteen-year-old winger drives the net for his goals now, instead of trying to snipe from the outside, and he is using his 6’3 body more to generate space and scoring chances in the offensive zone. Through his first 27 games of the 2011-12 season, Durocher has potted 10 goals with nine assists, fifth-best on the Greyhounds scorers table.

QMJHL

Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 1st round (3rd overall) in 2011

The Florida Panthers thought long and hard about keeping Huberdeau in the NHL this year, but eventually decided that the highly-touted and talented player simply was not yet big enough to handle the rigors of an NHL season. So, the Panthers staff sent him back to juniors, and then signed him to an entry-level contract just a few weeks later.

Huberdeau responded to his return to Saint John by dominating his opposition. Through 13 games, Huberdeau scored 10 goals and added 18 assists, posted a startling plus-20, and was riding an eight-game point streak before breaking his foot while blocking a shot on November 5th. Huberdeau is still out of the lineup, and expected to miss another couple of weeks before returning in mid-to-late December. He received an invitation to try out for Team Canada, and will be a lock to make the team if his foot is healed in time.

Jonathan Racine, D, Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: 3rd round (87th overall) in 2011

There is not a lot to report on Racine’s season thus far, which is actually a good indication of his play. Racine is a defender, through and through, and although he has a good shot, his game centers on keeping the puck out of his own end, whether by steady positional play or by dishing out punishing hits. Through 31 games, Racine has only six points, and his plus/minus currently stands at minus-one. However, Racine plays the tough minutes against some of the best lines the opponents have to offer, and he has been an effective and steady presence on the Cataractes’s comparatively thin blue line. With the Cataractes hosting this year’s Memorial Cup, Racine will get some good and well-deserved attention.

Logan Shaw, RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Acquired: 3rd round (76th overall) in 2011

The 2011-12 season has gone fairly well for Shaw. Playing on a weak Cape Breton team that struggles to generate offense and wins, Shaw has chipped in points at a pace well above last season with 21 points through 30 games. Shaw continues to develop, though his road to the NHL will be a long one. Still, he has size and good hands, and is a leader on the ice. Shaw will undoubtedly play another year of junior hockey.

WHL

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

Late summer brought a lot of talk of Howden having a chance to break camp with the Florida Panthers out of juniors, but a head injury in training camp left him out of action for the rest of camp and forced him to miss several Moose Jaw games after the Panthers returned him to the WHL. Howden made his season debut for the Warriors on October 26th, and promptly scored a goal and an assist against Prince Albert. Since then, Howden has been nothing short of spectacular.

Despite having played in only 19 of the Warriors 31 games, Howden leads the team in both goals (14) and total points (29). His play has been good enough to earn him an invitation to Team Canada’s World Junior camp, and there is every reason to believe he will be a leader on Canada’s WJC squad.

Howden holds a top-five spot among Panthers prospects for good reason. With his size, speed, defensive awareness and a nose for the net, Howden should be wearing a Florida sweater in the not too distant future.

Alex Petrovic, D, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 2nd round (36th overall) in 2010

November has been a good month for Petrovic. In 11 games played in November, Petrovic put up 13 points from the blue line and was named WHL Player of the Week for November 7th. He then closed out the month with an invitation to Team Canada’s WJC camp and a two-game suspension for a check to the head.

Petrovic’s edge fuels his play. He plays a hard and nasty two-way game and is just as likely to hit you as he is to put his shot on net, which helps explain his presence near the top of the leaderboard among WHL defensemen for both scoring and penalty minutes. Look for him to shine for Team Canada in upcoming tournament.

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

This could be the year that Birkholz has been looking for. After two years of turbulence and disappointing results, Birkholz has put together a point-per-game start to his season, with a team-leading 11 goals and 14 assists in 27 games for the Silvertips, nearly matching last year’s total of 29 points for the full season. Although putting up good numbers as a 20-year-old forward in a junior league does not necessarily forecast future success, it does indicate that Birkholz may finally have put the past behind him and gotten down to hard play and full utilization of his impressive skill set.


USHL

Ed Wittchow, D, Waterloo Blackhawks
Acquired: 6th round (154th overall) in 2011

Wittchow’s transition from high school to junior hockey has gone relatively smoothly, thus far. Although he has not produced much offensively (one goal and five assists in 19 games), he is a team-best plus-eight and is seeing time on the powerplay. Wittchow uses his size to good effect, although at times (such as the October 21st game against Green Bay where he received a five-minute major for boarding during which Green Bay scored the game-winner) he has a tendency to being overly aggressive, something that can improve with coaching and experience.

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