Panthers Mid-Season Prospect Review: Part 2

By Mark Fischel

In the 2nd part of a 3 part series, Hockey’s Future looks at most of the Florida Panthers prospects playing in the CHL, NCAA, and European ranks.

Davis Parley: Goalie, Kamloops Blazers

28 GP (17-7-1), 2.75 GAA, .917%, 1 Shut-out

Davis Parley is continuing with another strong season for the always strong Kamloops Blazers. While last year’s team was a very young one, the team is maturing along with Parley’s play, and he is taking a more active leadership role in the dressing room and on the ice. Parley’s improvement is in his positional play where he has improved squaring up to the shooter, whether it is in the butterfly or upright position. Parley’s foot speed, side to side movement, and glove hand has also shown improvement which has helped him make several highlight saves. Parley is ranked 4th in the WHL with a .917 Save %. In addition, Parley has started to get more aggressive in his crease and has jostled with opposing forwards several times when defending his crease.

But as with any young goalie learning to master his craft, Davis Parley must also improve his stick-handling skills and board work, especially on the dump-ins. Another area that the Panthers would like to see some improvement is for Parley to have several consistent games in a row. But Parley’s emergence as one of the more consistent goalies in the WHL is getting him noticed. HF’s WHL Editor Glen Crichton “Parley has taken a huge step forward with the ice time, and starting to show that Kamloops is getting to pay off for thrusting Parley into the #1 spot”

Sean O’Connor: Right Winger, Moose Jaw Warriors
48 GP, 14 Goals, 16 Assists, 30 Points, +17, 97 PIM

The Captain of the Warriors, Sean O’Connor is emerging as a potential NHL’er with some promise as a power-forward, said Glen Crichton “I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect him to score 20 goals in the NHL and maybe a 150 PIM”. O’Connor has continued his play as a big tough physical winger who is more of an agitator than enforcer. He isn’t afraid to dance with partners and defend his teammates, but being as big as he is, sometimes it is hard to define what role one will play, and O’Connor’s role has changed several times. His role will probably change again when he becomes a professional hockey player in the AHL.

O’Connor is a player with a great shot and good hands for a big guy. “I would be surprised if within two years he doesn’t get a legitimate shot at cracking the Panthers lineup”. Crichton replied regarding O’Connor’s development. But for that to happen, O’Connor would have to increase his physical strength a lot more, and his prognosis as a professional is a 3rd to 4th line player.

Dustin Johner: Center, Seattle Thunderbirds
50 Games Played, 24 Goals, 33 Assists, 57 Points, -11, 53 PIM

Dustin Johner at 50 game has already exceeded last years point totals and is one off his last season’s goal-scoring mark, with several games left in the season. This strong play on a weak Birds team has gotten him notice as the fans choice for team captain. Johner has blazing speed and a tenacious game, but is smallish in stature. This year he hasn’t been afraid to get his nose dirty and grind along the walls though, and he leads his team in scoring. While the Panthers have him projected a center for the long term, Johner’s best play so far is coming as a winger this season.

Matt Sommerfeld: Left Winger, Tri-Cities

26 Games Played, 5 Goals, 5 Assists, 10 Points, -7, 156 PIM

Matt Sommerfeld through 26 games has already tied his season mark of goals, assists, and points, but his season started with a little bit of controversy. A little through the beginning of the season, Matt Sommerfeld asked for a trade from the Swift Current Broncos, where he felt his development was being hindered in an environment where enforcers don’t get a lot of ice time. According to Panthers Western Amateur scout Wayne Meier, “Matt is a big tough enforcer type player. He wasn’t getting any ice time to develop his other skills”

Sommerfeld is a big and strong legitimate fighter who had over 140 PIM’s in 18 games. After a lengthy time sitting out, he recently got traded to Tri-Cities, where he is now a regular on the 3rd line and is getting the ice time needed. But will the hold out have any kind of long term effect on Sommerfeld’s development, and the question is, will he have to play his last season as an overage junior before making the jump to professional hockey?

Grant McNeill: Defenseman, Prince Albert Raiders
50 Games Played, 4 Goals, 2 Assists, 6 Points, -12, 238 PIM

“In McNeill, Florida is getting a sledge hammer” was the first thing HF’s Glen Crichton mentioned when asked about Grant McNeill. This tough as hell defenseman with the Raiders club is still scaring the daylights out of opposing players with his punishing game. Panthers scout Meier, “He plays tough with his body, plays tough with his stick and plays tough with his fists” who compared McNeill as a combination of Panther regulars Joey Tetarenko and Brad Ference, both players who learned their game in the WHL as well.

One area in which McNeill needed to improve on since drafted was his skating, and this year his foot speed and skating has helped him go from a 6th defenseman to a top 4 d-man this year. He has a definite physical presence and has a shot to fill that role in the NHL if he keeps improving and is projected as an aggressive defensive defenseman, whose skating skills are enough to play on the top two defensive pairings of an NHL club.

Josh Olson: Left Winger, Portland Winter Hawks
48 Games Played, 28 Goals, 27 Assists, 55 Points, +18, 59 PIM

Another Panther WHL prospect who has really picked it up this year, Josh Olson is currently 12th in the WHL in goal-scoring and is on pace for career numbers across the board. After playing soft at times last year, Olson needed to improve his skating, and he has gotten more powerful as a skater with a long stride. Maturing as a player and playing with more of a mean streak, he is tough to move off the puck and in the front of the net, and Glen Crichton compares him to a “poor man’s Marian Hossa”. While he is reaching personal bests, Panther’s scout Wayne Meier says “we would like to see him get 40 to 45 goals.” In order to do this, Olson must elevate his game by playing hard all the time, get involved in the game as early as possible, and avoid being invisible.

Kyle Bruce: Right Winger, Prince Albert Raiders
50 Games Played, 5 Goals, 4 Assists, 9 Points, -14, 150 PIM

Plays a banging and crashing game similar to Jordin Tootoo. Kyle Bruce will go toe to toe with anyone in the WHL, and will need to get bigger to keep developing into a more complete physical player, as his size may hold him back. HF’s Glen Crichton “Kyle will hit and fight and defend teammates, gritty 4th line type player in the NHL but to do that will need to improve his speed”. But what Bruce lacks in size and skating, he more than makes it up with his character and heart.

Billy Thompson: Goalie, Prince George Cougars
33 Games Played, 15 Wins, 14 Losses, 2 Ties, 2.82 GAA, .907 SV%

Billy Thompson has elevated his game to a new level this year and he has been a rock in net for Cougars. “He is the reason his team wins” Meier stated when asked what Thompson means to the Cougars play this year, and his strong play got him named to the WHL All-Star Team this year. When he is on top of his game, he is intense with quick feet and a good glove, and all the tangibles fall in place for him. Thompson squares himself up to the shooter very well, and handles the puck with ease, and started the season very well. But his play tapers off at times, but then he picks up his play again and continues on. The next step for Billy Thompson is to excel in the playoffs.

Greg Watson: Center, Prince Albert Raiders
49 Games Played, 22 Goals, 29 Assists, 51 Points, -23, 84 PIM

Only 49 games into the season, Greg Watson has tied his career high for goals, and set new highs for Assists, Points, and PIM’s. A lot of draft pundits felt that Greg Watson was overlooked when he fell to the 2nd round to the Panthers. Named as the WHL Player of the Week after the season’s first week. Watson is a combination of grit and skill who sees the ice well and can provide a physical presence behind fellow Panther prospects and teammates Grant McNeill and Kyle Bruce.

Leading the struggling Raiders in scoring in goals, assists, and points, Watson is the focal point for the offense with his two way game and strong shot. Panthers Amateur scout Wayne Meier on Watson, “Greg has to learn to work hard every shift, he has trouble working hard every game. So he has to work on his consistency in being a grinding power forward.”

The next step for Watson’s progression is to make the same impact in the AHL as he did in the WHL, and the only limitations to Watson’s game is how hard he pushes himself to the next level. As stated, Watson needs to continually push himself to excel, whether that is due to his not being challenged enough or otherwise.

Stephen Weiss: Center, Plymouth Whalers
28 Games Played, 20 Goals, 26 Assists, 46 Points, +29, 43 PIM
WJC: 6 Games Played, 3 Goals, 1 Assist, 4 Points, 6 PIM

Currently, Weiss is out with a injury and is 2nd in scoring on his team and is 6th in the league in +/-, and Weiss missed some games to start the season due to being in Florida for the Panther’s training camp. This season, Weiss is making a concerted effort to start shooting the puck more in the efforts to improve his game, a skill that the Panthers think Weiss should work on more. “To get to the next level to be a goal-scorer, he has going to have to work on the shot” said Panthers Amateur Scout Todd Hearty.

Maybe one of the smartest players in the OHL, Weiss’s natural hockey sense makes it easy for him to avoid the rough stuff, but this season his penalty minutes has increased as his concerted effort to play a more physical game. “Stephen is able to get to the net in Juniors, but in the NHL will have to work at getting his shot off from other areas. He is so smart, he really doesn’t have to go hard every game”. Hearty said. Still, Weiss is practically involved in scoring in every game he plays, brings a responsible game and does all the little things right that scouts, coaches and GM’s look at.

At the Worlds, Stephen was key in taking all the important faceoffs and was skating very well, but got injured in the 3rd game. Well respected by his teammates, they hung his jersey up on the bench to “include” him in that game, but when he came back he was ineffective in the gold medal game.

Lukas Krajicek: Defense, Peterborough Petes

36 Games Played, 5 Goals, 15 Assists, 20 Points, -7, 46 PIM
WJC: 7 Games Played, 1 Goal, 3 Assists, 4 Points, 6 PIM

The smooth skating rearguard with the offensive games was among the last cuts at the Panther’s training camp. Like a lot of jr. players who get a taste of the NHL and go back to their teams, they struggle, “They come back and maybe are a little disappointed, it takes them some time to get back into the swing of jr. hockey” Commented Steve Spott, Asst. GM of the Kitchener Rangers. Statistically, Krajicek’s numbers are below what his average is, and he started the OHL season off slow and had to climb out of the coaches doghouse.

When Krajicek is playing on top of his game, he plays against the top lines, where his offensive instincts, playmaking abilities, and mobility make him tough to beat one on one. His offensive instincts are top-notch and he is able to contribute offensively. Among several areas of improvements that the Panthers are looking at for Krajicek to improve on is for him to take more control of a game. When asked about Krajicek’s talent level, Todd Hearty replied “He likes to sit back and make it an easy game, cause it it easy for him”

Krajicek also has the deficiencies that a lot of offensive defenseman have, and he has to improve on the play in his zone, and in some of the physical demands, like along the boards. In the WJC, Krajicek was a member of the disappointing Czech Republic squad, where he was the QB of the power-play and played the more conservative Czech game

Vladimir Sapozhnikov: Defense, North Bay Centennials
13 Games Played, 2 Assists, 2 Points, +1, 17 PIM
WJC: 7 Games Played, 0 Points, 6 PIMS

The tough defensive defenseman whom the Panthers feel they got as a steal in the second round in the 2000 Draft, has remained a mystery player to most. Struggled last year with the adjustment to life in Canada and had some injuries, Sapozhnikov suffered a separated shoulder in the Hull rookie tournament and missed the beginning of the OHL season. At the WJC, Vlad didn’t play much for the Russian squad, who preferred to play the players playing in Russia over the CHL Russians. As noted by a Panther scout, the only positive thing was that Sapozhnikov was a member of the Russian gold medal winning team, so that experience was good for him.

Mike Woodford: Right Winger, Michigan Wolverines
26 Games Played, 5 Goals, 8 Assists, 13 Points, 42 PIM, +9

Mike Woodford is currently in his freshman year at the University of Michigan, where he started off a bit slow according to Panthers Amateur Scout Sean O’Brien “I think he took the first half of the year to get acclimated to the college game, and now he is playing in all situations”. Having come from being a prep school MVP for several years with Cushing Academy, Woodford is now feeling comfortable and is starting to play his physical game by throwing his weight around, even with his smaller stature. Projected to have the potential to become a 3rd to 4th line player, Woodford must continue his agitating play, and concentrate more on his efforts to score.

Robert Fried: Right Winger, Harvard University
15 Games Played, 3 Goals, 3 Assists, 6 Points

Currently in his 2nd year with Harvard University, Robert Fried has from this time last year has progressed and made the adjustment from prep school. Fried is the type of player who complements other players and gives them more room to operate. Panthers scout O’ Brien “ He is going to fit on a line and going to be able to play a good two way offensive, defensive game.” Fried has already exceeded his point totals from last year, and has developed his game into more of a team and pro style game.

Janis Sprukts: Center, Acadie-Bathurst Titans
45 Games Played, 27 Goals, 36 Assists, 63 Points, 37 PIM, +44

Janis Sprukts started out playing in his native Latvia and also spent some time playing in Finland before coming over the QMJHL. With the Titans, Sprukts has been playing on Acadie-Bathurst’s top line with Olivier Fillion and Jonathan Ferland. Fillion is a play-making center, while Ferland is a power-forward. While Sprukts isn’t a physical player, according to Panther scout Ron Harris “(Sprukts) wont back down from anyone” Sprukts is tough to move off the puck, and is strong in the corners. He’s third in team scoring behind his two linemates and is tied for the team lead with a +37, and with 9 fewer games.

He’s a strong finisher, but sometimes gets caught playing far too much on the perimeter. “He is a perimeter player, but he has the hockey sense to go into the slot to get the shot on net” Harris says, “He goes in the right place at the right time”Sprukts works well on his line, as his talents compliment those of his linemates.

Acadie-Bathurst is currently the top-ranked team in the entire CHL, which says alot about Sprukts and the fact that he’s the team’s top left winger. But coming over from Europe and learning the pro game, Sprukts still has some work to do “He has to get a heck of a lot faster, and if he improves his skating he is going to be a pretty good player in the NHL”. Ron Harris stated. In addition, Sprukts will need to improve his defensive game.

Toni Koivisto: Left Winger, Lukko Ruomo

40 Games Played, 3 Goals, 10 Assists, 13 Points, 8 PIM
WJC: 7 Games Played, 3 Goals, 4 Assists, 7 Points, 2 PIM, +2

The quick and feisty Toni Koivisto recently made a lot of people take notice with his strong performance at the WJC this year, which earned 2nd team all-star honors. Not only was he one of the best players on a strong Finnish squad, but as Panthers scout Wayne Meier points out, Koivisto “Was perhaps the best of Florida’s prospects over there, and he was a 7th round pick of ours”.

Koivisto is a regular skater for his Lukko-Ruomo squad, where he is very involved defensively and ““He is an energy guy, never stops trying, and is a good skater. For his benefit, he is able to handle the puck at full speed” according to Pavel Routa, the Panthers European scout. But before Koivisto can make an impact in the North American game, he is going to gain some size and improve his general strength overall.