The number of Florida Panthers prospects playing junior hockey has dropped over the last year as several key junior performers have moved on to start their professional careers. The 2012 draft class did however add three new junior prospects for Florida. The talent of the junior prospects is evident in the fact that several of the nine suited up for their respective conferences in the recent Subway Super Series that pitted CHL conference teams against the Russian national junior team.
Vincent Trocheck, C, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 3rd round (64th overall) in 2011
Trocheck is having the type of season that could be called a breakout only by those who had not been paying attention to the Saginaw captain. Although his 46 points is seventh-best in the OHL, his point totals are almost secondary to his leadership and all-around play on the ice. He has excellent quickness and his feet are always moving. Trocheck has the intelligence and work ethic to be effective every time he is on the ice, whether that means creating a turnover, generating a scoring chance, forechecking, backchecking, or just mucking pucks out of the corners. He is also offensively dynamic and incredibly durable. Trocheck is a near lock to suit up for Team USA for the world junior championships this fall.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 1st round (3rd overall) in 2011
Most observers expected Jonathan Huberdeau to make the Florida opening day roster this fall, but due to the ongoing NHL labor issues, Huberdeau is once again skating for Saint John. The Sea Dogs of 2012-13 are not the same squad as they were in the recent past, with many top performers having moved on to minor league arenas across North America. Huberdeau's diminished scoring totals should come as no surprise then, as he has been tasked with most of the scoring while playing with a depleted supporting cast. Still, Huberdeau has been scoring at a point-and-a-half-per-game pace, and currently sits twelfth overall in the QMJHL scoring race.
Of the 30 games that Huberdeau has played this season, he has registered at least a point in all but four. Huberdeau was named captain of Team QMJHL in the Subway Series games against the Russian junior team, and led all players who took part in the series with five points. His achievement is particularly impressive in light of the fact that that many of the Russian stars, including last year's first overall draft pick, Nail Yakupov (EDM), played in five or six of the games in the series, while Huberdeau played in only two. Barring a resolution to the NHL lockout, the young forward will suit up on the first line for Team Canada in the upcoming junior championships.
Jonathan Racine, D, Moncton Wildcats
Acquired: 3rd round (87th overall) in 2011
Racine was traded to Moncton last summer after winning a Memorial Cup trophy with Shawinigan, but it does not appear that the trade either dampened his spirits or restricted his game. In fact, Racine has nearly eclipsed last year's point total already in just 28 games while maintaining the kind of defense first, positional awareness that caught the eye of the Panthers staff in 2011. With his athleticism, long reach, and stalwart positional defense, Racine is the kind of middle-pairing, shutdown blueliner that simply makes his team better. He has all the tools to have a long NHL career.
Logan Shaw, RW, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 3rd round (76th overall) in 2011
Logan Shaw is learning that it never hurts to play with a superstar in making. After the initial spark of offense that flared during last season's playoffs with the Remparts, Shaw has been on fire early this season. He has thus far posted 14 goals and 21 assists in 30 games, with five of the 13 goals coming on the powerplay. With first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko (BUF) absorbing a lot of attention from opposing teams, Shaw has been able to find plenty of space on the ice to improve his scoring totals and has been seeing valuable playing time both at even strength and on the powerplay. With his good size, improved scoring touch and skating, Shaw is quietly building a granite foundation for a professional career in an organization that is looking for right wing talent. At the top levels, Shaw's ceiling looks like a top-nine spot as a two-way grinder with some offensive potential.
Francis Beauvillier, LW, Rimouski Oceanic
Acquired: 6th round (174th overall) in 2012
Beauvillier is a speedy center and a project player that the Panthers drafted late in the 2012 draft, hoping that his skill game will eventually catch up to his feet. So far, the choice looks like a good one for Florida. Beauvillier has nearly doubled his scoring pace from last year, without sacrificing any of the greasy play that has always been a notable part of his game. He was selected for Team QMJHL in the Subway Super Series, and scored the first goal of game two less than a minute after the opening faceoff. His acceleration makes him a breakaway threat any time he is on the ice.
Steven Hodges, Victoria Royals
Acquired: 3rd round (84th overall) in 2012
Hodges had a rough start to the 2012-13 season, including missing three weeks with an shoulder injury. His fortunes however have turned for the better since then. Hodges had a particularly strong November, with six points in nine WHL games and an appearance for Team WHL in the Subway Super Series. The young center skates well and plays a gritty, two-way game. Still a project player with a long road ahead of him, Hodges has time to develop his game into what could become a gutsy third-line center role in the NHL.
Alexander Delnov, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 4th round (114th overall) in 2012
Heads are turning in Seattle. At the NHL draft last summer, only the Florida Panthers staff and a few others outside of the Russian junior league had ever heard of Delnov. But after a little more than two months of playing hockey in North America, Delnov has started to make a name for himself as a fast-skating, hard-working athlete with scoring touch. He has been among the top rookie producers in the WHL, with 10 goals and 14 assists in 29 games.
Rasmus Bengtsson, D, Muskegon Lumberjacks
Acquired: 2nd round (59th overall) in 2011
Bengtsson moved from Sweden to the USHL last season, and the extra ice time and responsibilities he has received in Muskegon have been a boon to his development. Bengtsson is a smart, active defenseman who can be a stabilizing force in the back end. He was invited to San Antonio's training camp this fall and could potentially see some time at the AHL level at the end of the season.
Benjamin Gallacher, D, Green Bay Gamblers
Acquired: 4th round (93rd overall) in 2010
Tumultuous is the word that comes to mind when thinking about Gallacher's junior season thus far. Having left the hockey program at Ohio State with an eye toward joining the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Gallacher is playing out his year-long transfer waiting period by lining up with the Green Bay Gamblers. Although he has made an impact thus far with the Gamblers, the impact has not been all positive. Gallacher was suspended for eight games after leveling a couple of crosschecks that resulted in a line fight with Cedar Rapids. After serving his suspension, Gallacher scored his first USHL goal, and then got tagged for yet another suspension. will need to learn how to curb his impulses if he wants to have a long hockey career.