Florida Panthers own strong, diverse group at minor league level

By Brian Fogarty

Drew Shore - Florida Panthers

Photo: Forward Drew Shore is one of several Florida Panthers prospects playing in their first season of professional hockey. (Courtesy of Juan Salas/Icon SMI)

The Florida Panthers prospect pool has seen significant turnover at the minor league level over the last six months. Some players have graduated to the NHL while others have been traded. Several new faces have joined the professional ranks for the first time. After all of the movement is accounted for, what remains is perhaps the strongest minor league group of prospects the Panthers have had in a long time, if ever.

AHL

Jacob Markstrom, G, 23

The conversation regarding minor league players in the Florida system has to begin with Markstrom. A standout goaltending prospect on the cusp of what could turn out to be a long NHL career, Markstrom has been working out his typical early season troubles. The most important outcome of Markstrom's season in San Antonio thus far has been his ability to avoid injury. Getting in a full season will give him a significant boost in his overall development, as will overcoming the inconsistency that produced some miserable results early in the season.

In his last 10 games, Markstrom posted a .944 save percentage and has allowed about 1.9 goals per game. Although those statistics show vast improvement over his early season woes, Markstrom will have to find a way to play up to his January form throughout an entire year. On the season, he has a 15-14-2 record, 2.54 goals against average, a .923 save percentage, and three shutouts.

Drew Shore, C, 22

Drew Shore left the University of Denver after a successful junior year and signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers. Although he was expected to get a good look from the Florida coaches in training camp, the NHL labor breakdown left him starting in the AHL, where he took full advantage of his ice time. Shore posted 10 goals and 20 assists through his first 41 professional games and played his way onto the AHL All-Star squad.

Once the NHL lockout ended, Shore received an emergency call-up to the Panthers. He registered his first NHL point with an assist in his sixth game, but more importantly Shore has been outstanding in the faceoff circle and solid at both ends of the ice, which has led to him receiving increased ice time. Shore may end up on a plane back to San Antonio once some of the regulars return from injury, but he has done everything necessary to reassure the Panthers organization that he has a solid future in the NHL.

Quinton Howden, LW, 21

Like many players in their first season of professional hockey, it has been a year of transition for Quinton Howden. Hailing from the WHL, Howden has had games this season where he appeared to struggle with assignments. However, he has been able to use his speed to his advantage and has begun scoring with more regularity. Through 44 games, Howden has nine goals and 12 assists. More impressive has been his willingness to do what has been asked of him and take on a penalty-killing, high energy role with the Rampage. The experience that Howden is accruing this year will better serve his NHL future that could arrive as early as next season.

Colby Robak, D, 22

Robak continues to be a steady, two-way presence for the Rampage, and sometime soon he will carry his big shot and smooth skating to the NHL. Robak, an AHL All-Star last season, leads San Antonio in points by a defenseman with 18 points. Robak plays every shift with the same intensity and drive, and as one of the leaders in ice time, he gets plenty of shifts in all facets of the game. Robak uses his size and his mobility to play effective defense in his own end, and is capable of clean breakout passes even under pressure from the opposing team. He has a good shot and has scored two of his three goals while on the powerplay.

The Panthers gave Robak a long look during the abbreviated training camp after the lookout, and will be ready to call him back up to the NHL as an injury replacement this season should the need arise. Robak will be ready to make a solid run at a roster spot with Florida next fall.

Alex Petrovic, D, 20

Petrovic has taken his big body and gritty physical play to the AHL this season and thus far has seen mixed results that have been trending in a positive direction as the season progresses. He has been playing smarter positional hockey, simplifying his game and adapting to the pace of play. One thing that has not been affected by his jump to the minor leagues has been his physical game. Through 40 games, Petrovic has 77 penalty minutes, including a 25 penalty minute game in mid-December when he was given a game misconduct for abuse of officials at the end of a fight-filled loss to rival Oklahoma City. Although he had some trouble getting on the scoreboard early in the year, since the turn of the calendar, Petrovic has increased his scoring pace significantly and put up a goal and five assists in his last 11 games.

John McFarland, RW, 20

After a bumpy run through junior hockey, McFarland has finally made his way to the AHL via a stint in the ECHL. McFarland started the season in the AHL, but after a month of play he was able to net only three assists in 12 games he was sent down to the ECHL. In Cincinnati, McFarland posted 25 points in 23 games, and finally earned a trip back to San Antonio in mid-January. He has scored a goal and an assist in the seven games since his return, including the only goal in a 1-0 shutout win in San Antonio's annual Pink in the Rink fundraiser game. McFarland still needs to find a comfort level in his game before his will have a serious shot at NHL play. He has the skill to make it as a scorer, but thus far has averaged less than a shot on net per game. In order to have any affect, he will need to find a way to generate more opportunities to put the puck in the net. He can play center or either wing, and that kind of flexibility is valuable at all levels of hockey.

Scott Timmins, C, 22

Timmins is a player that continues to provide regular play at the AHL level. He brings energy to the Rampage, and shows good hands and a nose for the net at times. Timmins excels at mucking around in the corners, creating havoc, and eating up minutes on the forecheck. Through 40 games he has six goals, seven assists, and 36 penalty minutes.

Eric Selleck, LW, 25

Every team has role players, and Selleck knows his role well. He leads the Rampage in penalty minutes by a wide margin and will drop the gloves with anyone that shows the slightest inkling of desire to go with him. He is not called upon to be much more than an enforcer at the AHL level and his three goals over 47 games are a testament to his lack of offensive firepower. He is however seventh in the AHL in penalty minutes with 156. Selleck remains a prospect in name only, and the 25-year-old winger will eventually play out his career at the AHL level.

Jonathan Hazen, RW, 22

Jonathan Hazen is another player who worked his way up from the ECHL and into a roster spot with the Rampage. Though he seeing mostly bottom-line minutes at this time, he puts his speed on display every shift and plays an energetic, competitive game. In 31 games in the AHL this season, Hazen has two goals and eight assists.

Zach Hamill, C, 23

The eighth overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft was recently acquired from the Washington Capitals for forward Casey Wellman. Though Hamill has yet to live up to his draft pick status, he does bring creativity and tremendous hockey sense to the Panthers organization. This will be the last season that Hamill will qualify as a prospect, and time is getting short for him to make an impact big enough to get another shot at the NHL.

Brendon Nash, D, 25

Brought in via a mid-January trade with the Montreal Canadiens, Brendon Nash is a mobile defenseman with some offensive skill who will add depth to the Panthers' system. With young defensemen such as Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic expected to move on the NHL soon, Nash brings experience (120 games of NCAA hockey with Cornell, another 107 games in the AHL) that the minor-league system needs. He plays a reliable, well-rounded game.

ECHL

Garrett Wilson, LW, 21

After a bumpy rookie season, Wilson has settled into a solid, two-way player at the ECHL level. The former Owen Sound captain has 29 points (including 19 goals) in 38 games so far this season. He has good size at 6'3 and 218 pounds, and is willing to play physically and throw punches. He has the ability to become a dependable checking forward in the higher levels, but at this point it is beginning to look like he might struggle to find time in the NHL. A more permanent role at the AHL level looks to be in his not-too-distant future.

Anthony Luciani, RW, 22

Injuries have troubled Luciani again this season. He spent the first two months on injured reserve, but has performed well since his return in the middle of December. Luciani has scored four goals and 10 assists in his 25 ECHL games this year. He must overcome his penchant for injury before he has any shot at the big league, because repeatedly missing games is drastically hampering his development. At 5'8, he does not have the type of frame that instills confidence in his ability to withstand the rigors of the NHL.

Mattias Lindstrom, RW, 21

The 6'3, 212-pound winger from Lulea, Sweden has spent the first part of his initial season of North American hockey pounding away in the ECHL, mucking pucks out the corners and trying to acclimate to the faster, grittier style of play. Lindstrom is well-suited to North American hockey but is still a long shot to become an NHL player, even on a checking line.

Josh McFadden, D, 21

McFadden was signed by the Panthers to bring some offensive spark from the blue line, but so far that has not worked out as planned. After starting the season with two scoreless games in San Antonio, McFadden is playing in the ECHL, and has just one goal and eight assists in 21 games. Still, like the other first-year players in the Panthers minor league system, McFadden is young (he will turn 22 in May) and adjusting to the professional game. He must continue to develop his offense at the ECHL level and get back on a successful development curve.

Brian Foster, G, 26

Foster remains on the typical goaltender track, edging up a level at a time, first as a backup, then as a starter, then on to the next level. Currently, Foster gets the bulk of the starts for Florida's ECHL affiliate in Cincinatti. He has been posting respectable numbers, including a .904 save percentage and a 2.76 goals against average. He also has a winning record at 14-6-4.

If Foster continues his development path, he should be ready to compete for a full-time role in the AHL next season. Foster's NHL potential still appears limited at this point, but his calm demeanor and crease awareness is welcome on any organization's depth chart.

Michael Houser, G, 20

Last year, Michael Houser was considered one of the best goaltenders in all of Canadian major junior hockey yet was passed over completely in the NHL draft. After an extensive workout over the summer, the Panthers signed the young Pennsylvania native to a three-year contract, and sent him off to develop into an NHL goaltender. So far, Houser is backing up Brian Foster in the ECHL, and the rookie netminder has posted an admirable .921 save percentage over 12 games. Houser is a battler with good instincts and reaction speed, and should quickly climb up the Panthers goaltender depth chart.

 

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