Panthers ECHL prospects season review

By Holly Gunning






Johner

Last August, the Florida Panthers signed a
one-year affiliation agreement with the ECHL Florida Everblades, located on the
other side of the peninsula in Estero. Prior to this, the Panthers had
sent their AA prospects to the Texas Wildcatters. This year they instead
doubled up with the Carolina Hurricanes, who remain affiliated with the
Everblades as well. It was a successful relationship that took the team to
the South Division finals, and thus likely to be renewed next season.

Below is a review of the seasons of six Panthers
prospects who spent time with the Everblades. Goaltender Phil Osaer also
spent the season with the team, but the 26-year-old no longer fits Hockey’s
Future’s prospect criteria.

Dustin Johner,
C

GPGAPts+/-PIM
Regular season (Florida)361521361724
Regular season (Las Vegas)922408
Playoffs8549-14

The
Panthers selected Johner with a sixth-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft,
but did not sign him by the 2003 deadline. He remained in junior for another
season, then signed with the Calgary Flames as a free agent in 2004.

Florida re-acquired the rights
to Johner on Dec. 2, 2005 as part of a three-player deal which sent winger Kristian Huselius to
Calgary. The Panthers then assigned Johner to the Everblades.
In his first game on Dec. 3, he picked up two
assists, just 12 hours after flying in from Las Vegas, the Flames affiliate
where he had been assigned.
The Wranglers’ leading scorer in 2004-05, he had gotten off to a bit of a slow
start this year recovering from mono.

Johner
would only stay two weeks with the Everblades before being recalled to the AHL
Rochester Americans for 10 days. He was reassigned back to the team on
Jan. 28, where he finished the season. He had a good playoffs with nine
points in eight games, despite suffering a concussion in the series against
Greenville.

The 5’11, 117-pound center also appeared in five games with Omaha of the
AHL this year.
A
good skater with some offensive upside, the
23-year-old should be knocking on the AHL door
next season.

Drew Larman, C

GPGAPts+/-PIM
Regular season6000-64
Playoffs842624

Larman played just six games with the Everblades
at the very beginning of the season before being called up to Rochester. The defensive forward would be very
important to the team come playoff time, however, scoring six points in eight
games.

“Drew’s terrific on faceoffs — a solid
defensive forward,” Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming said during the
team’s final playoff series. “Knows his responsibility and
is just getting better. Solid positionally, his biggest asset is the ability to take faceoffs on his strong side which would
be his left side.”

The 21-year-old will look to stick the entire
year in Rochester next season.

Martin Lojek, D

GPGAPts+/-PIM
Regular season45311141340
Playoffs2000-30

Lojek and Tuma are often spoken of in one breath,
both 6’4 first-year defensemen out of the Czech Republic, born just a month
apart. The 20-year-olds are also good
friends and rarely separated.

“I think it was important for them to get a year in the ECHL just to understand the habits of what it takes to be a professional hockey player, learning the training, the practice schedule, the
regimen,” Fleming said. “They’ve gotten better as the year’s gone on. I think now that they have the tools and the instruction of what a professional athlete does, I think the offseason’s going to be big for them.”

Fleming pointed to Lojek’s “huge shot”
as one thing that separated him from Tuma. It’s one that is both hard and
accurate from the point.

Lojek was recalled twice to Rochester, both times
in the first half of the season. He was paired mostly with second-year pro Chris
Lee at even strength and played on both the power play and penalty kill for the
Everblades. He makes a good outlet pass that keeps him in positive plus/minus
territory.

Martin Tuma, D

GPGAPts+/-PIM
Regular season48066-575
Playoffs100000

Tuma had only half of Lojek’s points, but is stronger positionally than Lojek, according to
Fleming. Tuma was recalled to Rochester at the end of the regular season,
giving the Panthers a read on him for next season. Tuma has the mobility
to play effective defense, but needs to stay away from obstruction penalties to
remain effective. He uses his 6’4 frame more often than Lojek.

Both Tuma and Lojek found it difficult to crack the lineup in
the playoffs on a team who favors more veteran players.

Jeremy Swanson, D

GPGAPts+/-PIM
Regular season14134-512
Playoffsinjured

Swanson is a solid defenseman when he’s healthy
and on his game, but unfortunately that was a rare occurrence this season.


“He didn’t come into camp in the greatest shape and they were a little bit disappointed at that.
But he’s a young player who hopefully learned a valuable lesson, that your body is
your investment and you have to take care of it. I think he’ll grow and get better from it.”

Swanson began the year with the Everblades, but was called up in late October to
Rochester.
The 21-year-old suffered a concussion after just 11 games with the Americans. He was finally
reassigned back to the Everblades on Feb. 14. He played five games
and just wasn’t ready. He stayed out of the lineup the rest of the year
with post-concussion syndrome.

“He just didn’t feel himself,” Fleming described. “His vision was suffering a bit and as a result it was effecting his play, which is understandable.
We sent him over to Florida because of the proximity to us. They had their doctors examine him and had further tests. They sent him back to us, so it’s just a matter of time. He’s been working out and getting better.
He’s been back on the ice at practice with us. He had a couple practices [so
far]. He said he felt a little bit better so that’s a positive sign.”

Grant McNeill, D/F

GPGAPts+/-PIM
Regular season311125123
Playoffsinjured

McNeill spent far more time on the IR this season
than on the ice. He suffered a concussion on Oct. 29, was activated on
Nov. 27 and played until Jan. 2, when he was recalled to Rochester. He
only played two games with Rochester before suffering a shoulder injury that
kept him out the rest of the year.

“It’s too bad because he was really getting
better,” Fleming said. “As a defenseman he always had a reputation
as a tough guy. He’s a kid who could play either defense or forward.
I think he does well in his role, he’s a presence, there’s no doubt about
it. He battled through some injuries this year and I know he was a little
bit disappointed. Before he got hurt, we were using him in two roles and he was responding well. Hopefully he can
recover from his injuries and get back to where he was at before he got
hurt.”



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