Panthers Top 20 prospects

By Jason Menard

A pair of trades of some aging assets shook up the top of the Panthers’ prospects pool. Shawn Matthias, who was obtained in the Todd Bertuzzi trade with Detroit managed to crack the top-10, while the return for Gary Roberts was even more substantial from Pittsburgh. Noah Welch was the man Florida wanted – and for good reason, as the young blueliner moves to the top of the Panthers prospect list.

Shipping out Bertuzzi, Roberts, and Joel Kwiatkowski for prospects and picks shows that the youth movement is in full effect in Florida. However, considering the overall quality of the club’s prospects, immediate relief isn’t in the offering and Panthers fans could expect some lean years before any return to respectability.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (NR) Noah Welch, D
2. (1) Michael Frolik, C
3. (2) Kenndal McArdle, LW
4. (3) Anthony Stewart, RW
5. (5) Tyler Plante, G
6. (7) David Booth, LW
7. (NR) Shawn Matthias, C
8. (6) David Shantz, G
9. (4) Stefan Meyer, LW
10. (9) Dan Collins, RW
11. (8) Brady Calla, RW
12. (17) Drew Bagnall, D
13. (13) Derrick Lapoint, D
14. (10) Janis Sprukts, C
15. (11) Kamil Kreps, C
16. (nr) Brian Foster, G
17. (16) Martin Lojek, D
18. (nr) Franklin MacDonald, D
19. (12) Michael Caruso, D 
20. (15) Rob Globke, RW

Key: Rank, (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Age, How Acquired

1. (NR) Noah Welch, D, 24

Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh 2007 (2nd round, 54th overall, 2001)

The Panthers parlayed Gary Roberts into a solid return, landing hulking blueliner Noah Welch from Brighton, MA. At 6’4 and roughly 215 pounds, Welch adds the promise of continued size on the Panthers’ future blueline.

Welch has shown that he’s a prototype for the next-generation of NHL defensemen. In addition to size, he’s got a solid shot, great hockey sense and passing skills, and good skating ability, which combines to give his game that offensive flair that made him such an attractive commodity.

The ultimate benefit, right now, is that Welch is a seasoned player who should be ready to help out the Panthers on a full-time basis next season. He spent four years at Harvard where he accounted for 23 goals and 53 assists in 99 games. Since then he’s played two seasons in the AHL and was called up for a successful five-game trial last year with the Penguins (one goal, three assists). This year, he appeared in 2 games with Florida and 22 for Pittsburgh and showed he wasn’t out of place, earning a +4 ranking and adding two goals and one assist.

2. (1) Michael Frolik, C, 19

Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall, 2006

Highly-touted Czech center Michael Frolik fell to the Panthers with the 10th pick in the 2006 draft. He came to North American shores right away, with good results.

In his first season, Frolik paced the Rimouski Oceanic with 31 goals and 42 assists in 52 games. The 19-year-old also enjoyed a solid World Junior Championships, averaging a point per game with the Czechs, scoring four goals and adding a pair of assists. He was also used in all situations.

While he may never live up to the ‘Baby Jagr’ moniker with which he was branded by the home-country press, Frolik’s combination of speed, decent size, and nose for the net continue to make him a very attractive asset for the Panthers organization.

3. (2) Kenndal McArdle, LW, 20

Acquired: 1st round, 20th overall, 2005

McArdle saw his overall production decline from last season and while he was officially a member of the gold-medal-winning Canadian World Junior club, he barely had the opportunity to dull his skates as his ice time was severely restricted.  But he still has a lot of promise.

A late-November trade saw the young winger move further west from the Moose Jaw Warriors, where he played the past four seasons, to the WHL powerhouse Vancouver Giants. And while his offensive numbers actually fell from the pace he was on in Moose Jaw, he played a key role in Giants’ success. Not asked to shoulder the same offensive burden with Vancouver during the regular season – his 19 goals and 23 assists saw him finish eighth in scoring on the team – McArdle showed his development in the other aspects of his game, posting a +2 rating after being negative in Moose Jaw.

It’s been in the playoffs where McArdle has shown his leadership, experience, and talent. In 10 WHL playoff games, the Burnaby native has led his home-province team with 13 points. More importantly, he’s been a +12 and a key reason why Vancouver is currently resting and awaiting the start of the Western Conference final after dispatching the Chilliwack Bruins and Seattle Thunderbirds in consecutive series by identical 4-1 totals.

As the Memorial Cup host club, McArdle’s assured of a spot on junior hockey’s center stage, but his play has helped to propel the Giants playoff drive, leaving them en route to qualifying based on winning their league.

4. (3) Anthony Stewart, C, 22

Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2003

Stewart has the size and strength to be the prototypical power forward. Listed at 6’2 and almost 240 pounds, there’s a lot of him to move from in front of the net.

Unfortunately, Stewart hasn’t been able to translate that promise into performance. This year he enjoyed his second straight 10-game cameo at the NHL level. Last season he suffered a wrist injury that prematurely ended his season, but this year he showed that he had fully recovered from the injury. And with 13 goals and 14 assists in 62 games with Rochester, he effectively rebuilt confidence in his game.

After missing 65 games last season due to injury, this year can essentially be seen as a transition one – getting Stewart back to where he was prior to the injury. Next year he’ll challenge for a roster spot and have to show that he can contribute offensively at the professional level.

5. (5) Tyler Plante, G, 19

Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2005

At 6’3, Plante has good height in net. In his third season with the WHL‘s Brandon Wheat Kings, Plante has posted numbers similar to those of his stellar rookie-of-the-year campaign. In 54 games this season, the Brandon, MB native posted a record of 30-14-9, with a 2.71 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Unfortunately, his performance faltered a bit in the playoffs where his club was ousted in the second round. In 11 games, both Plante’s GAA and save percentage slipped notably – to 3.37 and .889 respectively.

Turning 20 in May, Plante could return as an overager, but may be better served turning pro.  With Rochester’s joint affiliation, he may begin with the ECHL Florida Everblades.

6. (7) David Booth, LW, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2004

It’s been a whirlwind year for the young Washington, MI product. One year after leaving the cozy confines of Michigan State University, Booth found himself playing in over half of the Panthers games this season.

And, best of all, he didn’t look out of place. In 48 games, he didn’t set the league on fire offensively – only accounting for three goals and seven assists – but he showed the commitment to defensive responsibility and attention to two-way play that allowed him to make the jump to the top of the professional ranks.

Booth displayed a bit more offensive flair in his limited AHL engagement, scoring seven goals and adding an equal number of helpers in just 25 games, and continued development of his scoring abilities would be a welcome addition to his blend of size, toughness, and defensive awareness.

7. (NR) Shawn Matthias, C, 19
Acquired: Trade with Detroit, Feb. 2007 (2nd round, 47th overall, 2006 by Detroit)

Talk about a burden to bear – Shawn Matthias has been thrust into the spotlight in Florida for being the return on the Todd Bertuzzi trade this season. That, in itself, wouldn’t normally bring so much scrutiny. But when you combine the fact that all-world goaltender Roberto Luongo was previously shipped off for Bertuzzi, the scrutiny increases.

While his NHL rights were bandied about, Matthias enjoyed a solid season with the OHL‘s Belleville Bulls. In 64 games he accounted for 38 goals and 73 points. But it has been in the playoffs where Matthias has truly shined. Although the Bulls find themselves on the brink of elimination, the native of Mississauga, ON has done everything in his power to pace the club into the third round.

In 14 games, Matthias has been performing at almost a goal-a-game pace, with 13 goals complemented by five assists. And, despite a rugged 6’3, 211-pound frame, he’s managed to keep himself outside of the penalty box while still effectively throwing his weight around.

Matthias’ offensive display is a welcome addition to the rugged package he’s established himself as.

8. (6) David Shantz, G, 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall, 2004

Turning 21 in May, the Hamilton, ON native has had difficulty progressing this season as he’s been stuck firmly behind Carolina prospect Craig Kowalski (8th round, 2000) with the ECHL‘s Florida Everblades.

In the games that he’s played in, Shantz has performed rather well, posting a regular season record of 13-7-1 behind a 2.96 GAA and .908 save percentage. Shantz also played a couple of games in the AHL with Rochester this season but failed to impress with a pedestrian save percentage of .880 and a 4.51 GAA.  Shantz has played just 20 minutes in the ECHL playoffs, compared to 340 for Kowalski.

Shantz must impress next season or runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle behind prospects such as Plante and Brian Foster.

9 (4) Stefan Meyer, LW, 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2003

Meyer has been steady in his two seasons in the AHL with Rochester – but has shown little progression from his previous season — actually regressing in total with only 13 goals and nine assists in 63 games, which is six points less than his rookie season. In addition, he appears to have played with less of an edge.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, Meyer has shown little of the offensive gifts that were so prevalent during his four-year tenure with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers franchise, in which he tallied 36, 34, and 34-goal seasons in his final three years.

Meyer is another one of the significant number of Panthers prospects who have to take the next step in their development — he appears to have plateaued. With a solid combination of size and skill, Meyer has the potential to be an attractive commodity for the franchise, but must show a return on Florida’s investment soon.

10. (9) Dan Collins, RW, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2005

The fact that this Syracuse, NY native was able to play in 66 regular season games and 14 playoff contests might be satisfaction enough this season. But the fact that Collins has played at levels akin to his performance prior to a 2005-06 season that was halted due to a severe back injury is the icing on the cake.

The 6’1 winger has played an integral role in the Plymouth Whalers’ march to a potential OHL title. He performed at a hair better than a point-per-game rate in the regular season with 26 goals and 42 assists, and he’s continued that level of contribution in the playoffs. In 14 games, he’s contributed six goals and eight assists for the powerhouse Plymouth squad.

Collins has been the model of consistency throughout his junior career as three seasons of 25, 26, and 26 goals respectively attest. And the fact that he’s been able to pick up the his career after the injury and move forward is of great relief for his future.

11. (8) Brady Calla, RW, 19

Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2006

While leaving a powerhouse franchise midway through a season can be frustrating, a mid-season trade from Everett to Moose Jaw seemed to suit this North Vancouver native just fine.

In 29 games with the talent-rich Silvertips, Calla only registered three goals and six assists. But in the 39 contests following the trade, Calla was able to assume more of an offensive role and ended up performing at just shy of a point-per-game rate with 12 goals and 20 assists.

Those 12 goals served as somewhat of a breakthrough for the winger whose blazing speed, to date, has far exceeded his offensive contributions. Another season in the WHL isn’t out of the question, although his speed and skating abilities could transition well to the professional ranks.

12. (17) Drew Bagnall, D, 23
Acquired: Trade with Dallas, March 2004 (6th round, 195th overall, 2003 by Dallas)

It was a season filled with accolades for the 23-year-old Oakbank, MB native. A solid performance in his senior season with St. Lawrence University led him to earn ECAC player of the year honors, along with the title of best defensive defenseman. Not only that, Bagnall was one of 10 finalists for the coveted Hobey Baker award.

This year, Bagnall added some more offense to his repertoire. In 38 games, he scored six goals and added 19 assists to show a much more well-rounded overall game.

With his college eligibility exhausted, Bagnall should be ready to make the jump to the AHL. With the size, skills, and smarts he’s displayed to date, it should be a relatively smooth transition for him. In the end, with the premium placed on defensemen of Bagnall’s ilk, his acquisition for Valeri Bure may look like a steal sooner rather than later.

13. (13) Derrick LaPoint, D, 18
Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall, 2006

LaPoint is yet another of a collection of big trees that Florida has been collecting to plant on their blueline and hope they grow into a formidable forest. At 6’2, the Eau Claire, WI has the potential to be an imposing force on the blueline, but more impressively, he’s shown a dynamic ability to fill the other team’s net while keeping his own cage clear.

In 59 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, LaPoint scored 13 goals and added 36 assists en route to being named to the First-Team All-USHL. The young blueliner, who turns 19 in May, will join the University of North Dakota next season.

14. (10) Janis Sprukts, C, 25
Acquired: 8th round, 234th overall, 2000

A low-risk, potentially high-reward pick back in 2000, the 25-year-old Latvian is rapidly running out of time to carve out a solid position within the Panthers’ organization.

A solid season at the AHL level, in which he scored 18 goals and added 41 assists in 58 games, led to Sprukts playing a baker’s dozen of games with Florida. Unfortunately, his performance in those games was relatively non-descript. In the 13 contests, Sprukts earned his first NHL goal and added a pair of assists – far off his AHL pace.

At 6’3 and over 230 pounds, Sprukts should be more of a physical presence on the ice, but he hasn’t been able to show that he can use his weight to his utmost advantage on the game’s biggest stage.

15. (11) Kamil Kreps, C, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2003

Kreps is another large body who hasn’t been able to translate AHL performance into similar NHL output. Like Sprukts before him, Kreps, a native of the Czech Republic, enjoyed a solid season in Rochester with 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 games. But in 14 games with the Panthers, Kreps was only able to find the net once and set up another goal.

Also like Sprukts, at 6’2 and over 200 pounds, Kreps has size that can be potentially used to his advantage. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to do so.

Unlike Sprukts, Kreps is only 22 and has more room for growth and the Panthers continue to hope he’ll take the next step in his progression.

16. (NR) Brian Foster, G, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 161st overall, 2005

In his rookie season at the University of New Hampshire, Foster has shown flashes of promise between the pipes for the Wildcats.

Appearing in only seven games – and starting five – Foster showed that he’s not overwhelmed by the competition, posting a 2-2 record with a 2.21 GAA and outstanding .933 save percentage.

Unfortunately, Foster is stuck behind Boston Bruins‘ draft pick Kevin Regan who will be entering his senior season.  Once Foster solidifies himself with the starting role, it will be easier to tell where he projects.

17. (15) Martin Lojek, D, 21
Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2003

Lojek, a native of the Czech Republic, has slowly and steadily progressed through the ranks in the Panthers organization, finally making a three-game cameo this season with the big club.

After being drafted out of Brampton in the OHL, Lojek stopped in the ECHL and AHL en route to the NHL. And at each level he’s shown an ability to use his size to his advantage while still posting respectable offensive numbers.

At 6’5 and 225 pounds, it’s obvious what the Panthers are looking for him to bring to the ice – physical play, an ability to move people out of the crease, and an aptitude for making the smart, safe play. He hasn’t disappointed.

This season he scored six goals and setting up 13 more in 69 AHL games. He’ll probably need another season of development in the AHL before potentially making the jump to the NHL full time.

18. (NR) Franklin MacDonald, D, 22
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2006

In a season spent mostly in the ECHL, MacDonald has shown glimpses of the combination of offense and grit that was so evident in his final season of junior that earned him an NHL contract as a free agent.

In 2005-06, MacDonald was a key member of the Halifax Mooseheads with 12 goals and 33 assists in 58 games, complemented by a robust 129 minutes in penalties. This year, the points were harder to come by in the AHL where he posted just two assists in 12 games. The Sydney, NS native fared better at the ECHL level, with four goals and 20 assists in 56 games.

For the upcoming season MacDonald should get a chance at the AHL level full time.

19. (12) Michael Caruso, D, 18
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2006

Much was expected out of this dynamic young blueliner this season with the Guelph Storm, but he appeared to hit a wall in terms of his development.

In 64 games, the Mississauga native scored four goals and added 16 assists – numbers almost identical to the previous season’s campaign. Caruso was expected to be a leader of a young defense corps that featured Ryan Parent (PHI) and the dynamic Drew Doughty, but he never took the reins.

Caruso will need to improve his play drastically next season. With Doughty’s continued development, the 6’2 rearguard will have to play an elite complementary role for the Storm – and to continue his somewhat stalled development.

20. (15) Rob Globke, RW, 24
Acquired: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2002

Consistency has been the biggest challenge for this big-bodied winger out of Farmington, MI. At times he’s been able to convert at a point per game rate – at others he’s seemingly lost in the shuffle.

This season, Globke spent a relatively quiet 19 games with the NHL club, ending up with only an assist to show for it. That performance was similar to his one goal in 18 game debut with the Panthers last season.

The 6’3 winger fared a little better in the AHL, earning 18 points in 48 games, but Globke needs to figure out how to convert potential into points at the NHL level and use his size to his advantage.

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