Panthers Top 10 Prospects
With the deal that sent all-world goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver came the opening up of a huge void in the Panthers lineup and system as a whole. Ed Belfour is long in the tooth and not much longer for the NHL simply from an age standpoint, nevermind his wonky back. Alexander Auld, the young goalie that came back in the Luongo trade, started out well last season and tailed off rapidly as he lost the starter’s job to Belfour by the halfway point.
Secondary to that is the club’s need for another top defenseman. There is little doubt that Jay Bouwmeester is a purebred at the point, but no one expected Ruslan Salei to have the kind of offensive year he did and certainly no one expects him to repeat in 2007-08. Mike Van Ryn, although he has the tools and demeanor, hasn’t been able to step up and take hold of the second spot in the rotation as many thought he might.
The Panthers are strongest down the middle up front, with a solid tandem of Olli Jokinen and developing Stephen Weiss manning the top two spots on the pro team’s depth chart.
Beyond Jokinen and Weiss are last year’s first round pick, Czech Michael Frolik as well as Janis Sprukts out of Latvia and Kamil Kreps, another Czech who had some time in Florida during the 2006-07 season. Offensively Frolik holds the most upside, but there are some who think he will be moved to the wing once he makes the pros. Should Frolik indeed move to the outside, he will help shore up an area in the system that, although it has strength in numbers, lacks a true gamebreaker. Kenndal McArdle, the first round pick of two years ago, blossomed during this year’s WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and has at least top nine potential, probably top six. Anthony Stewart, currently ranked fourth among Florida prospects, has seen his stock drop in the past year and at times looks lazy on the ice. Other players populating the top 10 fit more into the bottom half of the forward rotation potential-wise though it is not too late for Brady Calla, ranked No. 11 to step up. But overall, the Panthers system is strongest up front.
While there are two goaltenders (Tyler Plante and David Shantz) presently within the top 10 prospects of the club, neither is considered to be remotely close in terms of talent and potential impact as the now departed Luongo and their rank is more of an indictment of the team’s lack of depth among their prospects. Unfortunately for the Panthers, there are no stud goalies to be found in the top rounds of the current draft class, so the answer, at least for the immediate future will have to come from somewhere else.
Behind the hole in the system between the pipes is one on the blueline. Noah Welch, acquired from Pittsburgh at last season’s trading deadline for Gary Roberts, is the team’s top defensive prospect. The club could use another quality defensive prospect. That said, keep an eye on Derrick Lapoint, who lies just outside the top 10 at No. 13 and will attend the University of North Dakota this fall. He’s a keeper.
This will be Coach/GM Jacques Martin’s first time behind the wheel at the draft table, although his Director of Scouting, Scott Luce, has been in his current position since just after the 2002 selection process. Former GM Mike Keenan favored Canadians over Europeans in the first round, but look for Martin to be more evenhanded. During his time as coach with the Ottawa Senators, the club was renowned for pulling rabbits out of the hat on draft day, thanks mostly to Jarmo Kekalainen, a European Scout who is currently Assistant GM and Director of Amateur Scouting for the St. Louis Blues. It is probably no coincidence that Martin, who has publicly stated he wants to increase the number of scouts the Panthers have in the field, has hired one Jari Kekalainen, as a birddog on the other side of the pond.
As for Luce, his last four top picks have been split evenly between North America (Nathan Horton, Weiss) and Europe (Rostislav Olesz, Frolik). While all four of these selections have been forwards, holding the No. 10 pick in the draft this time means that if the chips fall as they should, they will be looking at a player with a higher boom/bust factor than is comfortable for a slot this high. Be that as it may, that didn’t stop them from snapping up Frolik in the same spot last year when he was falling down draft boards and he seems to have turned out well for them.
Hockey’s Future Mock Draft Result: Logan Couture, C, Ottawa 67’s – With both Alzner and Ellerby gone and with only the risky Nick Petrecki available on the blueline, it might be a good idea to opt for the best (safe) player available, in this case Couture. Though he was plagued by injuries this year he still was able to tally 76 points in 54 games. He would be a suitable heir to one of the top two center positions should Jokinen decide to move on. Were he to be ready for that kind of role before that happens he’d make a great asset to have in terms of trade talks. An option that might get looked at by Martin and Luce is perhaps dealing the pick in a package for a young goalie that could be ready to step into the pro lineup as a backup this season. Were this the case, the one name that stands out would be New York Rangers prospect Al Montoya, who looks to be trapped behind Henrik Lundquist in the Big Apple and as a Latin American, is a marketer’s dream for a club playing their home games in south Florida.
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