Photo: Alex Petrovic is one of several Panthers prospects expected to make their AHL debut in 2012-13. (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
With arguably the best group of prospects in the NHL, the Florida Panthers and their fans have a lot to be excited about coming into the 2012-13 season, at all levels of play. In fact, the argument could be made that the Panthers have players who are among the very best of prospects in the CHL, NCAA, and AHL. That means, despite the lockout that currently has hockey fans looking beyond the NHL to fill their passion for the sport, there are plenty of intriguing Panthers' prospect stories playing out all over North America and beyond.
Photo: University of Minnesota center Nick Bjugstad is one of several Panthers prospects who had a breakout season in 2011-12. (Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)
Over the last three drafts, the Florida Panthers managed to stockpile an incredible array of young prospects. Some top-flight prospects such as former third-overall draft pick Jonathan Huberdeau, Quinton Howden, and Alex Petrovic will make their official professional debuts this fall. Other top prospects like Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, and Corban Knight will return to their college programs, ready to resume their quests for a national title.
Photo: San Jose Sharks defenseman and University of Massachusetts alum Justin Braun is the first of a recent group of that school's alums to make it to the NHL (courtesy of Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Casey Wellman has been with three organizations since turning pro during the 2009-10 season, but this season could mark his best chance to become an NHL regular.
Photo: The Panthers took a minor risk when they selected defenseman Michael Matheson 23rd overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. Matheson is committed to Boston College for the 2012-13 season. (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)
After two consecutive years with a combined 23 selections, the Florida Panthers took a deep breath, sat back in their chairs, and relaxed a bit at the 2012 NHL Draft. With the top-rated group of prospects in the league, the Panthers looked to add the best value pieces with their five picks, and opted to exercise their option to relinquish their 2012 second-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers instead of next year's second-rounder (a legacy from the Kris Versteeg trade in 2011). The Panthers managed to select some intriguing players, including first-rounder Michael Matheson, and added a lot of blistering speed to their already overflowing pool of talented prospects.
Photo: Taken third overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, Jonathan Huberdeau might be the last high draft pick the Florida Panthers have in a while. (Cliff Welch/Icon SMI)
After completely rebuilding the NHL club through a series of trades and a variety of free agent signings that complemented their existing core (Stephen Weiss, Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov, etc.), the Florida Panthers
made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The future is bright too, as many of their top prospects are starting to come of age.