Panthers 2008-09 NCAA prospects update

By Ian Bross

The Florida Panthers currently have eight active prospects in the NCAA: two forwards, four defensemen, and two goalies.

Matt Rust, C

University of Michigan, Sophomore
4th rd, 101st overall, 2007 Draft

At 101st overall, Rust is the highest-drafted current Panthers NCAA player, and is probably Florida’s most impressive prospect currently involved in NCAA play. Rust recently participated in the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa. In his second straight appearance for Team USA, he had three goals and an assist in six games. Rust’s offensive contributions and spirited play made him a valuable asset.

With the Wolverines, Rust’s numbers are down in this sophomore season from his rookie year. Through 20 games, he has scored three goals and added seven assists. It is no slight to his value, however, due to his prowess in the faceoff circle and strong defensive play. Rust uses his quickness well to shut down opposing players. Though he hasn’t yet reached his offensive potential, Rust’s numbers should come around in time.

Ryan Watson, LW/C

Western Michigan University, Sophomore
7th rd, 191st overall, 2007 Entry Draft

Watson is in his second year with Western Michigan University, again as a role player. As a freshman, Watson was noted for his defensive ability, even spending time on the blueline. He has gotten little power-play time this year, instead being relied on to kill penalties. He has posted four goals and two assists in 19 games. Those scoring totals put the 20-year-old on about the same pace as a year ago. The Broncos are a team that’s having a tough time getting consistent goal-scoring, and as a result, an equal amount of difficulty getting wins.

John Lee, D

University of Denver, Freshman
5th rd, 131st overall, 2007 Entry Draft

Unlike his older brother Brian Lee of the Ottawa Senators, there is nothing flashy about John Lee. In his freshman year with the Denver Pioneers, Lee has made a point of playing a simple game. In 22 games, the now 20-year-old has three assists. He has shown a willingness to roll up his sleeves and work hard on a consistent basis. He is still quite effective, answering the call physically when asked. Though still learning the finer points of defense at the college level, he has progressed well, and should be expected to continue doing so. 

Matt Bartkowski, D

The Ohio State University, Freshman
7th rd, 190th overall, 2008 Entry Draft

The Ohio State Buckeyes have been one of the hottest teams in college hockey recently and Bartkowski has certainly had a hand in that success. The 20-year-old freshman defender has helped provide OSU an added dimension that wasn’t there much, if at all, last season — scoring from the blueline. Bartkowski has three goals and eight assists in 24 games.

Beyond the numbers, though, Bartkowski can quarterback the point. Combined with those offensive skills, he has a punishing defensive style. Bartkowski has had a reputation as never being shy about throwing a devastating hit, going back to his USHL days. And in his first year in the NCAA, he has had no shortage of confidence from the beginning.

Matt Duffy, D

University of Maine, Senior
4th rd, 104th overall, 2005 Entry Draft

As a senior, Duffy has seen playing time in all situations. He has stood out by providing offense from the blue line. Duffy has always had latent offensive skills, and in 2008-09 is contributing more efficiently on the scoreboard. Duffy has seven points to his name this season in 22 games, including four goals. Some of those goals have been scored at crucial times, whether on the power play or the game-winner. The 22-year-old Duffy has provided valuable leadership for Maine in his final NCAA season.

Derrick Lapoint, D

University of North Dakota, Sophomore
4th rd, 116th overall, 2006 Entry Draft

Lapoint got off to a slow start this season, but has been putting it all together in the past few weeks. He’s provided some depth on the Sioux blueline and his defensive zone play has continually progressed. Lapoint has gotten significantly more ice time in 2008-09, after fellow rearguard Joe Finley was temporarily lost to injury.

Lapoint has stepped up in his absence, and grown as a result of the opportunity, proving he is capable of managing more minutes. His offensive statistics are modest, a goal and two assists in 26 games. And physically, Lapoint is still filling out his 6’4 frame, as well as working on his coordination. But the 20-year-old is learning to balance the various facets of his game and play his position more intelligently.

Marc Cheverie, G

University of Denver, Sophomore
7th rd, 193rd overall, 2006 Entry Draft

Cheverie has been perhaps the biggest reason why Denver University has seen so much success this season, currently the top team in the WCHA with a 15-6-2 record. The sophomore has started in all of Denver’s games, with backup Lars Paulgaard having seen less than 20 minutes of playing time all season. Cheverie has been able to either hold the Pioneers in games this year, or flat out steal them against some very formidable opponents. Through 23 games, Cheverie owns a 2.19 goals-against average, and a .925 save percentage. He will turn 22 next month.

Cheverie has given DU, above all else, the stability needed to be a winning team. The sophomore goaltender plays with an emphasis on position, rather than flashy saves, but has quick reflexes at his disposal as well. The Pioneers, a team that prides itself on defensive play, with Cheverie behind them can go far this year.

Brian Foster, G

University of New Hampshire, Junior
5th rd, 161st overall, 2005 Entry Draft

Foster was hot out of the gate for UNH this year and then went through a bit of a lull, in part due to battling an ankle problem. Now, though, the soon to be 22-year-old looks to be back in the groove again. Foster has thrived since taking back over in net, and has exhibited a great deal of confidence throughout the season. Foster has posted a 2.53 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 18 games.

Foster’s rebound control has shown definitive improvement, limiting second and third opportunities. His progress and his increased confidence have been evident. Foster is a stabilizing force on a team with an open style of play. His performance has kept the Wildcats in a position to vie for a finish atop the Hockey East standings this year.

Zach Bearson, RW
University of Wisconsin, Junior
7th rd, 224th overall, 2005 Entry DraftM

Bearson was last with the Badgers team during the 2007-08 season, when he played in only one game. Bearson has been inactive since, and is inactive still, and all signs point to him staying that way. He has continued to attend the University of Wisconsin in pursuit of his degree, but will not rejoin the hockey team. For all intents and purposes, his hockey career is over.

Northern Michigan University, Senior
9th rd, 267th overall, 2004 Entry Draft

The Northern Michigan Wildcats unburdened themselves of Dillon’s presence on their roster in 2006-07. Dillon hasn’t played hockey since. He is unlikely to return to competition.

DJ Powers contributed to this article.