Panthers Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Ian Bross

The top five prospects in the Panthers organization remain unaltered since the fall ranking. Of note, a number of players from the college ranks have burst on the scene, including Jason Garrison. One year removed from NCAA play, he takes the biggest jump on the list — previously unranked, all the way to the sixth spot.

Among the additions from the NCAA is the goaltending duo of Marc Cheverie and Brian Foster. Another goaltender, Sergei Gayduchenko, makes up part of a pair of increasingly prominent Russian prospects, along with Evgeni Dadonov.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (1) Michael Frolik, C (8.0C)
2. (2) Shawn Matthias, C (7.5B)
3. (3) Jacob Markstrom, G (8.0C)
4. (4) Michal Repik, RW (7.5C)
5. (5) Keaton Ellerby, D (7.5C)
6. (NR) Jason Garrison, D (7.0C)
7. (6) Colby Robak, D (7.5D)
8. (11) Michael Caruso, D (6.0B)
9. (9) Evgeni Dadonov, RW (7.0D)
10. (10) Matt Rust, C (6.5C)
11. (14) Adam Comrie, D (6.5C)
12. (NR) Matt Bartkowski, D (6.5C)
13. (NR) Marc Cheverie, G (6.5C)
14. (NR) Brian Foster, G (6.5C)
15. (7) Kenndal McArdle, LW (6.5C)
16. (16) A.J. Jenks, LW (6.5C)
17. (NR) Corey Syvret, D (6.0C)
18. (12) Derrick Lapoint, D (6.0C)
19. (NR) Sergei Gayduchenko, G (6.5D)
20. (19) Tanner Glass, LW (6.0C)

1. (1) Michael Frolik, C, 21
Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2006

Frolik is still the Panthers top prospect, though in all likelihood, he’ll be graduating from that status soon. Frolik is fitting in with Florida, making his presence felt as a rookie after jumping straight in from the QMJHL. He has learned quickly, and become a player of influence offensively, recently in particular.

Frolik has soft hands, is poised with the puck, deftly carrying up ice, and makes crisp passes. Able to find open space effectively, he has 14 goals and 15 assists on the season in 54 games. Frolik is already staking his claim to the coveted top-six forward positions, and is making rapid progress. Up front, Frolik appears to be one of the most promising up-and-comers the Panther organization has had in some time.

2. (2) Shawn Matthias, C, 20
Acquired: via trade, February 2007 (Detroit)

Pundits pegged Matthias to make the Panthers out of training camp. When he failed, he seemingly became disillusioned with playing in the AHL with the Rochester Americans. Suddenly his work ethic was questionable, with the prospect of being relegated to the Amerks, whereas during call-up stints with Florida, Matthias was visibly more energetic. Questionable commitment to the team and lackluster numbers earned the ire of the Rochester faithful.

In 41 games with the Amerks, Matthias has eight goals and six assists. As of late, Matthias has begun to put forward more effort, and as he does so, his numbers will slowly come around. The expectations for the newly-turned 21-year-old, in hindsight, were unfair. Though in the early going he may have disappointed, Matthias is adjusting, and should be counted on to continue to improve. 

3. (3) Jacob Markstrom, G, 19

Acquired: 2nd Round, 31st Overall, 2008

Since being drafted last summer, Markstrom is so far showing signs that he is destined to be the elite goaltender the Panthers had hoped they had acquired. At the age of 19, he is already considered the star player of his team. Brynas (SEL) is not known for their goal scoring, and it is Markstrom’s goaltending that often keeps them in games.

Markstrom has good size at 6’3, good balance, and quickness. He also shows a lot of consistency and poise, playing professionally at a young age, and being relied on as he is. With a .917 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA, Markstrom’s performance has put Brynas in the eighth and final playoff position. Next season is Markstrom’s last under contract with Brynas.

4. (4) Michal Repik, RW, 20

Acquired: 2nd Round, 40th Overall, 2007

Repik started professional hockey this October with the Americans. And as a rookie, after several seasons with one WHL club, was asked to carry much of the offensive load for his new team.  On the season, Repik has been one of the more prolific scorers for the Amerks, a team whose production has been sub-par. Repik has scored 13 goals and 20 assists in 50 games this season.

At 5’10, 180 lbs, Repik has coped with the rigors of the professional game well. He has used his speed, his best asset, to make plays. He tends to stay on the perimeter too often, hesitant to make himself susceptible to physical punishment. Perhaps as he gets more comfortable, and puts on weight, he can put his talents to better use.

5. (5) Keaton Ellerby, D, 20

Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2007

Ellerby is another of many new names to join the Amerks this year. He has brought a good two-way game, posting 14 assists in 50 games. An excellent skater, he ignites the transition and makes sharp passes. Ellerby’s -8 rating could be a lot worse, logging significant minutes on a struggling team, if not for his smart positional play.

All season though, Ellerby has played a bit tentatively on the physical side. He still needs to get stronger, standing 6’4 and weighing in at 186 lbs. He has handled himself well otherwise. He should get more confidence as he gains experience.

6. (NR) Jason Garrison, D, 24

Acquired:  Free Agent (2008)

Garrison left the University of Minnesota-Duluth after his junior year to sign with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent. He joined the Amerks, a team in transition, and immediately staked his claim as one of their most valuable players. Showing no signs of tentativeness, Garrison brought to Rochester a willingness to take risks to make plays. At no point did he look like a rookie defender, even a 24-year-old one. He showed no fear, pinching in, joining the rush and doing whatever he could to help create offense.

With the Amerks having difficulty scoring, he’s been one of their more consistent producers. Garrison has four goals and 21 assists in 53 games. Asked to play more minutes than any other defenseman, Garrison could perhaps benefit from some more caution, but ultimately, has fared extremely well.

7. (6) Colby Robak, D, 18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 46th Overall, 2008

Robak is moving in the right direction this year, playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL. His production has significantly increased in each major stat category, and is continuing to do so as the season rolls along. Robak has 11 goals and 26 assists, as well as a +24 rating, in 53 games. Those numbers are not only personal bests for Robak, they’re the best of the Wheat Kings blueline corps, and among the best in the WHL

The numbers reflect Robak’s success in handling additional responsibility. He is now arguably Brandon’s best defender. Always an agile skater, he is getting stronger as well. Physically, Robak is filing out nicely, adding almost 15 lbs since being drafted last summer. 

8. (11) Michael Caruso, D, 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 103rd Overall, 2006

As his statistics indicate, with just two assists in 48 games with the Amerks, Caruso is never going to be known for his offensive prowess. Instead, Caruso efficiently utilizes a particular blend of mobility and strength. He is by no means a physically imposing player, but has a good athletic foundation to build upon. All things considered, his -11 rating isn’t so egregious, playing for the AHL’s last-place team.

The most important thing to keep in mind for Caruso is that he is still a rookie defender, one of many on his team. Sometimes in fact, he may be over-thinking things. He will still need to learn patience and poise. In the long run, Caruso will find success playing a simple game.

9. (9) Evgeni Dadonov, RW, 19
Acquired: 3rd Round 71st Overall, 2007

One of the top Russian prospects who has remained in his home country, Dadonov’s numbers have dropped off this season, after a pleasantly surprising output in 2007-08. Through 37 games this year, he has posted 10 goals and four assists.

But Dadonov indisputably possesses the necessary combination of talent and instincts to one day become a top-six forward. He is a terrific skater who is undeterred by his below-average size. And still, there are other aspects of Dadonov’s game that are still relatively under-developed, like his defensive zone play.

If Dadonov does indeed desire a stay in North America, he will get his next chance to sell himself to Panthers brass when training camp rolls around.

10. (10) Matt Rust, C, 19
Acquired: 4th Round, 101st Overall, 2007

Rust has become a keystone member of the USA hockey program. Whether playing internationally or domestically, he adds an extra dimension to whatever team he suits up for. Rust has seven goals and nine assists in 28 games for the University of Michigan, good for sixth on the team. Though not providing the Wolverines quite the same offensive boost as a year ago, now a sophomore, Rust has continued to hone the other strengths that already make him such a valuable asset.

Rust is developing a solid reputation as a dominant faceoff man, and a premier defensive forward, capable of matching up directly against the most dangerous of his opponents and keeping them in check. Even so, Rust hasn’t hit his peak offensively.

11. (14) Adam Comrie, D, 18
Acquired: 3rd Round, 80th Overall, 2008

When drafted, the Panthers spoke highly of his grittiness, but Comrie, in his second OHL season, shows signs of being a very complete player. Comrie has the makings of a well-rounded, two-way defender. Already possessing size, at 6’4 and 196 lbs, Comrie is well conditioned. And for his size, he accelerates and maneuvers particularly well.

He is also a confident player, who doesn’t shy away from taking the puck up ice, putting shots on goal, or throwing a solid body check.  Comrie has nine goals and 17 assists for Saginaw through 46 games, with a +13 rating. So far, he appears to be heading on the right track in his development.

12. (NR) Matt Bartkowski, D, 20
Acquired:  7th Round, 190th Overall, 2008

As a 20-year-old freshman for Ohio State, Bartkowski is looking impressive thus far, sometimes explosive. He entered the Buckeye roster and contributed in all facets of the game. On many nights, he is probably the team’s top defender.

Bartkowski brings a strong, accurate shot from the blueline, which receives plenty of exercise while skating on the power play. On the scoresheet, Bartkowski has three goals and 12 assists to his name through 32 games. And elsewhere, at times, is just plain overpowering. He has exceptional upper-body strength, capable of effortlessly tossing many of his foes aside or dishing out devastating hits in open ice. Bartkowski’s skating is about average, and he often stops moving his feet. With consistent playing time, his positional discipline should improve as well.

13. (NR) Marc Cheverie, G, 21
Acquired: 7th Round, 193rd Overall, 2006

Cheverie took over as the Denver Pioneers premier netminder this season from graduating senior Peter Mannino. Since then, Cheverie has demonstrated a promising combination of quickness, athleticism, and good position. He has gotten ample opportunity to put his ability into practice.

Cheverie has started in all 30 games this season, and has a 2.49 goals-against average, and a .914 save percentage. It is easy to see that he has been an integral part of Denver’s success this season, which has included substantial time spent as the top team in their competitive conference, the WCHA. Only recently was Cheverie and his teammates bounced from the top spot by North Dakota.

14. (NR) Brian Foster, G, 22
Acquired: 5th round, 161st overall, 2005

Foster has been dependable, and indeed clutch for the University of New Hampshire. A good athlete, he has put his abilities to good use. He has been tested often while his Wildcat teammates enact a wild run-and-gun game plan. Foster has managed to maintain a 2.51 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 25 games.

Foster makes theatrical saves, slows the pace — whatever he has to do to keep UNH in the hunt. The Wildcats currently are in fourth in Hockey East. Asked to do much in his first season as the starter, Foster has responded brilliantly.

15. (7) Kenndal McArdle, LW, 22

Acquired: 1st Round, 20th Overall, 2005

McArdle displays a willingness to drive to the net, and work in the corners. And he appears to have good hockey sense, but not necessarily the speed to put it to use. McArdle thinks the game well in the offensive zone, but hasn’t been able to maintain possession under pressure, or find the open space with consistency in order to score more goals. He has eight tallies on the year, along with 10 assists, in 43 games.

McArdle has been building up his repertoire this season, getting some time on the power play, and plenty on the penalty kill. In the long run, whether or not McArdle, in excellent physical condition, keeps up his consistency and work ethic will be integral to his success.

16. (16) A.J. Jenks, LW, 18
Acquired: 4th Round, 100th Overall, 2008

Jenks began the year on a down note. His club, the Plymouth Whalers, plunged down the OHL standings. It took awhile to get back into a rhythm while the team struggled, and underwent a change behind the bench. As a result, over the first few months of the season, Jenks had difficulty finding his offensive flow.

Having come on stronger as of late, he is on pace to essentially equal last year’s numbers, neither significantly increasing nor decreasing. Currently, with 49 games, Jenks has posted 16 goals and 23 assists. The extent of Jenks’ offensive sensibility is debatable. It will quickly become apparent, one way or another, in the near future, as his role increases.

17. (NR) Corey Syvret, D, 20

Acquired: 6th round, 181st overall, 2007

Syvret has established a reputation for himself as safe, steady, reliable defender for the Guelph Storm. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, keeps the play in front of him, and slows down the oncoming attack. At 6’3 205, he has good enough size to take the body when appropriate, and is still improving in that regard. He is also, to his credit, showing more discipline than in past years.

Syvret is a designated shutdown defender, a top penalty killer, but also, receives a fair share of power-play time. He has three goals and 19 assists in 54 games. Syvret will turn 21 on Feb. 19. There is not much more for him to accomplish in junior hockey. 

18. (12) Derrick Lapoint, D, 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 116th Overall, 2006

Lapoint began to receive more play this season with the University of North Dakota, and thrived as a result. He hadn’t been providing a lot of offense, with just one goal and four assists in 32 games, but showed he deserved the time, and tightened his grip on it.

Naturally, he still has a ways to go. He needs to become smoother. Lapoint’s skating is still a fundamental concern. He will need to iron out some mobility issues first, before he can demonstrate that he can be the prospect he was touted to be before joining the Fighting Sioux. But the top priority will be bouncing back from a serious leg injury he suffered on Feb 14. Lapoint is out for the season.

19. (NR) Sergei Gayduchenko, G, 19
Acquired: 7th Round, 202nd Overall, 2007

Gayduchenko hasn’t been bestowed a great deal of opportunity in his young career. A case could be made for Gayduchenko as the top goaltender from his home country among others of similar age. Though capable, he was left off of the Russian World Junior Championship roster. And during the regular season, the young goaltender gets sparse playing time, seated third on the Lokomotiv depth chart. In his three starts, he has performed commendably, with a 1.62 GAA and .942 save percentage.

Gayduchenko’s size is atypical of average goaltenders, yet therein lies his potential; standing 6’5, Gayduchenko covers the net well and has deceptively quick reflexes.

20. (19) Tanner Glass, LW, 26

Acquired: 9th Round, 265th Overall, 2003

At this stage of his career, Glass appears to be a known quantity. With four goals, nine assists, and 100 penalty minutes in 44 games with Rochester this year, he’ll work hard, play a defensive game, and stick up for his teammates when asked. He will at the very least remain a versatile role player, and a fairly capable one at that. Glass is the type of player that can be of use to an NHL team, but needs to polish even the strongest points of his game before that happens.