Weak draft in 2006 hinders progress for Florida Panthers

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Taken in the third round of the 2006 Draft, Brady Calla has split the last two seasons between the AHL and ECHL. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

With the recent trade of first-round pick Michael Frolik, the Florida Panthers are left without a single player from the 2006 draft that has appeared in the NHL. Prospects such as winger Brady Calla, defensemen Michael Caruso and Derrick Lapoint along with goaltender Marc Cheverie are all borderline AHL players and are yet to develop into NHL-quality players.

Michael Frolik, LW, Kladno (Czech) – 1st round, 10th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 214

A young star who played with the Czech’s World Junior team as a 17-year-old, Frolik was given the nickname "Baby Jagr" and was thought of as one of the best Czech prospects to come along in years. Frolik played his draft year with Kladno in the Czech league and despite scoring only nine points in 48 games; he remained one of the top prospects for the 2006 draft. The Florida Panthers, a franchise seemingly always in need of some added scoring, selected the fleet-footed Frolik with the 10th overall pick in the draft where the young Czech quickly developed into one of the club’s best offensive players.

Following the draft Frolik sought to get a taste of North American hockey by electing to play in the QMJHL. In his first year with the Rimouski Oceanic, Frolik was a scoring sensation racking up 73 points in only 52 games. The following season he led the club in scoring despite missing over 20 games, and also helped the Oceanic get back in the playoffs after two straight seasons in which they missed out on post-season play.

After his brief two year junior career, Frolik made the Panthers as a 20-year-old for the 2008-09 season. He enjoyed an excellent rookie campaign finishing third on the club with 21 goals and ranked sixth in rookie scoring with 45 points. In his sophomore season, Frolik again scored 21 goals but finished two points shy of his rookie total with 43. Despite the minimal drop in production, he finished second in goals and third in points for a Florida team that ranked as one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL.

This year the 22-year-old started slowly but picked his game up considerably after the first month of the 2010-11 season. He has had trouble finding the back of the net and has scored just eight times but has dished out 21 assists. His 29 points were the second most on the team, but with Florida having fallen out of the playoff race yet again; they decided to package the budding star in a trade with Chicago.

Brady Calla, RW, Everett (WHL) – 3rd round, 73rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

After a long junior career that saw him play for four different Western Hockey League teams spanning six years, Calla continues to be on the move in the Panthers minor-league system.

Without a second-round pick, the Panthers weren’t on the clock again until the third-round and they used that pick to select Brady Calla, a right-winger from Everett in the WHL. A right-winger with decent size and a strong work-ethic, Calla was never a high-scorer in junior, but was a solid checker who was willing to do anything to help his team win. His ability to play a strong defensive game as well as contribute offensively made Calla a hot commodity for teams looking to improve their playoff stock and he was traded on three different occasions making stops in Moose Jaw, Kamloops, and Spokane.

Since wrapping up his lengthy career as a junior in 2009, the now 22-year-old has seen a slew of games with Rochester in the AHL, and both Florida and Cincinnati in the ECHL. He started the current season with Rochester, appearing in 17 games but was sent down to the Cincinnati where he has registered 15 points in 22 games for the Cyclones.

Michael Caruso, D, Guelph (OHL) – 4th round, 103rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

In the fourth-round of the 2006 draft Florida selected Michael Caruso, a stout stay-at-home defenseman from the Ontario Hockey League. Caruso played his four-year junior career with the Guelph Storm and during his draft year played alongside the likes of Drew Doughty and Ryan Parent. His best year with Guelph came in the 2006-07 season when he posted career highs in every offensive category and finished first on the team with a +21 rating.

Caruso has spent the first three years of his pro career with Rochester in the AHL. As a player who plays a simple, defensive game, Caruso has been one of the Amerks steadiest defensemen. With other young blue-liners such as Keaton Ellerby and Jason Garrison seeing time in the NHL, Caruso has started to take on a more featured role with Rochester and has put himself in a good position to be one of the first call-ups to see NHL action if any injuries to the Panthers blue line occur.

Derrick LaPoint, D, Eau Claire North H.S. (Wisc.) – 4th round, 116th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

As a senior in high-school Lapoint was named the 2006 Wisconsin High School Player of the Year and his tremendous play caught the eye of the Florida Panthers who selected him in the fourth-round of the 2006 NHL Draft. He signed a letter of intent to play at the University of North Dakota but played a year with Green Bay in the USHL before beginning his collegiate career in 2008.

Lapoint’s best year with the Fighting Sioux was his junior season when he scored two goals and collected 22 assists. He was the club leader in scoring among defensemen and took on a leadership role for a blue line that featured three freshmen. North Dakota went on to win the WCHA championship in which Lapoint was named to the all-tournament team.

At 6’3 Lapoint possesses good size to go along with an improved skating ability. He has developed into a solid puck-moving defenseman and has added some bulk to his lanky frame, but remains a work in progress in all facets of the game. Now in his se
nior season at North Dakota, LaPoint will need to amp up his game in the second half of the year if he hopes to be in good standing as he begins to head toward his first professional season.

Peter Aston, D, Windsor (OHL) – 6th round. 155th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

In the sixth-round the Panthers selected defenseman Peter Aston who played his draft year with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. Aston enjoyed a breakout season in 2006 which began with Peterborough, and after a mid-season trade, ended in Windsor. He finished the year with combined totals of 16 goals and 52 points which ranked him 11th out of all OHL defensemen.

After finishing his junior career with the Oshawa Generals, Aston played 56 games with Rochester in 2008 and showed some of the offensive potential that he displayed as a junior, but struggled with the defensive and physical aspects of the game. He played parts of the last two years with both Rochester and Utah in the ECHL but hasn’t laced up the skates this season. His professional career at the moment is on hold and Aston has seemingly moved on from pursuing a career in the NHL.

Marc Cheverie, G, Nanaimo (BCHL) – 7th round, 193rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Hailing from Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, the same hometown as Sidney Crosby, Cheverie has turned into a promising prospect and a late-round steal for the Panthers. Despite posting an excellent win-loss record with Nanaimo in the BCHL, Cheverie was anything but a household name entering the draft and had to wait as 192 players were chosen before him. He committed to playing at the University of Denver and quickly turned into one of the best goalies in collegiate hockey. In his sophomore season in 2009, Cheverie took over as the Pioneers starting net-minder and enjoyed a spectacular season. He registered a 23-12-5 record and four shutouts to go along with a sparkling 2.34 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

Cheverie was stellar again his junior year as Denver was the top-ranked team for much of the season. His 24-6-3 record and 2.08 goals against average ranked him as one of the elite goalies in college hockey and he awarded as not only the WCHA’s goalie of the year, but the player of the year as well. At the end of the season he signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers and decided to forego his final year of eligibility.

This year the 23-year-old has appeared in 30 games with Cincinnati and while his stats are not at the same level as they were in college, he has still posted a winning record of 13-9-5. A big goalie with good athleticism and quick reflexes, Cheverie plays a strong positional game and hopes to continue to prove that his collegiate success wasn’t just due to the strength of the team in front of him.