Outside of a few new draftees and signings, there’s little change amongst the top 20 prospects for the Florida Panthers. First round pick Lawson Crouse is a notable and unexpected addition, while Vincent Trocheck officially graduated from his prospect status last season, having now played in 70 career games.
Zach Hyman, who was ranked seventh in the spring rankings after an impressive senior season at the University of Michigan, was unable to come to terms with the Panthers and was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Greg McKegg.
With a solid core consisting of Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, a lot of general manager Dale Tallon’s draft picks are starting to come to fruition by appearing in the NHL. Players like Rocco Grimaldi, Alex Petrovic and Connor Brickley should help round out the roster as early as this season.
20. (18) Evan Cowley, G, 7.0 D
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2013
Lanky and athletic, Evan Cowley had a breakthrough season last year as a sophomore with the University of Denver, albeit in a platoon role with Tanner Jaillet.
The 20 year old was injured for two weeks of the season, but played in 20 games and posted a 9-6-2 record. Cowley’s 2.16 goals-against average and .924 save percentage were also better than Jaillet’s. A Colorado native, Cowley will likely split time with Jaillet to begin the 2015-16 season, but is in a good position to run away with the starter’s job.
19. (16) Yaroslav Kosov, LW, 7.0 D
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2011
Yaroslav Kosov continues to take small steps forward in his development. In his fourth full season with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Kosov tied a career high with nine points. Still, he continues to toil on the bottom two lines with the team, and if he has any NHL aspirations, might be better served playing significant minutes in the AHL. His contract with the team runs out at the end of the season, so the big-bodied winger could come to North America.
18. (NR) Denis Malgin, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2015
Malgin comes to the Panthers organization as another diminutive forward with a high level of skill and offensive ability. As an 18-year-old in Switzerland’s top pro league, Malgin recorded eight points in 23 regular season games as well as six points in 18 postseason games en route to a league championship with the ZSC Lions.
He possesses great speed and an accurate shot, but it isn’t particularly dangerous at this point; instead, Malgin’s greatest asset is his playmaking ability and elusiveness. He should earn a larger role with the team this season and will almost certainly represent Switzerland at the U20 World Junior Championships in Helsinki.
Knight didn’t miss a step after rejoining the Panthers organization in the middle of the 2014-15 season. The former fifth round selection in 2009 appeared in two games for the Calgary Flames, and had scored eight goals in 22 games with their AHL affiliate in Adirondack. Knight was limited to games with the San Antonio Rampage, but provided great scoring depth for the team, recording 24 points in 36 games.
Knight will compete for a roster spot in Florida this season and, at the least, should be a solid injury call-up. He turns 25 in September and is entering his third pro season—so it will be a make-or-break year in terms of his NHL opportunity.
16. (13) Michael Downing, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2013
Downing drops a bit primarily due to the increased depth in the system after the draft. But he could very well crack the top 10 with a strong junior season at the University of Michigan this season.
Last year, Downing took a big leap from his freshman season; he saw his point total increase from 12 to 22 and earned a bigger role with the Wolverines, playing with senior Brennan Serville on the team’s top pairing. This season his offensive production could again increase, assuming he plays alongside highly-touted first-round pick Zach Werenski (CBJ). At 6’0 and 200 pounds, the Michigan native also plays a physical style game that could complement Werenski well. He should also earn significant power-play time.
15. (20) Connor Brickley, LW, 7.5 D
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2010
Brickley was easily the biggest surprise amongst Panthers prospects last season. The former second-round pick struggled to really display any hint in his four-year NCAA career that he might be a capable offensive threat at the pro level. Through 117 career games with the University of Vermont, Brickley scored just 21 goals and added 27 assists. In his first season with the San Antonio Rampage, however, the 6’1, 195-pound winger scored 22 goals and 25 assists in just 73 games.
He improved his two-way play through his four-year stint with Vermont and the found offense at the pro level elevated his status as a prospect in the Panthers organization. Brickley could very well compete for a roster spot in Florida this season, but is likely to be a top-line player in Portland. That said, it’s very likely that he at least experiences a stint in the NHL this season.
14. (12) Jonathan Racine, D, 6.0 B
Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall, 2011
Rugged defenseman Jonathan Racine had another steady year developing in the AHL last season. The Montreal native didn’t find the back of the net, but added seven assists in 70 games as well as 149 penalty minutes. He was also recorded a plus-minus of plus-8.
Racine should compete for the seventh defenseman spot in Florida this season. He doesn’t bring a lot of offense to his game but brings a steady, physical presence to a bottom pairing.
13. (11) Mackenzie Weegar, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 7th round, 206th overall, 2013
In his first season as a pro, the former seventh round pick Mackenzie Weegar looked comfortable in both the AHL and ECHL. After playing in 21 games for the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, Weegar transitioned nicely to the AHL. In 31 games with the San Antonio Rampage, he scored two goals and added eight assists.
Weegar, despite being under 6’0, is built quite well at 207 pounds and can play a physical brand of hockey, but it’s his offensive production that will get him to the NHL. As an overager during his final season of junior hockey in 2013-14, he nearly recorded a point-per-game, with 59 points in 61. His time in the ECHL is likely in the past and he should be a valuable contributor to the AHL’s Portland Pirates in 2015-16, particularly on the powerplay unit.
12. (NR) Thomas Schemitsch, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2015
Schemitsch is the younger brother of former Lightning prospect Geoffrey Schemitsch, who was also a defenseman. Thomas, however, has much more offensive potential than his elder brother, who now plays for Acadia University.
In his second full season with the Owen Sound Attack, Schemitsch emerged as the team’s top defender behind Chris Bigras (COL) and finished fourth on the team in scoring with 49 points. He’s listed at 6’3 and 205 pounds and owns great skating and playmaking ability, combined with a strong, accurate shot. Schemitsch could better learn to utilize his size advantage over most players at the junior level.
11. (14) Sam Brittain, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2010
Brittain was behind a pair of veterans in Michael Houser and Dan Ellis last season, so he spent the majority of his season in Cincinnati—appearing in 27 games for the Cyclones. He looked rather pedestrian in the ECHL, but a lot of that can be attributed to the more free-flowing and mistake-prone style of play. Still, he posted a winning record and a 2.71 goals-against average.
In his seven starts with San Antonio of the AHL, however, Brittain went 4-2-1 and posted a 1.76 goals against average and a .943 save percentage as he allowed just 11 goals. With Houser and Ellis out of the organization, the starting job in Portland is Brittain’s to lose.