NHL success for Florida Panthers prospects leads to depleted Top 20

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Mike Matheson is the top Florida Panthers prospect for the third-straight Top 20 ranking article. (Courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Photo: Mike Matheson is the top Florida Panthers prospect for the third-straight Top 20 ranking article. (Courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)




The Florida Panthers prospect cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s not what it used to be—and that’s a good thing. The 2015-16 Panthers have been the surprise of the NHL thanks to contributions from players young and old, especially its in-house developed players like Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov—players that were once top prospects in the organization.

It isn’t likely that the team’s current group of prospects has a player with the potential of the aforementioned talents, but there are plenty of players who could fill out secondary roles for the team in the near future. Since the last Top 20 update, prospects Alex Petrovic and Quinton Howden have graduated on to permanent roles with the Panthers, while others still in the Top 20 look to secure their spot.

20. (NR) Miguel Fidler, LW, 6.0 C
Drafted: 5th round (143rd overall), 2015

Fidler didn’t enjoy a blistering start to his NCAA career, but the Ohio State University freshman has worked his way into the lineup and earned increased ice time throughout the season. He missed time in November and December due to injury, but a Dec. 29 game against Cornell seems to have put him in coach Steve Rohlik’s good books. Fidler set up three goals in that game and has been a fixture in the lineup ever since.

Since then the Minnesota native has scored his first two career collegiate goals, but his production has been inconsistent, partly owing to the fact he plays on a veteran team. Three of Ohio State’s top five scorers are juniors, one is a senior and the other is a 22-year-old freshman. With the team not expected to play deep into the season, Fidler should see increased ice time in the last few games of the year in preparation to take on a bigger role offensively in 2016-17.

19. (NR) Evan Cowley, G, 6.0 C
Drafted: 4th round (92nd overall), 2013

The University of Denver’s decision to share goaltending duties between Panthers prospect Evan Cowley and Tanner Jaillet seems to be paying off. The duo split time last season and, for the most part, has done so again this year, though Jaillet has appeared in more games than Cowley. Though Jalliet has the better record, Cowley has a better goals-against average (2.28) and save percentage (.923).

Those numbers are very similar to Cowley’s numbers a season ago, but it’s hard to argue Denver’s decision to not go with a true number-one goaltender. Still, one has to wonder if Cowley’s development might be hurt by his lack of playing time in his third season in the NCAA. Both goalies are eligible to return next year as well.

18. (NR) Colin Stevens, G, 6.0 C
Acquired as an undrafted free agent

The Panthers are fairly deep in goal. They don’t have a legitimate number-one goaltender but have a number of goalies worth keeping an eye on. Colin Stevens is one of those prospects, despite the fact he has spent the entire 2015-16 season in the ECHL.

The Panthers signed the New York native after a stellar four-year career at Union College but playing time in the AHL has been limited with veteran Mike McKenna and prospect Sam Brittain staying healthy throughout the year. Stevens has not let that affect his game, however. In 21 games with the Manchester Monarchs he owns a 14-5-1 record to go along with a 2.34 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. He has been the most efficient of the six goaltenders that have dressed for the Monarchs this year by far and will likely see time in the AHL next season.

17. John McFarland, RW, 6.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round (33rd overall), 2010

If it seems like McFarland has been around the block a few times, it’s because he has. The former can’t miss prospect bounced around the OHL after a point-per-game rookie season with the Sudbury Wolves and has bounced back and forth between the ECHL and AHL since turning pro. This season has been the steadiest and most productive year for the now 23-year-old and he was rewarded with a three-game stint with the Panthers in February—the first three games of his NHL career.

With the Portland Pirates of the AHL, McFarland has provided strong secondary scoring as well as an improved attention to defensive responsibilities. He is third on the team in goals with 14 behind only Rob Schremp and Kyle Rau and is fifth on the team in total points with 23 in 46 games. His ceiling is nowhere near what it was as a teenager, but he is proving himself an effective AHLer with checking line potential for the Panthers.

16. (15) MacKenzie Weegar, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 7th round (206th overall), 2013

Weegar was a project pick that seems to be paying off for the Panthers. After splitting his first season as a pro between the AHL and ECHL, he has emerged as one of Portland’s top defensemen this year, currently ranking second behind only veteran blueliner Cameron Gaunce with 17 points in 44 games.

The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Weegar was well-regarded for his offense during two seasons with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads prior to turning pro, but has continued to round out his game at the pro level. In addition to playing on the power play (where he has scored one of his five goals this season), Weegar often plays on the team’s third-ranked penalty killing unit. He remains a long-term project but has given an organization already deep on the blue line some additional options moving forward.

15. (13) Sam Brittain, G, 6.5 C
Drafted: 4th round (92nd overall), 2010

Brittain is in the second year of his entry-level deal and following a rocky start to his 2015-16 campaign he appears to have at least settled in as a serviceable AHL back-up goaltender. The 23-year-old sports a 6-9-1 record for the Portland Pirates, as well as a 2.71 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. He allowed 18 goals in his first five starts but has surrounded just 25 in his 12 appearances since.

The Calgary native had an impressive four-year stint at the University of Denver, so he has a proven track record, but was unable to gain any traction in the organization last year, his first as a pro. The Panthers opted not to re-sign veteran Michael Houser to allow Brittain the chance to play in the AHL, after spending the majority of his rookie season in the ECHL. His current goaltending partner in Portland, Mike McKenna, is signed through next season so Brittain will have to earn more starts in what will be the final year of his entry-level deal.

14. (19) Corban Knight, C, 6.5 C
Re-acquired in trade with Calgary Flames

At 25, Knight is entering the prime of his career and though he seemed to have secured a spot on the Panthers, he is currently back with the AHL’s Portland Pirates. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward was drafted by the Panthers in 2009, traded to the Calgary Flames and then re-acquired prior to last year’s trade deadline. He dressed in 20 games for the Panthers and scored twice while adding five assists.

The Panthers have had a revolving door of call-ups this season so it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that Knight was optioned back to the AHL in February, but it appears to be taking the High River, Alta. native time to adjust. In 10 games with Portland of the AHL, Knight has just three points and went pointless in his first four games following the demotion.

13. (18) Michael Downing, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 4th round (97th overall), 2013

Michael Downing has been a big part of the Michigan Wolverines blue line again this season. The Michigan native is second among the team’s defensemen in scoring with 14 points in 26 games, behind only Zach Werenski (CBJ). Downing has been an all-purpose defender for the Wolverines, logging time on both the penalty kill and power play units and his plus-15 rating is fourth on the team behind the team’s top offensive trio of Kyle Connor (WPG), JT Compher (BUF), and Tyler Motte (CHI).

Downing, in his third season with the Wolverines, has been a top-four defenseman since joining the team and has produced at similar levels—he finished second among defensemen in scoring the past two seasons. His offensive production has slowed recently (he has just one point in his past seven games), but he will be a big part of the team’s success as they push for a national championship.

12. (16) Denis Malgin, C, 7.0 D
Drafted: 4th round (102nd overall), 2015

A diminutive but skilled pivot, Denis Malgin has carved out a role with one of the top professional teams in Switzerland, despite being just recently turning 19. Malgin has 16 points in 35 games with Zurich; he has also played seven games for Zurich’s tier-2 team, recording five points.

Against players his own age, Malgin showcased his skill and ability, particularly his playmaking, at the 2016 World Junior Championships. He led Switzerland in scoring with nine points in six games and finished eighth in scoring behind some high-profile prospects, including Zurich teammate Auston Matthews (2016).

11. (12) Juho Lammikko, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 3rd round (65th overall), 2014

Big-bodied Juho Lammikko had intended to play this season at home in Finland for Assat Pori, but was quickly loaned to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs after just five games. The move was welcomed by the Frontenacs, where Lammikko is currently fifth in team scoring with 41 points in 48 games.

Though he has continued to score at a decent pace with each passing month, the production hasn’t been as consistent, particularly since the Frontenacs acquired Michael Dal Colle, who has since gone on a scoring tear. Lammikko had impressive back-to-back games against North Bay and Barrie earlier in February, recording three assists in the first game and three goals in the second, but has been held pointless in eight of his last 11 games. He also skated for Finland during the World Junior Championships but went pointless in seven games.

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