The Florida Panthers have heavily utilized the NCAA as a means of slowly developing their prospects and that much was evident this season. The Panthers had eight prospects spread evenly at each position playing college hockey this season. Some, like defensemen Ian McCoshen and Michael Downing are highly-touted within the organization, while others, like young winger Miguel Fidler and goaltender Evan Cowley, fall under the “projects” category.
In Europe, the Panthers have four prospects of varying potentials. Denis Malgin, the team’s fourth-round pick in last June’s draft, might be the most talented. In the past three drafts, 14 of the Panthers 22 picks have either been out of Europe or players bound for the NCAA.
Evan Cowley, G, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted: 4th round, 92nd overall, 2013
Though he has the better statistical numbers, albeit in a smaller sample size, Evan Cowley backed up Tanner Jaillet this season, playing in just 16 games while Jaillet played in 28. The pair split starts for the most part last season. This year, however, Jaillet got hot down the stretch, limiting starts available for Cowley, who finished the season with a very strong 2.07 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. He also had one shutout.
The University of Denver Pioneers earned the number two seed in the 16-team NCAA bracket’s west region and were set to play third seed Boston University in the first round. Cowley started the consolation game of the NCHC Frozen Four Faceoff against the University of North Dakota and held the team to just one goal in a 1-1 tie. Cowley will enter his senior season next year with the University of Denver, but Jaillet will also be back for his junior year, making it tough for Cowley to start any more than half of the team’s games. Still, the former fourth-round pick has very good numbers in a combined 41 games with the team over the past three seasons and should warrant consideration for an NHL contract.
Chris Wilkie, RW, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted: 6th round, 162nd overall, 2015
Wilkie has been buried on a powerhouse North Dakota team this season, primarily playing third and fourth line minutes, but he has had a couple of big games throughout the year. He only scored five goals in 32 games, but four of those came in a pair of multi-goal games. Wilkie had his best game of the season late in the year on Mar. 4 against Western Michigan when he scored twice and added two assists in an 8-1 win. He finished his rookie campaign with nine points, but was a team-worst minus-three.
North Dakota will lose second-leading scorer Drake Caggiula and fifth-leading scorer Austin Poganski next season to graduation, and it’s not out of the question that Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz turn pro. Regardless, there will be a greater opportunity for Wilkie, who has shown offensive capability in the past, scoring 55 points in 59 games with the USHL’s Tri-City Storm in 2014-15.
Miguel Fidler, LW, Ohio State University (Big Ten)
Drafted: 5th round, 143rd overall, 2014
Though he missed time due to injury and healthy scratches throughout the season, freshman Miguel Fidler showed signs of his skill and ability in the 20 games he suited up for the Ohio State University Buckeyes. He was pointless in his first five games of the season, but upon returning from injury in late December he recorded four assists in a pair of weekend games against Boston College and Cornell. He later scored his first collegiate goal against Penn State on Jan. 23. All totaled, Fidler finished the season with seven points in 20 games.
The 6’0, 186 lb winger is more of a playmaker than a finisher and will have to work hard in the summer to earn a larger role offensively next season.
Matt Buckles, C, Cornell University (ECAC)
Drafted: 4th round, 98th overall, 2013
A third-year player with some size to his frame (6’2, 218 lbs), Matt Buckles has become a reliable and effective player for Cornell University. He finished 10th on the team in scoring and recorded 11 points for a second consecutive season, though his eight goals were tied for third on the team and last season he was the team’s second-leading goal scorer with eight.
Cornell plays a defensive style (they allowed just 77 goals in 36 games), so Buckles low point totals should be factored into that. He has been one of the team’s more consistent offensive threats in the past two seasons and is a frequent power play option. He’s likely to play out his senior season before the Panthers make a decision on the player.
Ian McCoshen, D, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2013
McCoshen has been one of the Panthers top prospects for the past few seasons and deservedly so. The 6’3, 218 lb Wisconsin native is a stalwart defender, has a great first stride and can contribute offensively; in fact, he had a career year this season, his third with Boston College, scoring six goals and adding 14 assists in 37 games, while recording a team-high plus-29 rating. He also led the team with 84 penalty minutes, owing to his physical style of play.
He had a career game on Jan. 15 against rival Boston University, scoring a pair of goals and adding two assists in a 5-3 win. The junior topped Hockey Future’s Top 10 list of NHL-drafted defensemen in the NCAA, ahead of highly-touted Zach Werenski. He could potentially follow the path of former teammate and fellow Panthers prospect, Mike Matheson, who opted to forego his senior season with the Eagles.
Michael Downing, D, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted: 4th round, 97th overall, 2013
One of the more unheralded defense prospects in the NCAA, perhaps due to being overshadowed by Zach Werenski (CBJ) at the University of Michigan, Downing has been a trusted player for head coach Red Berenson. He has been a top-four defenseman for the coach for the past two seasons and this year again finished second in defense scoring for the team behind only Werenski, with three goals and 16 assists in 33 games.
Downing, like McCoshen above him, also plays with a physical edge to his game. The 6’2, 200lb blueliner led the Wolverines in penalty minutes with 62 and was recently given a suspension for a crosscheck to the head, forcing him to miss the team’s Big 10 championship game against the University of Minnesota. Downing is another junior that could forego his senior season to sign with the Panthers, though he could flourish with heavy minutes as a fourth-year defenseman next year.
Ed Wittchow, D, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted: 6th round, 154th overall, 2011
Wittchow, a defensive defenseman with limited offense, matched his career high of seven points this season, all of which were assists, in 32 games. The Minnesota native scored just once in his four-year collegiate career and accumulated 17 points in 123 games.
The physical rearguard isn’t the most fleet of foot, but can get overlooked because of his lack of production. Beyond that, he’s a rough-and-tumble, stay-at-home defenseman who uses his 6’4 frame to his advantage. He also has some leadership qualities and was a co-captain for the Badgers this season. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll sign with the Panthers before the summer.
Ben Gallacher, D, University of Massachusets-Amherst (Hockey East)
Drafted: 4th round, 93rd overall, 2010
Despite being drafted almost six years ago, Ben Gallacher is just graduating as a senior this season, after finishing three years at UMass-Amherst, where he topped 10 points every season. He played his freshman season for the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2011-12, but asked for a transfer at the end of the year, despite recording 12 points in 24 games as a freshman.
Gallacher is an interesting prospect in that he will be 24 once the 2016-17 season begins, far from a young rookie, if the Panthers choose to sign him. While he led his team’s defensemen in scoring this season, he was also a team-worst minus-24, but part of that is because UMass simply wasn’t a great team and Gallacher played heavy minutes for the squad.
Hugo Fagerblom, G, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
Drafted: 7th round, 182nd overall, 2014
Though quite raw in terms of his development, there is a lot to like about Swedish goaltender Hugo Fagerblom, most notably his size. The 20-year-old is 6’6 and 203 lbs, fitting the mould of what teams look for in goaltenders these days.
As far as his skillset goes, there remains a lot of work to be done before he can turn into a prospect to get excited about. He took a step back for Frolunda’s U20 team this season, recording a 3.74 goals against average and a .863 save percentage in 20 regular season games. By comparison, the team’s other goaltender, Victor Brattstrom, recorded a 2.26 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 27 games.
Yaroslav Kosov, LW, Magnitogorsk Metallurg (KHL)
Drafted: 5th round, 124th overall, 2011
22-year-old Yaroslav Kosov is beginning to become more of an afterthought in the Panthers organization. He has spent the past five seasons with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, but his most productive year was 2011-12, which followed his draft year. That year the big-bodied, 6’3, 220 lb winger recorded nine points in 27 games. He had nine points last season, but it took him 52 games, and in 53 games this season Kosov had just four points.
He has been a much more effective player in the postseason, however, already matching his regular season total with five points in just 12 games.
Alexander Delnov, LW, Dizel Penza (VHL)
Drafted: 4th round, 114th overall, 2012
If Kosov is almost an afterthought in the organization, Delnov is already there. He’s a curious case of a player who had success playing junior hockey in Canada for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2013-14 season, where he recorded 63 points in 71 games. Since returning to Russia, however, the 22-year-old has played in just 10 games in the KHL over two seasons.
He has some offensive ability, most notably a strong shot but his work ethic leaves a lot to be desired and he isn’t known for playing a complete, two-way game. This season Delnov has played primarily for Dizel Penza, a tier-2 team in Russia, where he had 10 goals and four assists in 20 games, leading the team in goals despite playing 20-plus games fewer than most of its players.
Denis Malgin, C, Zurich (Swiss-A)
Drafted: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2015
Easily the Panthers most promising prospect in Europe, Denis Malgin has taken some strides in his second season playing for Zurich, where he had 17 points in 38 regular season games (five goals, 12 assists).
Malgin is a diminutive, but smart and skillful playmaking pivot who is still very raw. He shined for the Swiss at the World Junior Championships and finished eighth in tournament scoring with nine points in six games. It’s likely that he stays in Switzerland for at least another season or two, which might not be a bad thing as he is currently being coached by former NHL bench boss Marc Crawford.
Prospect of the Month: Jayce Hawryluk
Though it’s easy to pick one of the month’s top scorers at any level of hockey, it’s also hard to overlook the stats Jayce Hawryluk of the Brandon Wheat Kings put up in March. The team itself started playing closer to expectations down the stretch, and while it wasn’t just because of Hawryluk he certainly played a big part. In just nine regular season games in the month of March, Hawryluk scored 17 goals and added 10 assists and was also an absurd plus-19 in those games. He began the month with a five-goal performance against the Saskatoon Blades on Mar. 2 and never looked back. His prolific pace toward the end of the season landed him fourth in league scoring with 106 points, despite playing 14 fewer games than the three players ahead of him.