Although the Florida Panthers drafted cornerstone players Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad in 2013 and 2014, the organization built its foundation primarily in the 2011 NHL Draft, Dale Tallon’s second as general manager.
The 2015-16 version of the Panthers, which qualified for the playoffs and had its best regular season in franchise history, featured two players from the 2011 NHL Draft – Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck – playing vital roles for the team. Logan Shaw, Kyle Rau and Rocco Grimaldi all played varying roles for the team as well. The Panthers drafted 23 players in the 2010 and 2011 drafts, 15 of which have played in the NHL.
Continuing his full-blown makeover of the Panthers, Tallon acquired three additional draft picks at the 2011 trade deadline, dealing away veterans Bryan McCabe, Cory Stillman and Dennis Wideman. All totaled, the Panthers drafted 10 players in the 2011 draft, including three Europeans, four from the CHL and three NCAA-bound prospects.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL), 1st round, 3rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 272
Jonathan Huberdeau was a consensus Top-3 pick heading into the draft, so when the Colorado Avalanche took Gabriel Landeskog with the second overall selection it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see the Panthers take Huberdeau, who had just come off a 105-point season with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. The Saint-Jerome, Que. native emerged as a top prospect in the 2009-10 playoffs, scoring 11 goals in 21 playoff games as a rookie after just 15 in 61 regular season games.
Following his draft year, Huberdeau scored at an incredible rate in back-to-back shortened seasons at the QMJHL level. He played just 37 games in 2011-12, but finished third on the Sea Dogs in scoring with 72 points. His season was cut short due to a broken foot. The winger posted 45 points in 30 games in the 2012-13 season before he was recalled to the Panthers following the 2013 World Junior Championship.
The skilled and shifty forward had three points in his first career NHL game on Jan. 19 against the Carolina Hurricanes and finished his first half-season with 31 points in 48 games. The following year Huberdeau had a drop off in production with just 28 points in 69 games, though it should be noted the rebuilding team’s top scorer that year was Nick Bjugstad, who had a mere 38 points.
He has firmly established himself as a top-line player for the Panthers in the past two seasons, however, posting back-to-back 50-plus point seasons. This season, the 23-year-old finished fourth on the team in scoring with 59 points, just six back of leading scorer Jaromir Jagr.
Rocco Grimaldi, C, USNDTP (USHL), 2nd round, 33rd overall
NHL Games: 27
Thought of as a potential steal of the draft, it has taken some time for Rocco Grimaldi to make an impact at the NHL level, but that is partly owing to a strong group of young players in Florida as well as Grimaldi’s diminutive stature.
The Anaheim, California native appeared in just four games as a freshman with the University of North Dakota in 2011-12 as his season was cut short due to a knee injury. He responded the following year, however, playing 40 games and registering 36 points, finishing third on the team in scoring. As a junior, in his third and final season at the school in 2013-14, Grimaldi had a team-leading 39 points (17 goals and 22 assists).
Grimaldi quickly acclimated to the pro game in 2014-15, as he finished fifth on the AHL‘s San Antonio Rampage in scoring with 42 points in 64 games. He also appeared in seven games with the Panthers and scored his first career NHL goal against the Nashville Predators. He was thought to have a good chance at making the Panthers out of training camp prior to the 2015-16 season, but played primarily in Portland, the team’s new AHL affiliate. He did manage to appear in 20 regular season contests for the Panthers as well as two playoff games. He’ll battle for a full-time roster spot in training camp next season.
Rasmus Bengtsson, D, Rogle BK (Allsvenskan), 2nd round, 59th overall
NHL Games: 0
One of the rare whiffs from Tallon and the Panthers scouting staff in the 2011 draft was Rasmus Bengtsson. At the time, he projected as an offensive defenseman with a heavy shot who could quarterback a power-play; in the 2010-11 season, as an 18 year old, he had nine points in 45 games in Sweden’s second-tier men’s league. But he hasn’t been able to improve upon those numbers, let alone move up to the SHL.
He played just 18 games with the team in 2011-12 before moving to the United States to play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Bengtsson played two seasons with the Lumberjacks, posting a combined 34 points in 83 games. The high point of his career came in the 2012-13 season when he appeared in four games for Sweden at the World Junior Championship. Despite that, he wasn’t offered a contract by the Panthers and went back to Sweden the following season.
Bengtsson played his first four games in the SHL this season as Rogle BK was promoted, but he was soon loaned to IF Björklöven of the second-tier league.
Vincent Trocheck, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 3rd round, 64th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 146
A consistent scorer throughout his junior career, it is no surprise Vincent Trocheck has become a valued center for the Panthers. He had an impressive 62-point campaign in his draft year with Saginaw of the OHL, playing alongside fellow Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad (CBJ). The following year the duo finished 1-2 in scoring for the Spirit with 85 and 76 points respectively. Trocheck split the 2012-13 season, his final year of junior hockey, with Saginaw and Plymouth, recording a combined 109 points, as well as 24 in 15 playoff games. He won the Red Tilson Trophy that season as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player of the Year.
Trocheck’s offensive abilities carried over fluently to the pro level; he finished second in scoring on the Panthers AHL affiliate in San Antonio in 2013-14 with 42 points in 55 games and also appeared in 20 games for the Panthers. He made the jump to become a full-time NHL player the following season, playing in 50 games for the Panthers after 23 appearances in the AHL.
He really came into his own as a player this season, recording 53 points in 76 games. He was limited to just two playoff games in the Panthers first-round series against the New York Islanders and his absence was certainly felt. There is no doubt he is safely entrenched as part of the Panthers young, improving core.
Logan Shaw, RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL), 3rd round, 76th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 53
Up until the 2015-16 season it wasn’t expected Logan Shaw had much potential to play in the NHL. But his perseverance has paid off as he appeared in 53 games for the Panthers after scoring 11 goals in 19 AHL games to begin the season.
Even in junior, Shaw didn’t have much of a scoring touch; rather, he was drafted because of his size (now 6-foot-3, 202 pounds) and his potential as a checking-line winger. He had 46 points in 68 games in his draft year with Cape Breton. The following season Shaw was dealt to the Quebec Remparts and finished the year with just 41 points in 60 games. The offense arrived in 2012-13; playing with highly skilled teammates Adam Erne (TBL), Mikhail Grigorenko (COL) and Anthony Duclair (ARI), Shaw accumulated 68 points in 67 games.
That offensive outburst didn’t instantly translate to the pro ranks, however. The Nova Scotia native had just one goal in 46 AHL games with San Antonio and was sent to the ECHL for 20 games during the season. He improved considerably in his second pro season, sticking with San Antonio and contributing 13 goals and 12 assists in 69 games.
His start to this season was a huge surprise but, while he earned his keep with the Panthers by the end of the season, he will need a strong training camp come September to secure his spot in 2016-17.