2011 NHL Draft: Florida Panthers add cornerstone player and find value in mid-round picks

By Chris Roberts

Kyle Rau - Florida Panthers

Photo: Florida Panthers forward prospect Kyle Rau played in his first NHL game in the 2015-16 campaign, ultimately appearing in nine games for the Panthers (courtesy of Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)


Jonathan Racine, D, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL), 3rd round, 87th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 1

The Panthers went back to the QMJHL for their third of four third round picks in the draft, selecting physical, stay-at-home defenders Jonathan Racine. The Montreal native never put up big offensive totals in his four seasons of junior hockey, topping out at 21 points in 2012-13 with the Moncton Wildcats, but he was a physical presence throughout his 245 career games in the league.

Racine provided that same style of play in three seasons with the Panthers AHL affiliate, playing in 190 regular season games and recording just 21 points. He led the team with 149 penalty minutes in the 2014-15 season and finished second in that category in 2015-16 with 89.

He played his lone game in the big leagues in his first season as a pro, but was never really considered as a call-up in the previous two years due to relative health on the Panthers blue line and failing to improve his skating. His entry-level deal expired this year, and it’s unlikely he returns to the organization next season.

Kyle Rau, LW, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL), 3rd round, 91st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 9

Like Grimaldi, one of the biggest concerns regarding Kyle Rau in his draft year was his diminutive frame. The Minnesota native played high school hockey in 2010-11, but joined the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede toward the end of the year and led the league in playoff scoring with 12 points in 10 games.

If the Panthers felt they were taking a chance on Rau with the pick, they were quickly vindicated the following year when, as a freshman, he finished second on the University of Minnesota in scoring with 43 points, one more than fellow Panthers pick Nick Bjugstad. He played out all four years of his NCAA eligibility and posted remarkably consistent numbers – 43, 40, 40, and 41 respectively.

Rau was signed by the Panthers following the completion of his collegiate career, appearing in 63 games for the Portland Pirates this season. He finished sixth on the team in scoring with 31 points and also spent nine games in Florida, where he was held pointless with limited ice time. He’ll likely compete with Grimaldi for a roster spot next season.

Yaroslav Kosov, LW, Magnitogorsk Jr. (Russia), 5th round, 124th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Big-bodied winger Yaroslav Kosov has carved out a career as a bottom-six winger in the KHL, but his play hasn’t garnered any talk of the Russian signing a contract with the Panthers.

Kosov made his KHL debut in 2011-12 and recorded nine points in 27 games with Magnitogorsk. His production has remained at that level over the course of five years with the team; all totaled, the 6-foot-3, 220 pound winger has 34 points through 204 regular season games. His most productive stint came in this year’s KHL playoffs, where he had seven points in 23 games as his team won a league championships.

Eddie Wittchow, D, Burnsville High School (Minnesota), 6th round, 154th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Like Kosov above, the Panthers went with size when taking Eddie Wittchow in the sixth round. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound defenseman had limited offensive upside when drafted and never developed much of an offensive game in the five seasons since. He had five goals and 13 assists in 60 games for the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks in 2011-12, but recorded a combined 17 points in four seasons for the University of Wisconsin.

Wittchow is similar to Racine in that they both play a physical style with sub-par skating ability. He has yet to be signed by the Panthers and it is unlikely he receives an entry-level deal, though he may catch on with an AHL or ECHL team next season.

Iiro Pakarinen, RW, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga), 7th round, 184th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 80

The Panthers took a flier on Finnish winger Iiro Pakarinen, who had been passed over in the previous two drafts. As a 20-year-old in his draft year, Pakarinen had 10 points in 47 games with KalPa Kuopio. The Panthers saw him as a late-blooming winger with size who could one day play in the NHL. They were ultimately right, though Pakarinen’s breakout year came after his rights were relinquished by Florida.

After 13 and 12 point seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Pakarinen scored 20 goals for HIFK Helsinki in 2013-14 and finished fourth on the team with 30 points. He signed a two-year free agent deal with the Edmonton Oilers at the end of the season and immediately fit in, posting 28 points in 39 games for the Oilers AHL affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons. He also appeared in 17 NHL games.

Pakarinen played in just four AHL games in 2015-16 and soon earned a full-time spot in Edmonton. He appeared in 63 games for the Oilers and scored five goals while adding eight assists in a bottom-six role. The restricted free agent has yet to be re-signed by the Oilers.

Hockey’s Future looks back at the 2011 NHL Draft of the Florida Panthers in the video below, which includes 2011 NHL Combine footage of picks Jonathan Huberdeau, Rocco Grimaldi, and Rasmus Bengtsson, and draft footage of Jonathan Racine.


Notable Playoff Performances

Jayce Hawryluk carried his strong play from the regular season to the postseason, helping to lead the Brandon Wheat Kings to a WHL Championship with 29 points in 21 games. He had a disappointing Memorial Cup, however, going pointless in two games.

Rocco Grimaldi was the Portland Pirates most dangerous forward in their first-round AHL playoff exit. The center had four assists in five games.

Prospect of the Month

Mike Matheson - Florida PanthersFollowing the Panthers first-round exit from the NHL playoffs, Mike Matheson was a surprise addition to the Canadian World Championship team. Nobody was questioning the selection by tournament’s end, however, as Matheson starred on the big ice, showcasing his tremendous skating stride and offensive ability with six points in 10 games. He led all Canadian blueliners with a +11 rating and was named the Best Defenseman of the tournament.

Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7

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