Mid-Season Panther Prospect Report. Part 2

By Mark Fischel

Mid-Season Panther Prospect Report Card….Part 2

While this season for the Panthers has been an hard one to watch and an easy one to forget, it has given me the opportunity to see in person many of the top prospects of the Florida Panthers. While there are many reasons why the Panthers are having a dismal year, the biggest one is the startling amount of injuries that has plagued this team.

Normally the Panthers would have 3-5 rookies called up throughout a season, but this year the Panthers have seen 11 rookies play extended roles for games at a time. Some of these players have been pleasant surprises, like Serge Payer and Lance Ward. While some have promise and potential, they show that they are not ready for the NHL, and wouldn’t be playing if it weren’t for all the injuries to Panther regulars.

Denis Shvidki, Left Wing

Denis started the season in the NHL where he started to see action on the 3rd and 4th lines with a rotating cast of line-mates. He initially had a hart time battling inconsistency and adjusting to the speed of the NHL and was sent down to Louisville for a few games. The demotion clearly affected Denis because when he got called back up after a few games, he started to show signs of maturity and patience as he rattled off 3 quick goals. In addition, he was also a +3 on a poor Panthers team. In a head-scratching move, Denis got sent back to Louisville over a struggling Ivan Novoseltsev and has been there ever since. In 20 NHL games, Denis scored 3 goals and had 1 assist

Denis was named to the AHL All-star game and proceeded to shatter the All-star game records of most assists and most points, and if not for the feel good story of John Slaney, Denis would have been named MVP. While in Louisville, he quickly became the best player on the team, where he showed off his playmaking skills and array of effective shots. In 25 games, he scored 11 goals and 9 assists.

Ivan Novoseltsev, Right Wing

In what could be considered a disappointing first half, Ivan has struggled to find any groove to his NHL game. In 32 games, he scored 3 goals and 4 assists, and 2 of those goals were from the puck bouncing off his stick and into the net. Ivan still has amazing speed, but he needs to be able to use effectively away from the play to get himself into scoring position. In addition, Ivan needs to realize that his 1 on 1 moves that worked in Junior will not work against NHL opposition. He has concentrated on playing better on the defensive side at his coach’s request. Was called up and sent down numerous times due to all the injuries in Florida.

Dan Boyle, Defense

Another player battling inconsistency is Dan Boyle. On the plus side, his lows aren’t as bad as they have previously been, and his highs have been better than his previous seasons. When Dan is on top of his game, he shows supreme confidence in leading the rush or running the power-play, and even plays an effective defensive game. He had a stretch of games where he was simply the most effective defenseman on the ice and helped bolster the offensive side of the game. In 37 games, Dan added 12 assists, 7of which came with the man advantage.

On the downside of Dan’s game, he has been sent down to Louisville a few times, and has been a healthy scratch several times. When Dan tries to do too much and force the play is when his play truly suffers and he hurts his team. Several times he has been victimized when making poor defensive decisions, and the puck has ended up in Florida’s net. When Dan starts to play with consistency, his confidence will rise and overall play will keep him from plying his trade in Louisville.

Serge Payer, Center

For a player that was originally thought to be starting the season in Port Huron, Serge quickly erased those thoughts in the Panther Management’s head with his strong play in pre-season. Serge was recalled due to injuries, and quickly became a favorite of former coach Terry Murray. Serge is an extremely hard-working and coachable player whose good hockey sense and anticipation saw him being relied on for his penalty killing and defensive assignments. In 31 games, Serge has scored 4 goals and 1 assist, with one of those goals coming short-handed and the other 3 mainly derived from his defensive duties.

With the coaching change from Terry to Duane Sutter, Serge has seen his ice time severely reduced to averaging around less than 3 minutes a game. Whether this can be attributed to players returning healthy and the arrival of Vaclav Prospal, Duane has lately been putting Payer on the healthy scratch list and it won’t be surprising to see Serge sent down to Louisville soon, where he realistically should be spending his first pro hockey season right out of Juniors. Serge has a bright future ahead of him as a checking and defensive center in the NHL.

Marcus Nilson, Right Wing

Earning a spot on the Panthers out of training camp, Marcus was originally slated to be a 4th line checking winger, but as of this writing he has worked himself up to the 1st line left winger playing with Kozlov and Bure. For a player that had some of the Panthers front office wondering if he would ever make it in the NHL, this season has finally laid to rest any doubts of Marcus’s ability and drive. The key to Marcus’s emergence is his versatility and improved confidence. He has played practically on every line, in all special-teams situations, and has even expanded his gritty play into dropping the gloves on some occasions. This recent tendency for Marcus to fight has earned him the title of the “European Enforcer” among one Panther scout.

Having gotten more confident in his role with Florida, Marcus has shown the willingness to drive to the net and shoot the puck more than he has in the past, and he utilizes his team-mates very well. What was always a weakness with Marcus, his skating has improved dramatically and this has boosted his speed dramatically to go along with his great hockey sense. In 48 games this year, he has scored 6 goals (two of them are game-winners) and 7 assists.

John Jakopin, Defense

While it may be too early to tell if Jakopin has finally arrived with the Panthers, when a player scores his first NHL goal and starts to exert his influence by physical play, it causes one to take notice. The big Jakopin has been battling injuries his whole career and the start of this season, where he was sent down to Louisville for a conditioning assignment. Upon his return to Florida, John played tentatively in some games, but more recently he has become a brutal open-ice hitter and dominant physical presence in front of the nets. He still gets scratched periodically, but it has more to do with the coaches sitting defenseman according to the opposing team’s style of play. He needs to improve his defensive coverage and his overall speed still, and in 31 games he has scored 1 goal and 1 assist. Those two points are basically icing on the cake.

Brad Ference, Defense

Expected to make his name in the NHL this year, it has been a brutal going for the young Brad Ference. He started the year missing pre-season and the season opener with a broken jaw, Brad hasn’t grabbed the chance that was basically handed to him on a silver platter by Panther Management, who were looking for him to bring his two-way game and scary on-ice demeanor to a defensive corps sorely needing it. Brad looked tentative in the 9 games he played, where he was only to notch 1 assist and two goals. Unfortunately, those two goals came in one game and were scored against Trevor Kidd on what could be classified as “one of those games” Of course, he was sent down soon after that and has been playing in Louisville ever since, where he has scored 1 goal and 7 assists in 21 games. The 84 penalty minutes earned in Louisville was for the rarely seen and little known call of “pacifism”. Not.

Peter Ratchuk, Defense

The more chances that Peter Ratchuk gets, the more he shows that he is probably not going to be a NHL caliber defenseman. He has great skills in puck movement and on the offensive side of the game, but those great skills might be AHL or IHL level. Peter got called up for 8 games (again, due to all the injuries to the Panthers) and was very ineffective which led him to be scratched several times before being sent back down to Louisville. He simply cannot handle the defensive side of the NHL and his offense isn’t effective enough to let the Panthers overlook the rest of his game.

Joey Tetarenko, Defense

twice the Panthers have called up Joey, and both times he has played at the wing. While in Louisville, he has played some games at the forward position but he is mainly a defenseman. Joey is a classic example of a player just filling in a roster spot, as he isn’t relied on by the Panthers to do any more than that. It isn’t a knock on Joey as a player, but he clearly shouldn’t be playing in the NHL yet. Joey plays a very abrasive game, and is fearless when it comes to the pugilistic side. One picture of a fight in pre-season has earned Joey’s snarling likeness to be used in a local electronics-store newspaper advertisement. There is a snarling Joey with a raised fist pummeling some poor player in the little simulated TV pictures. On the big two-page weekend advertisement, there must be 200 TV’s with Joey plying his trade on them, prices range from $99 for the little kitchen models, all the way up to $4000 for the high-end HDTV sets.

Roberto Luongo, Goaltender

After starting the season as the #2 goaltender, Roberto played in several games where he quickly showed why the Panthers made the move to acquire him. He challenged Trevor Kidd the whole pre-season and clearly was the better goalie during that competition. In his first few games, Roberto had the tendency to give up 1 soft goal a game, which was enough to earn him the loss behind an anemic and pitiful Panther offense. For an example of this, Roberto’s first Panther shutout was a tie, and he since then notched two more shutouts.

His W-L-T record of 4-16-2 is very deceiving, as the Panthers simply offer no offense to Roberto when he is between the pipes. Besides his record, Roberto has better numbers than Kidd, where he has a 2.55 GAA (Kidd has a 3.21) and a .912 SP (Kidd has .898). By observing Roberto’s play, he is the better goaltender this year than Kidd, and he has shown that he is ready to be a #1 goaltender in this league at the age of 21. Put Roberto on a better scoring team (like the Rangers), and Roberto’s name would be mentioned along with Brad Richards, and Nabakov for the Calder trophy.

Lance Ward, Defense

In his first call-up, Lance saw action at the wing and not surprisingly was a non-factor. In his second call-up, Lance went back to playing defense and quickly impressed Duane Sutter with his gritty game and solid fundamentals on defense. Lance is showing that he could develop into an effective two-way defenseman with a nasty physical edge. After overcoming some questionable decisions, Lance rebounded nicely with solid play for stretches at a time, and has recently been playing on the first unit with Robert Svehla, where he is likely to get his first points of the season. If Lance stays up for the rest of the year, his versatility and strengths will make it easier for the Panthers to move some veteran defenseman at the trade deadline or in the off-season.