Panthers Top 20 prospects

By Tanya Lyon

Years of rebuilding and high draft picks have enabled the Florida Panthers to put together a very solid group of prospects. This year, the Panthers will be sharing an AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, with the Buffalo Sabres. Rochester will take 8-10 of Florida’s players, and the team will place the rest of their pro prospects with the ECHL Florida Everblades.

According to Jack Birch, Director of Hockey Operations for the Panthers, “Fort Myers represents a viable option” for the Panthers because it’s only 63 miles away from Sunrise, Florida enabling the Panthers to keep a close eye on the development of their younger prospects. The Panthers like the coaching staff and they feel like it’s a great way for the real young players to develop their pro game. Birch believes it’s very likely that the guys playing in the ECHL will all play in the AHL at some point this season.

With the help of Birch, we break down the Panthers top 20 prospects. Three 2005 picks make the list.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Nathan Horton, RW (20)
2. Rostislav Olesz, LW (19)
3. Kenndal McArdle, LW (18)
4. Anthony Stewart, RW (20)
5. Lukas Krajicek, D (22)
6. Stefan Meyer, C (20)
7. Tyler Plante, G (18)
8. Greg Campbell, LW (21)
9. Rob Globke, RW (22)
10. Kamil Kreps, C (20)
11. David Booth, RW (20)
12. Petr Taticek, C (22)
13. David Shantz, G (19)
14. James Pemberton, D (21)
15. Greg Jacina, RW (23)
16. Martin Lojek, D (20)
17. Dan Collins, RW (18)
18. Jeremy Swanson, D (21)
19. Victor Uchevatov, D (22)
20. Evan Schafer, D (20)

Key: Rank. Name, Position (Age)

1.Nathan Horton, RW (20)

Horton was the third overall pick in the 2003 entry draft. He has the size (6’2, 201 lbs.), soft hands and great puck sense to play in the NHL, but his health remains an issue. He’s had surgery on his left shoulder two times in less than year. He was declared healthy by team doctors and Horton himself swears his shoulder is better than ever, but only time will tell.

Two years ago, Horton played 55 games for the Panthers and scored 22 points. He was tied for sixth-most goals among rookies despite his shortened season. Last year, playing for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, the Panthers former AHL affiliate, Horton had 4 goals and 9 points in 21 games. In the NHL preseason, Horton assisted on the game-tying goal against Carolina and scored the game-winning goal in the same game. In his first regular season game with the big club, he scored a goal and helped Florida win its opener.

2. Rostislav Olesz, LW (19)

Olesz was the Panthers first round pick in 2004 and the seventh pick overall. The Czech native played on a line with Olli Jokinen and Joe Nieuwendyk throughout the 2005 preseason and was tied for the team lead in preseason scoring with two goals and an assist. Olesz has also shown what the Panthers consider to be the professionalism needed to make it to the next level. He impressed the Panthers coaching staff by doing extra training at the rookie tournament in Ottawa and latched onto veteran Jozef Stumpel throughout training camp. He’s been making an effort to learn as much English as possible in an effort to be able to communicate with his teammates. Scouts say Olesz excels in the faceoff circle and can pass and finish. The team would like him to shoot even more.

Olesz has international experience and in 2000-01 surpassed Jaromir Jagr as the youngest player to play in the Czech Extraleague. GM Mike Keenan likes that Olesz has been playing the past two seasons in the Czech league against grown men and that he plays smart defensively. In fact, Keenan liked Olesz so much he told Olesz’ agent in training camp to expect the youngster to stay and sure enough, Olesz made the Panthers opening day roster.

Birch said of Olesz: “He’s a skilled player with good size. He’s physically strong with decent hands and he sees the ice really well. He competes well.”

3.Kenndal McArdle, LW (18)

McArdle’s 37 goals and 37 assists in 70 WHL games represented a dramatic increase over his previous year’s totals of 16 points in 54 games, proving that the left wing can score and that he may still be developing his game. The forward was selected to play in the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospects game in 2005 and was one of 44 players to be invited to the Canadian Junior Development Camp. The 20th overall pick in 2005 shows no signs of letting up as he continued to impress at the Rookie Tournament in Ottawa. This season back in the WHL with Moose Jaw, McArdle is off to a good start with three goals and six points in five games.

At 5’11 and 195 pounds, McArdle has decent size and his 122 penalty minutes last season prove that he won’t allow opponents to push him around.

4.Anthony Stewart, RW (20)

Stewart scored 99 goals in three seasons at the junior level. The right wing played for Team Canada’s gold medal-winning World Junior team in 2005. At the WJC, Stewart clashed with Coach Brent Sutter who worked Stewart hard and limited his ice time. Stewart ended up getting more ice time as the tournament went on and even scored an important goal for Team Canada proving he can play under pressure.

Stewart’s size of 6’1 and 225 pounds would make him a good fit on a checking line. The Panthers will likely ask Stewart to focus on nutrition because his weight is affecting his foot speed. Stewart was among the final three cuts left by the team in training camp, but in the end was assigned to Rochester.

Birch said of him: “Stewart’s size, the physical part of his game and his ability to shoot the puck are his biggest strengths.” He reported to camp in pretty good shape but he needs to develop the physical aspect of his game. “He needs to play more physical. He needs to play the body when he has the chance.”

5.Lukas Krajicek, D (22)

Krajicek is the first defenseman on our list. Two years ago, Krajicek was touted by former Panthers GM Rick Dudley as the best d-man in junior hockey. In his first professional season in 2003-04, he achieved so-so results. His 22 helpers in 78 games were enough to lead San Antonio’s defensemen in assists last year and this offseason he addressed his lack of size by gaining 12 pounds. He has the offensive mindset that coaches crave in a defenseman. He has definitely gotten the attention of Florida’s coaching staff as Jacques Martin has singled him out for his strong play in preseason scrimmages and has said he likes his work on the power play.

Krajicek made the Panthers opening day roster and like fellow prospect Horton, he scored a goal in the season opener to help the Panthers win.

6.Stefan Meyer, C (20)

Meyer has been a consistent scorer at the WHL level. Two years ago, he tallied 34 goals and 75 points and added another 17 points in the postseason. Last year, Meyer finished eighth in WHL scoring with 77 points. Meyer’s penalty minutes were equally impressive as they increased by over 50 percent over the past two seasons. The Panthers see that as a good thing and believe that it shows that Meyer will create his own room to score and won’t let opponents take liberties with him. Despite such consistent scoring, Meyer’s critics believe he is too skinny and too slow. Meyer addressed at least one of these issues over the offseason and bulked up, but the Panthers would like to see him gain more weight.

Meyer was eligible for an overage season in the WHL but is signed and has been assigned to the Everblades to start the year. Birch believes that Meyer has good athletic ability and just needs experience at the pro level as well as to develop his strength.

7.Tyler Plante, G (18)

At 6’3 and 202 pounds, Plante is a big goaltender that is showing plenty of promise. Last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), Plante played in 48 games and his 34 wins were third highest in the league. He added 13 more wins in the playoffs and set a record for shutouts as he blanked the opposition on six occasions. Plante also set a club record for best goals against average (2.58). The Panthers’ second round draft pick in 2005 was the WHL’s Rookie of the Year last season and the Eastern Conference Goalie of the Year.

Plante participated in the Panthers rookie tournament in Ottawa this year where he impressed Birch. He believes that Plante “showed a lot of promise. He looks like he’s going to be a pretty good goaltender.”

The Panthers would like to see Plante develop his strength and will continue to monitor his progress in the juniors closely. He has returned to Brandon for the year.

8.Greg Campbell, LW (21)

Sent to Rochester this season, according to Birch, Campbell will be their “immediate call-up when there is an injury.” Birch likes that Campbell can play both center and left wing and has developed multiple aspects to his game. He can check and play the offensive side.

Campbell was among the final cuts in training camp. He’s scored just 25 goals in the past two years in San Antonio. Last season, Campbell had four multi-point games and finished the season with 28 points in 70 games. While Campbell’s numbers may not he impressive, the Panthers like him because he is a smart, reliable player with a physical element.

9. Rob Globke, RW (22)

Like most of Florida’s prospects, Globke has good size at 6’3 and 201 pounds. A power forward with a good shot, he spent four seasons playing for Notre Dame where, in his final season, he led the Fighting Irish in scoring (36), goals (21) and game winning goals (4) in 40 games. Globke was also a member of the 2002 US World Junior team before being taken in the second round of the 2002 draft by the Panthers.

In his first professional season in 2004-05, Globke split the season between the AHL and the ECHL. He played in 63 games at the AHL level scoring just 12 points before being sent down to the ECHL. There he found his offensive touch again, scoring 12 points in 10 games. According to Birch, Globke’s lack of production at the AHL level had nothing to do with talent.

“He’s smart enough. He has enough skill to play.” Birch feels the initial drop in production was due to Globke’s need to learn the difference between the college game and the pro game. Once Globke makes the adjustment to the pro game, he should start producing. He has been assigned to Rochester.

10. Kamil Kreps, C (20)

Kreps is a big guy at 6’2, but he’s rail thin at 189 pounds. It’s quite apparent that Kreps’ body still needs to catch up with his skating and playmaking skills. Like Globke, Kreps split last season between the AHL and the ECHL and like Globke, also proved that his level of play was higher than that of the ECHL by scoring 11 points in 12 games, the same number of points he scored in 58 games at the AHL level. The Czech forward played juniors in North America and proved that he can score and, more importantly, score when it counts. During the 2003 season, Kreps scored tallied 61 points in just 53 games and added another 8 points in 11 playoff games. The previous season he scored 49 points in 57 games and another 7 points in 12 playoff games.

Kreps will need to increase his strength and his size to make it to the NHL level and needs to rediscover his goal scoring ways. Kreps is another player who struggled to get into the pro game and has to learn the pro game. Birch believes that Kreps has NHL caliber skills and likes that he has dedicated himself to getting stronger. He has been assigned to Rochester for the season.

11. David Booth, RW (20)

Booth played for Michigan State University where he won MSU’s fitness award last season. Booth scored 36 points in his rookie season but has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons. He suffered cracked rubs and missed the final 10 games of the season but still managed to score 16 points in 29 games. Booth was a member of the US squad that won the first ever gold medal at the 2004 world Championship and also was a member of the Under 18 Team that captured the World Championship. This season could be huge for Booth if he manages to stay injury-free.

12. Petr Taticek, C (22)

The first round draft pick and ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft spent most of last season with San Antonio, with four games in Laredo (CHL). In what was his second professional season, Taticek appeared in 67 games at the AHL level, he scored just 7 goals and 22 points. This is a stark contrast to Taticek’s play in the OHL where he was a much more prolific scorer, named the Greyhound Rookie of the Year and was the OHL Rookie of the Month in December of 2001.

Taticek needs to rediscover his scoring touch. Taticek is another guy Birch feels has great potential and just needs to develop his pro game. He has been assigned to the Everblades to start the season. This is a contract year for him, so he needs to have a good season.

13.David Shantz, G (19)

Shantz was the Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year two years ago when he led the Mississauga Ice Dogs to the Eastern Conference Championship of the OHL. This past season he lost 15 of 22 games and was benched the entire month of January. Shantz was traded to the Peterborough Petes during the offseason. Some said Shantz had developed a bit of an ego and wasn’t prepared for the season. He’s now looking for a chance to prove himself and a fresh start in Peterborough.

14. James Pemberton, D (21)

Pemberton is just the second defenseman to make Florida’s top 20 prospects. At 6’4 and 215 pounds, Pemberton has the large size that is typical of most of the Panthers prospects. In his junior season at Providence College, of the NCAA’s Hockey East Conference, Pemberton scored a career-high 12 points in 35 games. Admittedly, Pemberton doesn’t have much offense to his game but is not afraid to use his size. He will be a senior at Providence this year.

15. Greg Jacina, RW (23)

In 246 games at the OHL level, Jacina scored a total of 96 goals and 148 helpers, nearly a point a game with an equally impressive 384 penalty minutes. He scored 11 goals and 20 points in 78 games and tallied 150 penalty minutes last year with the Rampage. Jacina is still on the small side, he’s just 180 pounds, but his nose for the net and his lack of fear to mix things up will make him attractive to coaches.

Jacina is another prospect who could very well find himself called up to the NHL. “He had a good year last year,” said Birch. “He’s tough, smart and competes. He’s strong enough and will probably be called up.” Jacina is a good example of the usefulness of the ECHL level in developing prospects. He started his pro career assigned to the Augusta Lynx in 2003-04.

16. Martin Lojek, D (20)

At 6‘5 and 220 pounds, Lojek is by far the biggest prospect in the Panthers system. His 13 points in 58 games at the OHL level makes it obvious that Lojek doesn’t have much of an offensive component to his game, he is a physically imposing defenseman who can clear traffic in front of the net.

Birch called Lojek “the biggest surprise at camp. He has an NHL-caliber shot and he’s 240 pounds but he needs to get stronger.” Overall, Birch has been extremely pleased with Lojek’s development. The Czech native was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

With his size and continued work on his strength, Lojek could be very important to the Panthers. The rookie has been assigned to the Everblades to start the season.

17.Dan Collins, RW (18)

In his first season of junior hockey in the OHL, he scored 22 points in 59 games. He doubled his totals in the following season with 46 points in 68 games. He was a member of the US team that won gold in the Compuware Four Nations Cup.

Since being sent back to juniors this year he has been lighting it up, with 12 points in six games with Plymouth. Birch’s take on Collins is that “he has decent size, he’s physical and strong enough to [make it to the NHL].”

Collins was Florida’s third round pick, 90th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

18. Jeremy Swanson, D (21)

Swanson played his first professional hockey season last season, splitting the year between the San Antonio Rampage (AHL) and the Texas Wildcatters (ECHL). The sixth round selection scored 4 points in 21 games before being sent down to the ECHL. Before turning pro, Swanson had tallied 34 points and 120 penalty minutes in 66 games at the OHL. He was named the JC Massie MVP for the regular season and played in the OHL All Star Game.

While Swanson has proved he can play at the AHL level, Birch feels that “Swanson needs to dedicate himself to his conditioning and strength in order to have a shot” at cracking Florida’s line-up. Swanson showed up to this year’s training camp in poor physical condition and soon found himself a step behind. If Swanson dedicates himself to his conditioning, it should help him regain his scoring touch. He has been assigned to the Everblades.

19.Viktor Uchevatov, D (22)

Uchevatov is another big defenseman in the Panthers system. He’s 6’4 and 205 pounds. The Russian defenseman was acquired by the Panthers in a trade that sent Viktor Kozlov to the New Jersey Devils. Uchevatov has played four seasons in the AHL but will need to work on his play with the puck to have a chance in the NHL.

Birch said “Viktor is a huge physical force, he competes but he’s got questionable puck skills. He looks after his own end of the rink but he needs to be better with the puck. He’s your regular steady-eddie defenseman.”

20. Evan Schafer, D (20)

Selected in the fourth round of the 2004 entry draft, this 6’2 221-pound defenseman is known for his hard hitting style of defensive play. A strong fighter, he is also comfortable moving the puck.

Schafer has returned to Prince Albert for a fourth year. In seven games, he is scoreless with 29 penalty minutes.

Note: Defenseman Filip Novak was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 6 for future considerations.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.