Panthers CHL season review

By Glen Erickson

As the Florida Panthers go through a time without a sole AHL affiliate, they will likely keep more players in major junior until the end of their eligibility. For those with a year of eligibility remaining in the CHL, their teams will be glad to have them for a bit longer before they embark on professional hockey.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Olivier Legault

Ontario Hockey League
David Shantz
Bret Nasby
Dan Collins

Western Hockey League
Kenndal McArdle
Tyler Plante
Evan Schafer

Kenndal McArdle, LW – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 195 lbs., Birthdate: Jan. 4, 1987
Acquired: 2005 NHL Entry Draft (First round, 20th overall)

McArdle played in all 72 regular season games in Moose Jaw, scored 28 goals and 43 assists for a club that finished first in the WHL’s East Division and produced four of the top 15 scorers in the league.

As Moose Jaw enters the first playoff round against the Brandon Wheat Kings, McArdle will be looked upon to provide secondary scoring on a club stacked with offensive punch. WHL scoring leader Troy Brouwer (CHI), Dustin Boyd (CAL) and Blair Jones (TB) give the Warriors huge depth up front. A lengthy playoff run this season would certainly add to McArdle’s experience under big game conditions.

McArdle is durable. Since his 16-year-old season, he has missed only two regular season games. The native of Burnaby, B.C., McArdle’s style of play and approach to each game is often compared to that of former Warriors alumni and captain, Mike Keane.

McArdle will likely play another season in junior, gaining valuable experience attending the Panthers training camp this fall. Next season, McArdle could challenge for a roster spot on the Canadian national junior team. He has had previous international experience, having played in the 2005 Canada-Russia Challenge.

Dan Collins, RW – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 200 lbs., Birthdate: Feb. 26, 1987
Acquired: 2005 NHL Entry Draft (Third round, 90th overall)

In his third season with the Whalers, Dan Collins has played 44 games, posting 23 goals and 26 assists. However, the 19-year-old from Catharge, New York underwent back surgery on January to address a disc problem.

“Dan was having a great year for us,” agreed Whalers’ assistant coach Todd Watson. “He played on our top line all year. With the injuries we’ve had, we’ve had to do some mixing and matching. He’s a good goal scorer, just incredible shot.”

On most nights, Collins played alongside John Vigilante (NAS). He has been out of the lineup for about a month, but the Whalers are hopeful he can play in the postseason. He played in all situations and was a reliable contributor on the power play and also in penalty-killing role. Collins chipped in with 14 power play goals.

If Collins can recover favorably from his back problems, he will likely play an even bigger role with the Whalers next season.

Tyler Plante, G – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 185 lbs., Birthdate: May 17, 1987
Acquired: 2005 NHL Entry Draft (Second round, 32nd overall)

Tyler Plante has established himself as a workhorse in the WHL’s East Division, playing in 60 games this season. He’s posted 25 wins and 24 losses including a pair of shutouts, a 3.32 goals against average and an .898 save percentage.

According to assistant coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk, Plante is a player who wants be the go-to guy.

“Tyler is a big kid with great mobility and real good fundamentals,” Gylywoychuk explained. “He’s a very motivated person. I think he’s really a money goalie. He likes playing in big games and really wants to be a part of the team winning games.”

The 2004 WHL Rookie of the Year, Plante was fortunate to have had a strong team in front of him last season. This season, the Wheat Kings found themselves in a late-season battle with the Prince Albert Raiders as both teams were in the hunt for the fourth and final playoff spot in their division. Brandon will advance to the postseason.

“Down the stretch, we were able to use both Tyler and backup Kurt Jory,” Gylywoychuk offered. “But I remember a particular game in Prince Albert where Tyler played really well. It’s a tough building to play in, but he gave us a real good chance to win. He’ll be a big part of our playoff run and the outcome of our season. Maybe he can steal us a game or two.”

Last season, Plante started each of the Wheaties 24 playoff games as the club reached the WHL championship series against the Kelowna Rockets.

The third goaltender selected in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft behind Carey Price (MTL) and Tuukka Rask (TOR), Plante also became the top Manitoba-born player chosen and was the highest Wheat Kings goalie picked since Trevor Kidd in the 1990 draft. The Panthers are keeping a close eye on Plante, in particular goaltender coach Phil Myre, who traveled to Brandon this season to work with the young prospect.

Evan Schafer, D – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 226 lbs., Birthdate: Oct. 9, 1985
Acquired: 2004 NHL Entry Draft (Fourth round, 105th overall)

Evan Schafer had a very quiet 2005-06 season along the blue line for a Prince Albert Raiders team that will miss the WHL playoffs. The 20-year-old has notched one goal and 15 assists in 55 games, with 120 penalty minutes.

After a solid playoff performance last season, Schafer returned to Prince Albert as an overage. According to head coach Peter Anholt, the native of Mankota, Saskatchewan has probably underachieved this year.

“He’s not looked upon to be an offensive contributor,” Anholt said. “He wasn’t quite as physical this season as I think he could have been. He suffered a broken jaw last year and there may have been some lingering effects from that.”

Schafer played over 275 games in four seasons with the Raiders, much of that beside defense partner Jeff May (DET). The pair consistently played against opposing teams’ second line.

Given the nature of Florida’s affiliate situation, finding a place for Schafer to play next season may be a challenge. Panthers fans will know by June 1 as to whether or not Schafer has been signed, but the smart money may be on the young defenseman opting for an education and also playing hockey in the CIS.

David Shantz, G – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 190 lbs., Birthdate: May 5, 1986
Acquired: 2004 NHL Entry Draft (Second round, 37th overall)

One of only nine goalies in the OHL to post a goals against average below three goals per game, David Shantz played in 49 games for Peterborough this season. He compiled 31 wins and 14 losses, a 2.87 goals against average and a save percentage of .915.

Prior to an offseason trade to Peterborough, Shantz spent two seasons with the Mississauga Ice Dogs, appearing in 76 games. This season, the 19-year-old native of Hamilton, Ontario has backstopped the Petes to a first place finish in the OHL’s Eastern Division with 99 points, just three points behind the overall regular season champions, the London Knights.

During the 2004 playoffs, Shantz posted five shutouts for the Ice Dogs, undoubtedly numbers head coach Dick Todd could not ignore as the Petes looked to build a strong Memorial Cup contender for the 2005-06 campaign. Shantz will have to be at his playoff best against some high-end offensive players in the OHL if the Petes hope to make their way to the national championship in Moncton, New Brunswick in May.

Bret Nasby, D – Erie Otters (OHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 191 lbs., Birthdate: March 22, 1986
Acquired: 2004 NHL Entry Draft (Fifth round, 152nd overall)

In 52 games, Bret Nasby scored nine goals and chipped in with 22 assists and 72 penalty minutes in a season the young defender may soon like to forget.

Nasby has played in 181 OHL games in the OHL, only seven of which have come in the playoffs, with Oshawa in 2004. On Nov. 30, Nasby and Adam Berti (CHI) were traded from the Generals to the Erie Otters. A nagging groin injury dogged Nasby through the middle portion of the schedule.

Nasby left Oshawa after 20 games as the club’s leading scorer among defensemen and played a total of 32 more games with Erie, who missed the OHL playoffs. Playoff experience at the junior level is very important developmentally and unfortunately for Nasby to date, he’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Credit the Panthers for landing the native of Grimsby, Ontario, a player who possess good size and reach.

Whether Nasby plays another year in Erie as an overage remains to be seen, however, leading scorers Michael Blunden (CHI) and Ryan O’Marra (NYI) are eligible to return, a key to getting the Otters into the playoff hunt.

Olivier Legault, LW – Drummondville Voltiguers (QMJHL)
Height: 6’5, Weight: 234 lbs., Birthdate: Feb. 10, 1986
Acquired: 2005 NHL Entry Draft (Fourth round, 93rd overall)

In 63 games, Olivier Legault scored two goals and added two assists while chalking up 154 penalty minutes. The 20-year-old likely does not possess the offensive attributes to occupy and overage roster spot in Drummondville next season and will be hard pressed to stick with the Panthers.

His toughness and work ethic will be tested, a lengthy run through the playoffs will certainly help. Traded by Lewiston to Drummondville for a fourth round draft pick on the day after Christmas, this enabled Legault to thrive as a member of a Voltiguers squad that had a huge second half. He arrived in the midst of a five-game wining streak and the contributed a physical presence during a streak of 10 straight wins through February to secure a position in the playoffs.

The native of Chibougamau, Quebec, Legault understands his role and works hard to create open ice for his teammates, like scoring leader Derick Brassard who collected 116 points for the Voltiguers. Like many of the bigger players in the CHL, Legault will have to improve his mobility and foot speed to be taken seriously at the NHL level, especially in light of the new rules associated with obstruction. Potentially a candidate to play CIS hockey, Legault is a veteran of four seasons in junior.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.