Panthers Top 20 prospects

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

Michael Frolik takes over top spot on the Panthers Top 20 prospects list and both Keaton Ellerby and Michal Repik move into the top 10. In addition to Ellerby and Repik, 2007 draftees Evgeni Dandanov, Matt Rust, and John Lee also gain spots in the Top 20 after Jacques Martin sat at the helm of the Panthers draft table for the first time.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (2) Michael Frolik
2. (1) Noah Welch
3. (NR) Keaton Ellerby
4. (3) Kenndal McArdle
5. (NR) Michal Repik
6. (5) Tyler Plante
7. (7) Shawn Matthias
8. (11) Brady Calla
9. (13) Derrick Lapoint
10. (10) Dan Collins
11. (6) David Booth
12. (4) Anthony Stewart
13. (NR) Evgeni Dadonov
14. (NR) Matt Rust
15. (8) David Shantz
16. (9) Stefan Meyer
17. (17) Martin Lojek
18. (16) Brian Foster
19. (NR) John Lee
20. (15) Kamil Kreps

1. Michael Frolik, C, 19

Acquired: Entry Draft 1st round, 10th overall, 2006

The current crown jewel of the Panthers system, Frolik had a late start to the 2006-07 season because of chronic shoulder trouble. Once he did get on the ice, however, he answered those who doubted him in his draft year. In total, he put up 31 goals and 42 assists in 52 games for Rimouski Oceanic and made the Quebec league’s All-Rookie Team. He also represented the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championships and garnered four goals and six points in six games. Rimouski failed to make the playoffs, but with a healthy Frolik in the fold this year, that may not be repeated.

The young Czech, who can play any position up front, gained nine pounds during the year and now comes in at 6’1 194 pounds. There is little doubt that he has the wheels to play the pro game along with the offensive skill. He will, like all young players, have to learn more how to play without the puck and fill out in order to see a career in the NHL.

2. (1) Noah Welch, D, 24

Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh 2007 (2nd round, 54th overall, 2001)

Welch, acquired in the Gary Roberts deal, should step into a permanent role on the Panthers blueline this fall. After a 22-game stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the trade, he was demoted to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the rest of his time with the Pens. There he put up totals of five goals and 21 points in 27 games while going +8. Once he entered the Florida organization, he played 11 games with their AHL affiliate in Rochester garnering two goals, four assists and was +4. He was promoted for the last two games of the NHL season during which he tallied one goal, went +3 and played 35 total minutes.

Welch is a prototypical two-way defenseman. At 6’4 and 218 pounds, he can hit, shoot, pass, cover and skate. The only thing that works against him is his age as he will be 25 by the time the season starts.

3. (NR) Keaton Ellerby, D, 18

Acquired: Entry Draft 1st round, 10th overall, 2007

Florida’s first pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, Ellerby counted two goals and 25 points on the season checking in with a –2 plus/minus. This was up from eight points the previous year. The Okotoks, Alberta native also had 120 penalty minutes, with more than a few of those being of the fisticuff variety as he has never been shy about dropping the gloves.

Currently 6’4 and 186 pounds, Ellerby projects to be a rough and tumble stay-at-home blueliner. He has the skating and hitting and is developing his passing and shooting though it is unlikely he will ever have high offensive statistics at the pro level. But while all the tools are there, he needs to think the game better if he is to progress to the NHL.

4. (3) Kenndal McArdle, LW, 20

Acquired: Entry Draft 1st round, 20th overall, 2005

The left winger got off to a decent start with Moose Jaw with 20 points in 26 games but a mid-season trade that saw him go to a much deeper Vancouver team came with a drop in numbers as he only counted 22 points in the remaining 37 games. The subsequent total of 44 points in 59 games was down from his two previous years in which he was at or very near a point a game. McArdle also saw minimal ice time during the WJC’s and that also didn’t help his cause. However, the WHL playoffs were a different story. Here the point-a-game McArdle of old finally showed up and the winger tallied 11 goals and 20 points in 22 games with a +14 plus/minus to go with it. The Memorial Cup saw him add two goals and two assists in five games.

At 5’11 195-pound McArdle will likely be a third line disturber in the Darcy Tucker mold. It remains to be seen as to whether he will score as much as Tucker has at the pro level.

5. (NR) Michal Repik, RW, 18

Acquired: Entry Draft 2nd round, 40th overall, 2007

Repik, like McArdle a winger for the Memorial Cup winning Vancouver Giants, was nearly a point a game in his draft year putting up 55 in 56 matches, a significant improvement over the year before when he totaled 52 in 69. However, like McArdle it was the playoffs and Memorial Cup where Repik shone the most. During the club’s run through the WHL playoffs, the Czech tallied 26 points in 22 games leading all WHL players in scoring, along with a +14 in plus/minus. The only black mark on his year was the WJC’s where he was held pointless with limited ice time in six games.

Standing 5’11 and weighing 184 pounds, Repik has drawn comparisons to Milan Hejduk in terms of style. Although he is off to a promising start, putting up pro totals like the Avalanche winger is a story yet to be told.

6. (5) Tyler Plante, G, 20

Acquired: Entry Draft 2nd round 32nd overall, 2005

The top-rated netminder in the rankings, Plante improved on last season’s numbers posting a 30-14-9 record with a 2.71 goals against average and a .911 save percentage during the regular season. He did however have a bit of a meltdown in the second round of the playoffs versus the Calgary Hitmen. After beating the Prince Albert Raiders 4-1 in the first round, his Brandon Wheat Kings lost to the Hitmen 4-2. While Plante was decent in the first two games, both Brandon victories, he had a goals against average of 5.50 in the last four, all Calgary victories.

At 6’3 and 207 pounds, Plante has good size to play between the pipes. Technically he is sound though he can flop around at times and has a tendency, like all young goalies, to give up rebounds.

7. (7) Shawn Matthias, C, 19

Acquired: Trade with Detroit, Feb. 2007 (2nd round, 47th overall, 2006 by Detroit)

A product of the Belleville Bulls, Matthias had a breakout year last season more than doubling his previous year’s output and the club placed him in more of a go-to role. He was able to put up 38 goals and 34 assists while improving by +20 to +11. He is a smart, mobile player who keeps his feet moving and is a fit for the new game. As good as he did in the regular season though, he really came up clutch in the playoffs. In 15 post-season games he tallied 13 goals and five assists, going +7 in that time.

Matthias, who will forever be remembered as the player the Panthers got for Todd Bertuzzi, checks in at 6’4 and 205 pounds. He is more of a shooter than a passer and probably falls somewhere between Joe Nieuwendyk and Jason Arnott in style, though he may never reach those levels of production in the pros.

8. (11) Brady Calla, RW, 19

Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2006

Speedster Brady Calla was used primarily in a checking role on a deep Vancouver Giants team for the past year and a half. This was reflected in his offensive stats for the first 29 games in which he only garnered three goals and six assists. However, the shackles came off when he was dealt to the Moose Jaw Warriors in a trade that ironically sent fellow Panthers prospect Kenndal McArdle to Vancouver. In 39 games in Saskatchewan, Calla put up 12 goals and 32 points in a more offensive role on a rebuilding team. As they missed the playoffs this year, the Warriors are no doubt counting on him to continue blossoming next season.

With his aforementioned speed and the defensive skills learned in Vancouver, the North Vancouver native has all the ingredients to make a solid career as a penalty-killing specialist. At 6’0 and 190 pounds, a good comparison might be Pascal Dupius.

9. (13) Derrick Lapoint, D, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall, 2006

Lapoint, hailing from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, captured that state’s High School Player of the Year in 2005-06. It was a harbinger of things to come the next season as in 2006-07 he finished second in defenseman scoring as a rookie in the USHL, tallying 13 goals and 36 assists in 59 games for the Green Bay Gamblers. The Indiana Ice swept Green Bay in the first round of the playoffs and although Lapoint chipped in with two assists it wasn’t enough. This season he’ll be suiting up for high-octane North Dakota in the WCHA.

At 6’3 and 186 pounds, Lapoint could definitely stand to put on some weight. He can skate, shoot and pass with aplomb as evidenced by his point totals. In fact, he averages about two and a half shots per game from the blue line. His defense will improve by facing higher-caliber players at North Dakota.

10. (10) Dan Collins, RW, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2005

The Carthage, New York native, on the shelf for part of 2005-06 because of a back injury, recovered enough to play a regular shift last season. However, if anything his progress was stagnant as his 26 goals and 42 assists were just under the pace he set a year ago. Similarly his playoff numbers of nine goals and 11 assists in 20 games, while impressive themselves, are again slightly off the levels he had a year ago albeit in only four games. In the Memorial Cup, he was pointless and –3 in five games.

Collins, measuring in at 6’1 209 pounds, does many things well, but is not outstanding in any area except his shot. He is a player who will always leave you wanting more out of him. At 20 years old, he could use another season of junior hockey in hopes of dominating as an over-ager. That said, the Panthers could just as easily use him in a checking role in the AHL, which will probably be his eventual calling card.

11. (6) David Booth, LW, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2004

Booth began the season in Rochester, fresh off a four-year career at Michigan State. There the native of Washington, Michigan put up seven goals and seven assists in 24 games, which was enough for the Panthers brass to give him a look at the NHL level for 48 games. In that time, the left winger tallied three goals and seven assists while playing a checking line/energy winger role.

The former Spartan is not a small player at 6’0 and 212 pounds and he plays like it, a banger extraordinaire. He’s also a hard worker who is defensively conscientious, which is a good thing because he is not blessed with speed. To date, he has shown little offense in the pros though admittedly that could be as much as where he is playing in the lineup as his own talent.

12. (4) Anthony Stewart, RW, 22

Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2003

No Panther prospect has fallen more in the past year than Anthony Stewart. Once viewed as the second half of a power right wing duo with Nathan Horton, the former Kingston Frontenac has seen his fortunes tumble through hard luck and bad habits. A wrist injury suffered during a cup of coffee with the NHL club did in his rookie year in the AHL and last season he was mentally submarined by the death of his mother. That said, time waits for no man. His meager totals of 13 goals and 27 points in 62 games at Rochester and single assist in a 10-game stint with the big club aren’t going to cut it. He is entering the third year of a three-year deal this fall and if he doesn’t pull it together, he could well be on his way out of the organization.

Stewart, weighing in at 6’1 225 pounds with offensive skills to spare, should have coaches salivating to put him out on the ice. But he has shown that unless the puck comes to him he won’t go and get it. He doesn’t hustle to backcheck and doesn’t set up properly for the breakout pass, preferring to hang out at the blueline. At age 22, bad habits such as these should be a thing of the past.

13. (NR) Evgeni Dadonov, RW, 18

Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2007

Dadonov appeared in limited action with Traktor Chelyabinsk, dressing for 24 games and garnering a goal and an assist in that time. He was also chosen for the U-18 World Championships in Finland where he counted two goals and two assists in seven games going +1 and taking 12 shots on goal. He was ranked 10th among European skaters by Central Scouting going into the draft and fourth among Russians.

Dadonov is your prototypical Russian offensive winger in most ways in that he is on the small side at 5’10 and 178 pounds with burgeoning offensive skill. However, unlike most Russians, he doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff and is willing to go into traffic in pursuit of the puck or scoring chance. His defense, again like most Russian wingers, is underdeveloped. The lack of Russian acceptance to the IIHF transfer agreement hurts his ranking.

14. (NR) Matt Rust, C, 18

Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2007

Rust played the year with the U-18 team in the USNTDP. As such, he played a schedule of NCAA teams and US junior clubs such as those found in the USHL as well as a few international tournaments. Used primarily in a checking role, the fireplug pivot tallied 12 goals and 17 assists in 48 games including two goals and nine assists in 22 games versus NCAA competition.

Built like a Coke machine, the 5’10 192-pound Rust is all about speed and defense. This is not to say he lacks offensive skills, just that his defensive ones are more developed than your average 18-year-old. Because of that, coaches feel comfortable running him out against the other teams top center in a shutdown role. His face-off skills are beyond reproach. As he will be playing for the Red Berenson coached Michigan Wolverines in the fall, expect a bit of a spike in offensive numbers.

15. (8) David Shantz, G, 21

Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall, 2004

Shantz’s star is falling almost as fast as Stewart’s, having to battle for a playing spot within the system with goalies from other NHL teams. In the case of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, where Shantz spent most of the year, it was the Carolina Hurricanes Craig Kowalski who is getting most of the starts. While Shantz did impress at that level when he was called upon going 13-7-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .908 save percentage, as soon as he was promoted to Rochester, he had to sit behind Buffalo’s Adam Dennis. His limited game action with the AHL club had him turn in numbers that were none too flattering, a 4.51 GAA and a save percentage of .880.

Shantz, measuring in at 6’1 and 192 pounds, comes with the reputation of being a sound technical goalie. That said, the fact that he couldn’t gain more playing time with the Everblades speaks volumes about how far he is away from NHL employment.

16. (9) Stefan Meyer, LW, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2003

The other big dropper in this version of the Top 20, Meyer has just not gotten it done at the minor league level since turning pro. His meager totals of 13 goals and nine helpers in 62 games were off even the pace he set a year ago. As it stands now, he’ll have to battle the myriad of Florida prospects vying for a checking role on the club.

The book on Meyer, coming in at 6’2 and 194 pounds, is that he is a skilled and aggressive player who lacks footspeed. By all accounts it is increasingly looking like his shortcomings in the speed department have caught up to him at the AHL level.

17. (17) Martin Lojek, D, 21

Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2003

Lojek played his first full season with the Americans in 2006-07 and garnered an encouraging six goals and 19 points in 69 games. In addition to that the Brno, Czech Republic native had 87 penalty minutes and was +4. Rochester didn’t dress Lojek — an AHL rookie on a team with two NHL affiliates — for the playoffs.

Lojek is another East European behemoth in the Branislav Mezei mold at 6’5, 225 pounds. He plays a stay-at-home game and has historically a bit light on aggression. Be that as it may, his penalty minute totals last season are his highest yet and thus encouraging. He’ll turn 22 next week and the next logical step would see him become a more important part of the rotation during the year and playing an active role in the playoffs.

18. Brian Foster, G, 20

Acquired: 5th round, 161st overall, 2005

Last season was Foster’s freshman campaign at the University of New Hampshire. As Kevin Regan’s (BOS) understudy, he didn’t get into many games. All told, he saw action in seven tilts going 2-2 with a .933 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average. Regan will be a senior this year, so Foster can expect more of the same this season. He’ll probably have to wait until his junior year to make any kind of impact.

Foster is consistent in both effort and mindset, rarely letting the game situation affect his demeanor. Whether he can raise his game when the stakes are high is a question that is going to have to wait a while until he becomes the starter.

19. (NR) John Lee, D, 18

Acquired: 5th round, 131st overall, 2007

Lee split his 2006-07 season between Moorhead High School in Minnesota and the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks. The younger brother of Brian Lee (OTT), John tallied six goals and 27 assists in 23 games with Moorhead collecting 48 penalty minutes on the way. In 27 USHL games, he put up two goals and seven assists with an even plus/minus. He is committed to the University of Denver this fall.

The younger Lee is the same height has the elder at 6’2, but has a lot of filling out to do at 173 pounds. He plays a style similar to his brother though, and has also been compared to fellow Florida prospect Derrick Lapoint. That is to say, he skates, passes and handles the puck well, has a good shot, but could still use some work on positional play.

20. (15) Kamil Kreps, C, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2003

The Czech pivot took a step forward at Rochester of the AHL this year albeit a small one. In 11 fewer games, he tallied three more points counting 14 goals and 35 points in 50 games in 2006-07. This performance earned him a shot at the show where he put up a goal and an assist in 14 games. Clearly at this point in his development Kreps has yet to show the type of game to get himself into the top six forwards on the NHL club.

At 6’2 202 pounds, has a good first step for someone his size. Whether he is ever trusted with top six time at the highest level is going to depend on him showing the coaches that he isn’t a liability on the ice.  Kreps will be 23 in November.

Falling off the list:

Janis Sprukts (14) – no longer eligible
Franklin MacDonald (18)
Michael Caruso (19)
Rob Globke (20)

Jason Menard, Phil Laugher, and Sean Ruck contributed to this article.  Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.