The Florida Panthers have had a wealth of talent in their farm system over the past couple of years. With the graduation of Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Rostislav Olesz, Kamil Kreps, David Booth, Anthony Stewart and Gregory Campbell to the NHL, a new group of prospects have taken their place. And while they still have talent, the Panthers do not have the depth or elite skill they once had. One of the biggest issues that have affected the development of their current prospects was sharing an AHL team with the Buffalo Sabres. Now that Rochester is Florida's team, the Panthers' prospects will get the one-on-one coaching that players need to take the next step.
Their top three prospects at forward have the potential to be top two-line players in the NHL one day. Shawn Matthias could supply the team with size and skill. Speaking of skill, the Czech duo of Michael Frolik and Michael Repik will provide the Panthers with a much-needed infusion of skill to replace both Radek Dvorak and Richard Zednik. Behind them are the feisty Kenndal McArdle and A.J. Jenks, who have the tools to become NHL role players on the third or fourth line. After that, Dan Collins and Matt Rust are long shot prospects. But Rust had an excellent season as a freshman in Michigan, so he could surprise.
On defence, the Panthers have Keaton Ellerby, Colby Robak and Adam Comrie coming up the pipeline. The trio has different talents and could all play for the Panthers one day if they are patient with them. Only Ellerby is projected to get a shot at a roster spot in Florida next year, especially with Jay Bouwmeester possibly leaving via free agency. Robak and Comrie will play one more season of junior before turning pro. The Panthers will need to add some additional talent on the blueline in this year's draft, as they lack overall depth at this position.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom and Tyler Plante both have promise and could be the duo that leads the Panther between the pipes in the future. Markstrom proved he could take his game to another level in the Swedish Elite League and in the world juniors in Ottawa. He is projected as the No. 1 goaltender that will take over for the incumbents in a few seasons. Plante has not played consistently at the AHL level and has been bounced back and forth from the ECHL, so next year is his chance.
Florida has the 14th overall pick this year and look for them to add to the blueline with their top picks to replenish the stocks.
1. Michael Frolik - Left Wing, 21 (1st round, 10th overall, 2006)
Currently with Florida (NHL)
With 138 points in 97 junior games, Frolik was expected to play a season in the AHL. Well that didn't happen, as Frolik made the Panthers squad and turned in a solid rookie season with 45 points in 79 games. He makes great plays with the puck, sees the ice well and uses his linemates to create space and time. He has good size and skating ability with his agility and quickness. He's dangerous due to his quick wrist shot and snapshot, which has accuracy and velocity. He is improving his play in his own zone, but like all young players he needs to refine his positioning and angles while keeping his feet moving. He has the long-term potential to play on the top two lines and score goals in the NHL. Because of the number of games played in the NHL, Frolik will be moved off this list after this season.
2. Jacob Markstrom - Goalie, 19 (2nd round 31st overall 2008)
Currently with Brynas (SWE)
The Swedish netminder is arguably the best goaltender not in the pros and has proven to be an astute pick by the Panthers. At 6-3 and almost 200 pounds, he takes up a tremendous amount of space. He is tough to beat on his glove hand, even up high which forces shooters to his stick side. His blocker side is better down low and he must improve a little at directing pucks to the corner with his blocker. Down low, Markstrom is almost unbeatable as he keeps his five-hole covered and his leg pads tight to the ice. He recovers well once he drops down quickly, due to his strong core and lower body. Markstrom shows good quickness from post to post but must maintain his tight frame once he stops and sets up again. He takes good angles from the shooter and tracks pucks well through traffic. Overall, Markstrom's rebound control is decent for a young netminder, but it is something he must continue to work on. Like all goaltenders, mental and emotional consistency is a challenge. But Markstrom shows the ability to carry a team. After a stellar performance at the world juniors for Team Sweden and a solid season in Sweden, the sky's the limit for him. Expect him to stay in Sweden for another season and back stop his country at the next world juniors. He has the potential to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL soon.
3. Shawn Matthias - Right Wing, 21 (2nd round 46th overall 2006 - Trade Detroit)
Currently with Rochester (AHL)
Matthias is a potential power forward who exploded offensively in his last two seasons in Belleville (with 152 points in 117 games and 111 penalty minutes). His jump into the mainstream came after his solid performance at the 2008 world juniors. However, his first season in the pro ranks did not go as planned as Matthias only had 20 points in 61 games in the AHL. He tends to be a slow starter, so a lack of production in not a concern for the Panthers. At 6-3 and 211 pounds, he has the size to drive to the net and keep the puck from defenders. He has good hockey sense and puck skills and is an underrated passer - especially on the rush with speed. He works well in tight spaces along the wall and in the slot and has a knack for scoring goals with defenders draped over him. He is a good skater and shows the quickness and agility that separates top two-line forwards from role players. He works hard in the defensive zone and has enough tools to be average defensively at the NHL level. If he continues to use keep his feet moving while getting his body and stick in the passing lanes, he will get a shot in the NHL soon.
4. Keaton Ellerby - Defence, 20 (1st round 10th overall 2007)
Currently with Rochester (AHL)
The 6-4 blueliner's skating ability is one of his best assets and it can cause mismatches while controlling speed rushers. Once he fills out his lanky frame and plays at the 210-pound range, he could be a dangerous defender to face on open ice or along the walls. His good rookie season in the AHL (with 23 points in 74 games) showed his capacity to adapt quickly to a higher tempo game. He has a good work ethic, is a willing combatant and does not shy away from the rough game and drops the gloves. He has the ability to make nice passes and can really blast the puck from the point - as he has been clocked at 94 mph. He will need to simplify his game a little in all three zones and can make the smart safe plays consistently. He's an intriguing package that could be molded into a solid defenceman. Ellerby is also a good character guy in the locker room that takes on responsibility and is accountable. He is not expected to produce offence at a high clip at the next level, but he will contribute and should develop into a fine No. 3 or No. 4 defenceman.
5. Michael Repik - Right Wing, 20 (2nd round 40th overall 2007)
Currently with Rochester (AHL)
Repik is a quick, offensively gifted winger who uses his stickhandling and agility to create scoring opportunities. In the regular season, Repik had respectable numbers for a rookie in the AHL - leading the team with 49 points in 75 games. The regular season statistics are nice, but NHL teams want to see how players respond to the pressure in the playoffs and if they can produce at the same rate. He responded in the WHL playoffs, with 37 points in 32 games. His wrist shot is accurate and he will drive to the net without fear to pick up rebounds. He's feisty for his size and forechecks well while working hard to pick up loose pucks. He will sacrifice for the team by playing good responsible defence and can be counted on to take hits and block shots. He has the ability to come up big in the clutch during the playoffs and takes his game to another level. He could develop into a solid and smart two-way forward who can play on a second line in the NHL.
6. Colby Robak - Defence, 19 (2nd round 46th overall 2008)
Currently with Brandon (WHL)
The best word to describe Robak is smooth, as he makes things look effortless - whether it be skating, passing the puck or shooting. He is an accomplished passer who can make tape to tape passes from deep in his own end to the red line. He shows good vision in all three lanes, even with intersecting traffic. Robak reads the developing play and uses his passing options well, but occasionally takes some unnecessary risks to make things happen. He has above average puck skills and can stickhandle to create a little time and space. He's a good skater overall and shows enough quickness and recovering foot speed. He needs more core strength and he could use a little work on his agility. He has a good low slap shot from the point and his accuracy is improving on his slap shot and wrist shot. There are times he does not use all his options in the offensive zone and tries to force the play. But to his credit, he does anticipate the defence can walk the blueline to get a shot. He does not telegraph his motives often and gets a shot or pass away without it being blocked. He has the makings of a solid all-round defenceman who just needs some time to work on some nuances of the game.
7. Kenndal McArdle - Left Wing, 22 (1st round, 20th overall, 2005)
Currently with Rochester (AHL)
This feisty speed demon has the offensive potential to play on the top three lines in the NHL. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he has proven he can handle the physical play in the AHL. He is a highly intelligent player with a tremendous work ethic, can play in all situations and likes to get his nose dirty. He will need two years of fine-tuning his game in the AHL before making the NHL full time. He is the type of player that wants the puck, is a solid leader and plays tough in the postseason. He won the Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants and WJC gold with Canada - he understands winning. His last two seasons have been frustrating for his development, with injuries that have hurt his offensive numbers. His work ethic should get him through and he could be a valuable NHL role player.
8. Tyler Plante - Goalie, 22 (2nd round, 32nd overall, 2005)
Currently with Rochester (AHL)
The 6-3, 207-pound netminder has the athleticism and quickness needed to play professional, but he still needs some fine-tuning in his fundamentals. He reads and anticipates the play pretty well and communicates effectively to his defencemen. He has proven he can be counted on in the playoffs at the WHL and he will give his team a chance to win every night. He has been splitting his first two years of pro hockey in the ECHL with Florida and Rochester in the AHL. He should get a shot at being the full-time starter in Rochester next season, which should greatly improve his development. He must prove he can take his game to another level and show the consistency needed to play in the NHL. Since goalies take longer to develop, the Panthers will be patient a little longer.
9. Matt Rust - Centre, 20 (4th round, 101st overall, 2007)
Currently with Michigan (NCAA)
He's a stocky 5-9 and 192 pound pivot who has had two decent years posting 45 points in 75 games. He has the hockey sense and puck skills to make smart, safe decisions with the puck. He's an underrated passer and sees the ice well. He has above average skating in terms of foot speed and shows quickness and agility. Considering his size, he does not get knocked around much and he works hard for loose pucks. He benefits from being a hard worker and is good on faceoffs. He's a long-term project, but has potential. His WJC experience with Team USA should go along way in his development.
10. A.J. Jenks - Left Wing, 18 (4th round 100th overall 2008)
Currently with Plymouth (OHL)
Jenks is a hard working North-South winger who likes to get his nose in the action and bang and crash. He is not blessed with elite level puck skills, but Jenks is effective because of desire and work ethic. His skating will need some fine-tuning before he turns pro so he can take advantage of defencemen and loose pucks. He works well in close quarters and along the wall and can wear down the opposition. You have to like the fact he will keep hitting players, regardless of the situation. He could be a decent fourth line role player who brings some energy and physical play. He will need another year in junior and perhaps three in the AHL before the Panthers know what they really have.
11. Adam Comrie - Defence, 18 (3rd round 80th overall 2008)
Currently with Saginaw (OHL)
At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he has all the size and determination you want in a defenceman. Now it remains to be seen if the Panthers can bring out his other attributes - he does not show a high level of hockey sense or puck skills, so it is important to keep his decisions simple when coming out of his zone. His skating needs work - especially his two-step quickness and agility - but that can be overcome with hard work. For a big defenceman, he sometimes needs to be prodded to be physical. But when he does, he can be effective. He possesses a hard shot from the point and could be a useful player on a secondary power play unit. Away from the puck, he could be a solid player if he can consistently keep his feet moving, keeping his head on a swivel while using an active stick. He is a long-term, four to five year project and the Panthers will need to be patient.
12. Dan Collins - Right Wing, 22 (3rd round, 90th overall, 2005)
Currently with Rochester (AHL)
The 6-2 and 200-pound winger does not do any one thing great, but he's skilled and works hard enough to get the job done. He is an up and down winger who plays well along the wall and can cycle the puck and create offence through hustle. If he can continue to work on his overall game and handle the tempo and speed of the new game, he could play professional. He stumbled through his rookie season, jumping back and forth from the ECHL and just needs more time to adjust and find his consistency.
Florida Panthers - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)
When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.
The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.
Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.
||Forwards - Defenceman
||125-200 NHL Games required
||51-100 NHL Games Played
||100 NHL Games required
||25-50 NHL Games Played
|Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria
Florida Panthers 1997-2003
Total: 7 yrs - 71 draft picks - 15 NHL Players = 21.1% success rate
Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)
1st rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks
Mike Brown, Petr Taticek, Denis Shvidki
7 yrs - 8 draft picks - 5 NHL Players = 62.5% success rate
2nd rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks
Stefan Meyer, Rob Globke, Greg Watson, Vladimir Sapozhnikov, Kyle Rossiter
7 yrs - 8 draft picks - 3 NHL Players = 37.5% success rate
3rd rnd Choices: 10 total picks
Nick Smith, Vratislav Cech, JF Laniel, Sean O'Connor, Robert Fried, Grant McNeill
7 yrs - 10 draft picks - 4 NHL Players = 40% success rate
Total: 7 yrs - 26 draft picks - 12 NHL Players = 46.2% success rate in first 3 rounds
First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (8) North American, (4) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (10) North American, (4) European
Success in the last six round (1997-2003)
4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 44 total picks
7 yrs - 44 draft picks - 3 NHL Players = 6.8% success rate
Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.
Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.
This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.