July 19, 2012
The Florida Panthers were one of the surprise teams in the NHL last season, finishing with 94 points and winning the Southeast Division. The news gets better for Panther fans, as years of being also-rans have given Florida a good crop of prospects, some of which should see time in the NHL this season.
The Panthers and their fans are anxious to see last year’s first-round pick Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida. The third overall pick, Huberdeau certainly has the talent to make it, and the team would love to see him step up and take the second-line center spot behind Stephen Weiss. If he proves to be strong enough, the job is his to lose. His offensive ability and creativity would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
Also on the Florida prospect horizon is center Drew Shore. A natural playmaker, Shore is also responsible in his own zone which won’t hurt his chances. My best guess is that Shore starts the season in the AHL, with an early to mid-season callup. He may not light it up right away, but I expect Shore to be productive once he adjusts to the NHL game.
Defenseman Alex Petrovic turns pro following a final junior season where he scored 48 points in 68 games and won the Bill Hunter trophy as the Top Defenseman in the WHL. The 6’4 Petrovic has NHL size and did well in his AHL trial late last season, totaling six points in nine playoff games for San Antonio. He could help the Panther power-play immediately.
There are other prospects on the horizon too, such as Nick Bjugstad, who recently announced his attention to return to the University of Minnesota but may step right into the Florida lineup following his collegiate season. Bjugstad is a very good skater and excellent with the puck. Gopher teammate Kyle Rau is a couple of years away, but is a skilled, talented skater.
2012 first-round pick Mike Matheson was impressive at the team’s recent development camp, and will play at Boston College this fall, but showed elite skating ability as well as poise with the puck. Once he adds strength and experience, he will likely be ready to possibly replace Brian Campbell.
Last but not least, goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom is very close to taking over the starting role in Florida. He’s 6’6, extremely quick, and has improved in each of his two professional seasons in North America. The Swedish netminder posted a .923 save percentage in a seven game stint with the big club last season, facing an average of over 30 shots per game. Markstrom should be the starter by the end of this season.
Until next time, you can follow me on Twitter @RichDillon17 if you would like to receive updates and prospect news and notes.