September 32-in-32: Florida Panthers

Ben Gehrels

2022-09-14

courtesy: news.sportslogos.net

Welcome to the September 2022 edition of the DobberProspects 32-in-32 Series. This month, we are diving into the depth of each organization, looking at their recent graduates, risers, fallers and top-20 prospects. 

Despite going into the year with a deep roster at all three positions, the Florida Panthers had several rookies play key roles in 2021-22. At the top of the lineup, recent first round picks Anton Lundell (12th overall, 2021) and Spencer Knight (13th overall, 2019) both had a significant impact on Florida’s President’s Trophy-winning season.

Lundell, who was only 19 years old at the start of last year, impressively stepped straight out of the draft to anchor an incredible third line alongside Mason Marchment (now with Dallas) and Sam Reinhart. The trio effectively drove play (61% Corsi For) and scored 26 goals while only allowing 7 against. Lundell finished fourth league-wide in rookie scoring with an impressive 44 points in 65 games. He is on track to become an elite two-way forward in the mould of team captain, Alexander Barkov.

Spencer Knight, the team’s 21-year-old golden boy in net, played a few games with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate last year but stuck with Florida for most of the campaign. He saw action in 32 games and came away with 19 wins while posting decent ratios, a positive Goals Saved Against Average, and a Quality Start percentage of nearly 60—excellent stats for a young tender. He will continue to back up a rejuvenated Sergei Bobrovsky to provide Florida with one of the best goaltending tandems in the league.

Further down the lineup, Eetu Luostarainen (24) and Ryan Lomberg (27) also stuck with the big club for their first full NHL campaigns, providing much-needed depth for the Cats in the form of energy and physicality. On the back end, Lucas Carlsson (25) finally made the jump after playing parts of five seasons in the AHL. He paired up mostly with Brandon Montour, providing a steady presence to help anchor his partner’s offensive inclinations.

After the season ended, Florida and new Head Coach Paul Maurice held a five-day Development Camp in July that was attended by 36 prospects. All seven of the Panthers’ 2022 picks, profiled in the August update, were in attendance, as well as top prospects at forward (Justin Sourdif, Mackie Samoskevich), defence (Michael Benning, Evan Nause), and goal (Mack Guzda). 

Undrafted forward Beau Jelsma, who was expected by many to be a top 100 pick in the 2022 draft, also got an invite. He has not yet been signed by Florida, however, and went directly to the Maple Leafs Development camp after finishing with the Panthers. He plays with a ton of pace and showed off his deft passing and spatial awareness on several plays like this one:

From a fantasy perspective, an important development is that Florida will no longer be sharing their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, with another NHL team in 2022-23. Two years ago, they shared the Syracuse Crunch with state rivals Tampa Bay, and last year they welcomed the Seattle Kraken’s prospects to the Checkers while their arena was finished. Now that the Checkers are linked exclusively to Florida, the team has to restock its roster, meaning there was much more opportunity than usual this year for those attending the development camp to earn a roster spot. 

In net, for instance, Kraken goalies played over half of the Checkers’ games last year, so their departure opens the door for the Florida’s top goalie prospect (now that Knight has graduated), the steady, 6’5 Mack Guzda, who will begin gaining valuable AHL experience after finishing his junior career with the Barrie Colts.

Later in the summer, several Panthers prospects made an appearance at the World Junior Championships: Sandis Vilmanis (Latvia), Mackie Samoskevich (USA), Jakub Kos (Czechia), Ludvig Jansson (Sweden), and Kasper Puutio (Finland). 

Puutio in particular distinguished himself: en route to winning a silver medal with the Finns, he led all defencemen in goals and was named Best Defenceman of the tournament. That distinction is particularly impressive given the excellent tournaments had by other defencemen like Olen Zellweger for Canada  and Emil Andrae for Sweden. Puutio is an excellent shutdown defender with offensive instincts who fell to Florida in the fifth round in 2020 due to size concerns and puck management issues, particularly on offence and during breakouts. It is not wise to put too much stock into such a small sample, but this is an excellent sign that he has shown growth in critical areas over the past couple years.

The next step for the Panthers prospects will be attending the Prospect Showcase later this month hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes. Their roster includes 24 players who are 24 years old or younger and have fewer than 20 NHL games experience—many of the same names as from their Development Camp. In Raleigh, they will play one game each against their counterparts in the Nashville, Tampa Bay, and Carolina systems. This will be the last opportunity for players to make a mark ahead of Training Camp later on in September.

Graduating Players

Anton Lundell, C

As outlined above, Lundell had a fantastic rookie season in 2021-22. Though there are valid concerns that he may struggle to replicate his 56-point pace this coming campaign if the Panthers score less as a team (they will) and he ends up outside the top six, Lundell will continue to progress towards his 200-game Breakout Threshold. Look for an improvement at the faceoff dot and at least 50 points.

Spencer Knight, G

Unfortunately for Knight owners, Bobrovsky is a ten million dollar man for four more campaigns. That means the 33-year old should get the lion’s share of starts unless he seriously falters or Knight forces their hand. Barring a trade, Knight will have to bide his time and follow a Juuse Saros-like path to a starting role.

Gustav Forsling, D

The 26-year old is not exactly a prospect, given that he had 165 games with the Panthers and Blackhawks across a four-year span, but 2021-22 was his first season of 70+ games. Coincidentally, last year also coincided with him passing his 200-game BT, and sure enough he posted a career-high 43-point pace. With Mackenzie Weegar being shipped off to Calgary in the off-season and no one brought in to replace him, the responsibility to replace his heavy minutes alongside Aaron Ekblad will largely fall on Forsling’s shoulders. He is a quiet candidate to post 50 points with more offensive zone starts and even just a bit of time on the powerplay.

Eetu Luostarainen, C

The 24-year old Finn should hit his BT towards the end of this year but Luostarainen will likely never be desirable in fantasy outside of deep cap leagues that count faceoffs. In those formats, his cheap contract ($1.5 million), 100+ hits, and 300+ faceoffs carries some value–especially if he sees more ice time than the 13 minutes a night he received last year.

Ryan Lomberg, LW/RW

Somewhat infamous after a questionable hit on Jacob Macdonald (COL) last year, Lomberg is a scrappy pest who forces opponents to keep their heads up at all times. Similar to his linemate Luostarainen, Lomberg will never have much fantasy value outside of deeper leagues—particularly in points only formats. But if he can earn more than the 11 minutes he averaged last year, he could become a solid source of peripherals even if his points ceiling is limited: he is already close to providing two penalty minutes, shots, and hits per game. He is a spark plug on the Cats’ fourth line.

On the Cusp

Aleksi Heponiemi, C

Heponiemi, 23,  is a post-post-hype sleeper at this point. But this is a player who exceeded two ppg in his WHL Draft+1 year, before scoring 46 points in only 50 Liiga games the year after as a 19-year old. He has serious offensive chops but struggled initially when he crossed the pond to play in the AHL. His 57-point pace last year with the Checkers suggests that he has acclimated well to the bigger, faster game and is ready to join the big club in a support capacity. He should be among the first players called up when injuries hit.

Grigori Denisenko, LW

Like Heponiemi, it feels like Denisenko, 22, has been on the cusp of NHL action for an eternity now. He likely still makes the show but not as the impactful top-line forward he was initially projected to become when Florida took him 15th overall in 2018. Denisenko plays with tenacity and has a ton of skill. He just needs to put it all together. His campaign was cut short after needing surgery for a broken kneecap in January but the 18 points he scored in 30 AHL games last year before going down is not going to cut it. He needs to come roaring out of the gates healthy and hungry to force Panthers brass to give him a sustained look in 2022-23.

Risers

Anton Levtchi, LW

GM Bill Zito made an excellent low risk, high reward move signing Levtchi, the Liiga’s leading scorer in 2021-22, to a one-year contract this off-season. The Finn is 26 years old and has lived inside the top-12 in scoring league-wide over the past three years, during which time he scored 151 points in 163 games. Overseas signings rarely become valuable fantasy assets but Levtchi will have plenty of skilled linemates to work with, so the opportunity is his for the taking. He could make a decent late-round stash in deeper redraft leagues.

Fallers

Max Gildon, D

Gildon, 23, needs a big season in the AHL this year to re-establish his once-promising trajectory as a top-four, offensive-minded blueliner. He has NHL size (6-3, 194lbs), skates well, and plays a solid two-way game, but his second year with the Checkers saw his scoring decline from a nearly 50-point pace to not even 20 in 2021-22.

Serron Noel, RW

Noel (6-5, 216lbs), 22, was always going to be a long-term project but his ultimate upside might not be as high as Florida’s management hoped after he scored 34 goals in 68 OHL games in his Draft+1 year. Since then, he has managed only a ppg in his D+2 OHL year and then 28 points over his first 72 AHL games. He will need to have another good Training Camp and exceed at least a half-ppg this year in the AHL to keep himself in the mix for call-ups. 

Organizational Depth Chart

(Combination of NHL readiness and upside)

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Grigori Denisenko

Anton Levtchi

Josh Davies

Sandis Vilmanis

Jakub Kos

Connor Bunnaman

Liam Arnsby

Elliot Ekmark

Aleksi Heponiemi

Justin Sourdif

Mackie Samoskevich

Logan Hutsko

Serron Noel

Jack Devine

Yegor Korshkov        

Defense
Michael Benning

Kasper Puutio

Evan Nause

Calle Sjalin

Max Gildon

John Ludvig

Matt Kiersted

Ludvig Jansson

Marek Alscher

Santtu Kinnunen

Vladislav Lukashevich

Goalie
Mack Guzda

Kirill Gerasimyuk

Tyler Muszelik

Top 20 Fantasy Prospects

This section is intended to paint a picture of the Florida Panthers prospects whose current trajectory projects them making the most positive fantasy impact at the time that they reach the NHL. Arrival date and NHL certainty have been taken into consideration. However, a player’s potential upside is the most important factor in determining this list.

  1. Grigori Denisenko
  2. Alexis Heponiemi
  3. Justin Sourdif
  4. Michael Benning
  5. Mackie Samoskevich
  6. Kasper Puutio
  7. Anton Levtchi
  8. Evan Nause
  9. Mack Guzda
  10. Calle Sjalin
  11. Max Gildon
  12. John Ludvig
  13. Matt Kiersted
  14. Ludvig Jansson
  15. Yegor Korshkov
  16. Jack Devine
  17. Sandis Vilmanis
  18. Tyler Muszelik
  19. Liam Arnsby
  20. Josh Davies

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

Ben Gehrels

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