Florida Panthers – Offseason Prospect System Review

by Jokke Nevalainen on August 13, 2018
Florida Panthers

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Thanks for joining us for our August 31-in-31 series! Every day this month we will be taking a look at each team and diving into their prospect depth charts, risers and fallers, graduating prospects, and top ten prospects in the system.

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Offseason Moves

 

Draft results and offseason moves have been covered in the July article. In case you’ve missed it, here’s a link: Florida Panthers 2018 Draft Review and Development Camp Updates.

 

The biggest additions were obviously Mike Hoffman at forward and Bogdan Kiselevich on defense. One signing that was forgotten from that article was Michael Hutchinson who was given a one-year contract for 1.3 million to serve as the team’s number three goalie. The Panthers wanted someone with NHL experience for that role because of Luongo’s injury history. Last season, they had the unproven Harri Säteri playing that role but Säteri moved on to Detroit.

 

Graduating Players

 

Patrick Bajkov, Jonathan Ang and Riley Stillman are graduating from the CHL and will move on to the AHL. All three had a good season in junior hockey, and they’re good enough that they should have success in the AHL without needing time in the ECHL.

 

The Panthers have a lot of young forwards either already playing in the NHL or very close to it, so it will be a real battle in training camp and preseason – no one is getting their spot handed to them if they don’t show the organization that they deserve it. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Evgeni Dadonov, Mike Hoffman and Nick Bjugstad will have top-nine roles for sure but that still leaves three spots up for grabs. The Panthers could stack up their top-six with those six players but they’ll likely spread out the offense across three scoring lines.

 

Denis Malgin has spent most of the past two seasons in the NHL, and he should be able to solidify his spot in the lineup permanently now. A true offensive breakout may still be a year away but it’s coming. Malgin was drafted as a center but has spent most of his time in the NHL playing wing.

 

Henrik Borgström finished his NCAA career on a high note and made his NHL debut quickly after that. Borgström should start the season in the NHL but it remains to be seen if he plays center or wing. Because the Panthers have Barkov and Trocheck at center, Borgström may have better opportunities if he plays wing. But he’s always been more effective at center, so it’s an interesting situation to follow. If he’s given a proper role and he finds chemistry, he could challenge for the Rookie of the Year award.

 

Owen Tippett still has one more year of junior eligibility remaining but the Panthers have said he’ll have every opportunity to earn a spot on the NHL roster. Tippett played a few games with the Panthers right after they drafted him 10th overall a year ago, so becoming a full-time NHL player now is a realistic goal for him. Tippett’s shot and release are definitely NHL level already but it remains to be seen if his all-around game has improved enough to play a meaningful role in the NHL.

 

Frank Vatrano was acquired from the Bruins late in the season, and the Panthers are expecting him to play in the NHL on full-time basis. Vatrano was pushed out of a stacked system in Boston but it’s possible he’s pushed out once again. He has offensive talent but he needs to play a role where he can use that.

 

Maxim Mamin had an impressive rookie season in North America, and he finished the season with the Panthers. If he continues playing as well as he did, there should be room for on that NHL roster but he may end up playing on the fourth line unless he really impresses in preseason.

 

Two forwards coming from the Tampere Tappara system, Henrik Haapala and Sebastian Repo, are making the jump to North America from the Finnish Liiga. Haapala is a small offensive player who needs to play an offensive role to have any success. With the additions the Panthers have made, it’s difficult to see him finding that role. Repo, on the other hand, will likely start the season in the AHL and could push for bottom-six job in the NHL quickly. Repo is a big, physical player with some offensive talent, so it’s easy to see him having a future in the NHL but his value is higher in multi-cat leagues than points-only.

 

Dryden Hunt has a realistic chance to be a full-time NHL player this season but he needs to steal a spot from someone because there isn’t one available for him right now. Hunt is capable of playing on pretty much any line but he needs to impress during training camp to have a chance.

 

On defense, the Panthers don’t have much room either. Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson and Mark Pysyk occupy their top-four spots. Ian McCoshen, MacKenzie Weegar, Alex Petrovic and Bogdan Kiselevich will battle for the final spots on the roster. The Panthers used McCoshen, Weegar and Petrovic pretty evenly last season, and there’s no reason to expect that to change now. Kiselevich adds another body to the rotation, though, so one of them is likely going to be traded or sent down to the AHL. All of them will likely see a fair share of healthy scratches this season which means they aren’t reliable options for fantasy hockey leagues.

 

Risers

 

  1. Henrik Borgström – The big (6-3, 185) and skilled Finnish center followed up a strong rookie season with the University of Denver with an even stronger sophomore season where he ended up winning the NCHC Player of the Year and was a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. There may have been some talk about him a year ago but now he’s in the discussion with the best prospects in the world. The 21-year-old Helsinki native is ready to play in the NHL but needs to impress to earn a spot.
  2. Aleksi Heponiemi – This smaller (5-10, 148) Finnish center exploded offensively in his second season in the WHL and led the league with his 2.07 points-per-game average. Heponiemi has learnt all he can from junior hockey, so he decided to return back home to Finland and play pro hockey in the Liiga which is the top league in the country. Heponiemi is still only 19 years old and needs a couple of years to round out his game and add some muscle before he’s ready to play in the NHL. Heponiemi was drafted in the second round (40th overall) a year ago but would probably go in the first round in a re-draft.
  3. Max Gildon – Gildon fell to the third round a year ago, and that selection is looking like a steal already now. Gildon had a very strong rookie season with the University of New Hampshire where he scored 23 points in 36 games. 23 points was third-best in the nation among U19 defensemen (behind Ian Mitchell and Quinn Hughes), and he ended up being just one point behind the team lead which shows how impressive his season really was. Gildon has the size (6-3, 192) and offensive tools to eventually replace Yandle in the lineup. He’s returning to school for another year to improve his all-around game but might be ready to turn pro after that.

 

Fallers

 

  1. Jayce Hawryluk – Hawryluk was expected to take a big step forward after a good rookie season in the AHL but his second season was a disappointment, with a lowlight coming late in the season when he was demoted to the ECHL. He has all the tools needed to become a third-liner but this season is big for his future in Florida. The Panthers have a lot of forward depth, so Hawryluk needs to do something to stand out among that group.
  2. Ian McCoshen – The 23-year-old defenseman spent most of his second pro season in the NHL which is good news but it’s becoming obvious he isn’t going to provide much help in fantasy hockey leagues. He’s shown good physicality and pretty good defensive game but offense just isn’t there. He can be a depth option in deep multi-cat leagues but I wouldn’t expect more from him.
  3. Riley Stillman – There was some real hope for Stillman because of the way he played for the Oshawa Generals in the 2016-2017 OHL playoffs but he had a terrible start to his 2017-2018 season, and a lot of people started wondering if he even gets a contract from the Panthers. But a mid-season trade to Hamilton rejuvenated him, and by playoff time, Stillman looked more like his old self again. Stillman has a future in the NHL but it appears very unlikely he would have a future on fantasy hockey leagues.

 

Prospect Depth Chart

 

Left Wing

Frank Vatrano, NHL

Henrik Haapala, AHL

Dryden Hunt, AHL

Grigori Denisenko, KHL

Juho Lammikko, AHL

Alexander Delnov, VHL

Justin Schütz, AlpsHL

 

Center

Henrik Borgström, NHL

Aleksi Heponiemi, Liiga

 

Right Wing

Denis Malgin, NHL

Owen Tippett, NHL/OHL

Maxim Mamin, NHL/AHL

Yaroslav Kosov, KHL

Jayce Hawryluk, AHL

Sebastian Repo, AHL

Jonathan Ang, AHL

Patrick Bajkov, AHL

Serron Noel, OHL

Logan Hutsko, NCAA

Christopher Wilkie, NCAA

 

Defense

MacKenzie Weegar, NHL

Ian McCoshen, NHL

Max Gildon, NCAA

Josh Brown, AHL

Jacob MacDonald, AHL

Ludwig Byström, AHL

Michael Downing, AHL

Riley Stillman, AHL

Thomas Schemitsch, AHL

Tyler Inamoto, NCAA

Benjamin Finkelstein, NCAA

 

Goalie

Sam Montembeault, AHL

Ryan Bednard, NCAA

 

The Panthers have a lot of depth at right wing but some of them (Malgin, Hawryluk, Repo, Ang, Hutsko) are capable of playing center as well, and obviously most wingers can play either side if needed. Borgström and Heponiemi are the only true center prospects in the system but even they have experience playing wing as well.

 

Gildon is the only standout among defense whereas the others are mostly just depth players with bottom-pair upside. It was a bit surprising the Panthers didn’t use a draft pick on a defenseman in the first three rounds but apparently they really loved the three forwards they got. There’s a lot of competition for spots on the AHL roster.

 

It was long believed Sam Montembeault is the only goalie prospect in the system with starter upside but a strong first season as a starter for the Bowling Green State University has put the 21-year-old Ryan Bednard on the map as another possibility, and his recent strong showing at the development camp definitely didn’t hurt his shine. He covers a lot of net with his 6-5 body but he’s a long-term project, so keep him on your watch list and check again next year.

 

Top Ten Fantasy Prospects

 

  1. Henrik Borgström, C – NHL ready forward with upside to become a top-line center who can score 80+ points with the right kind of usage and linemates. If Barkov has a long-term injury, Borgström could be his replacement and have value even in one-year leagues.
  2. Owen Tippett, RW – NHL ready winger with upside to become one of the best goal-scorers in the league – 40+ goals in his prime is a real possibility. Additional value in leagues that give bonus for goals and shots on goal.
  3. Grigori Denisenko, LW – Signed a two-year KHL contract recently, so he needs some time before playing in the NHL. But has huge upside, similar to what you can expect from Borgström and Tippett. Denisenko ends up third on the list because there’s a bit more risk with him.
  4. Denis Malgin, RW – NHL ready forward with top-six upside. Very talented offensive player who was rushed to the NHL but an offensive breakout is coming. Needs to stay healthy which can be challenging for small players like him (5-9, 176).
  5. Aleksi Heponiemi, C – Heponiemi’s upside is higher than Malgin’s but he’s a couple of years away and carries some risk because he still needs to improve his skating and work on using his shot more to become more of a multi-dimensional offensive threat.
  6. Serron Noel, RW – Noel is a long-term project who’s just scratching the surface of what he can do. Huge kid who can skate really well and handle the puck pretty well. If he can put it all together, he could be a dangerous multi-cat stud in a few years.
  7. Max Gildon, D – Best defensive prospect in the system, eventual Yandle replacement when that time comes. Big and skilled two-way defenseman who focuses more on the offensive side of the game. Probably just a year or two away from playing in the NHL.
  8. Sam Montembeault, G – Goaltender of the future for the Panthers. Big and talented. Had a solid rookie season in the AHL but needs a few more years there before a full-time job in the NHL.
  9. Logan Hutsko, RW – Very talented offensive forward who’s had serious injury concerns in the past but had a great rookie season playing NCAA hockey. Still a couple of years away at least but offers nice upside once he reaches the NHL.
  10. Maxim Mamin, RW – NHL ready power forward with middle-six upside. May not have room on the NHL roster right away but should see injury call-ups at the very least. Additional value in multi-cat leagues that count hits.

 

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And that’s all for now. Feel free to add comments below. Follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.

 

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