Toga! Toga! Toga! – A simple yet incendiary chant, the battle cry of Delta Tau Chi and collegiate party goers everywhere. However, this youthful mantra could also signal the beginning of a new era of talent and prosperity in South Florida.
For many, college life is four rigorous years of binge drinking, cramming for exams, promiscuous sex and trying to avoid being expelled by conniving evil Deans. However, for the Florida Panthers, college is the new training ground for the future stars of their once prosperous franchise.
For decades, the prominent youth hockey talents of the world have gravitated to the Canadian Hockey League to groom their talents before heading to the NHL. However, the CHL is now getting some stiff competition from their North American neighbors as many talented skaters are now choosing to attend college in the United States to play hockey at the NCAA level.
Although the CHL can still be considered the premier outlet for high level hockey talents, the perks of playing hockey at the collegiate level are now starting to intrigue young skaters. While playing college hockey, players have a much more relaxed travel schedule and play far fewer games than they would in the CHL. Young players find the idea of more downtime appealing as it gives them more opportunities to spend time in the gym – building muscle and conditioning themselves for the hardships of the NHL.
The Florida Panthers seem to be crafting the blue-print for drafting NCAA talents as they have accumulated eleven prospects who are currently competing at the NCAA level, the most out of any NHL team.
Only time will tell if this new way of thinking pays off for the Panthers and the players involved, but until then let’s take a closer look at the group of Panthers’ prospect who brushed off the CHL in favor of college hockey.
Please join me in welcoming the newest additions to the Florida Panthers’ organization and the Delta Tau Chi brotherhood.
Mike Matheson (Freshman)
College: Boston College
Delta Tau Chi Name: Firecracker
Analysis: Taken in the 1st round (24th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Mike Matheson is currently playing in his freshman season for perennial hockey power, Boston College. Matheson’s creativity with the puck as well as his scoring abilities makes him an impressive offensive threat from the blue line. Matheson will need to focus on improving his defensive game and physical play while at Boston College.
“I know I need to get bigger physically, while also continuing to work on my speed. A little less games also lets me get on the ice during the morning to work on extra things as well,” Matheson told me in an interview earlier this year.
Currently, Matheson is nursing a minor concussion, but should return to full strength this season. Before his injury, Matheson compiled 14 points (4G 10A) through 21 games for Boston College.
Matheson is two or three years from being considered NHL ready and will have plenty of time to improve his defensive skills while at Boston College. If everything goes well, Panthers’ fans can look forward to seeing Matheson’s booming shot and offensive prowess on full display for many years to come.
Due to his red hair and explosive offensive capabilities, Matheson has been given the Delta Tau Chi name, “Firecracker.”
Kyle Rau (Sophomore)
College: University of Minnesota
Delta Tau Chi Name: Hornet
Analysis: Taken in the 3rd round (91st overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, forward Kyle Rau is currently in his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota. At only 5’8, Rau compensates for his lack of size by using his impressive speed and hockey IQ to create plays for himself and those around him.
Currently, Rau is second in team scoring on a Minnesota team that seems destined to make it to this year’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. Rau’s 27 points (13G 14A) through just 26 games is a good indicator of just how deadly a scorer he can be. Both Kyle Rau and teammate Nick Bjugstad could become household names if Minnesota is able to take home a National Title this season as many experts project them to.
On a team in desperate need of speed, the Panthers hope that Rau will be able to fill out his frame and polish his game at Minnesota over the next few seasons. Panthers’ fans can expect to see Rau potentially making an impact in the NHL in 3-4 years after completing his college career and most likely spending some time in the AHL.
Due to his small stature and dangerous scoring abilities, Rau has been given the Delta Tau Chi Name, “Hornet.”
Zach Hyman (Sophomore)
College: University of Michigan
Delta Tau Chi Name: Kamikaze
Analysis: Taken in the 5th round (123rd overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, forward Zach Hyman is currently in his sophomore year at the University of Michigan. Hyman is an above average skater and his 6’2, 195 lbs. frame is already suited for NHL play. Hyman is not afraid to attack the net with reckless abandon and also excels at battling in the trenches in order to help his teammates get better looks.
This season, Hyman has played well in a limited role on a talented Michigan squad. Hyman has accumulated 7 points (3G 4A) through 24 games this season, but has been a solid contributor in areas that don’t show up on stat sheets. Expect Hyman’s numbers to grow as he receives more ice time during his junior and senior seasons.
“I don’t even remember one instance when the OHL popped into my mind when I was making a decision,” Zach told Matt Slovin of Michigan Daily “I didn’t ever really think about the OHL.”
It’s clear that Zach Hyman lives and breathes college hockey and will most likely stay at Michigan until he graduates. However, his future in the NHL remains uncertain as of right now. Hyman is far from a can’t miss prospect and will have to work hard and improve his game during his remaining years at Michigan. Panthers’ fans can expect to see Hyman on the training camp radar after he completes his tenure in the NCAA.
Due to his fearless crashing of opponent’s nets with no regard for his own safety, Hyman has been given the Delta Tau Chi name, “Kamikaze.”
Rocco Grimaldi (Freshman)
College: University of North Dakota
Delta Tau Chi Name: Rabbit
Analysis: Taken in the 2nd round (33rd overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, forward Rocco Grimaldi is currently in his freshman year at the University of North Dakota. Standing at only 5’6, Grimaldi is a good example that good things really do come in small packages. With NHL caliber speed and acceleration, Grimaldi excels at getting the puck into the offensive zone as well as using his speed bursts to set up breakaway opportunities.
This year, Grimaldi had a nationally televised coming out party as he netted the game winning goal for Team USA during the gold medal game of the 2013 World Junior Championship. After the tournament, Grimaldi returned to North Dakota where he currently has 20 points (9G 11A) through 24 games played.
Already gifted with an NHL caliber skillset, Grimaldi’s main obstacle in getting to the NHL will be convincing scouts that his abilities can translate to the professional level even with his small frame. Luckily for Grimaldi, players like Martin St. Louis and Cory Conacher have already dispelled the notion that small can’t come up big in the NHL.
Panthers’ fans should expect to see Grimaldi at training camp in 2-3 years after he has gained some muscle and gotten more experience at the NCAA level. With the Panthers’ roster currently slower than a waiting line at the DMV, a player with Grimaldi’s speed already has Cats’ fans salivating.
Due to his small stature and combination of outstanding speed and agility, Grimaldi been given the Delta Tau Chi name, “Rabbit.”
Ed Wittchow (Freshman)
College: University of Wisconsin
Delta Tau Chi Name: Ogre
Analysis: Taken in the 6th round (154th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Ed Wittchow is currently playing in his freshman season for the University of Wisconsin. Standing at 6’3, Wittchow has the size that you would like to see in an NHL defender, but will need to fill out and add muscle during his tenure at Wisconsin.
This season, Wittchow has accumulated 2 points (0G 2A) through 15 games played for Wisconsin while receiving limited ice time. Like other Panthers’ underclassmen, expect Wittchow’s numbers to improve each year of his collegiate career.
During his time at Wisconsin, Wittchow will need to learn how to perfect his already physical style of play and formulate some sort of offensive presence. Panthers’ fans can expect to see Wittchow at training camp in 2-3 years if he continues to devlop and fills out his 6’3 frame. On a team currently filled with mostly finesse defensemen, a player with Wittchow’s physical presence will be more than welcome.
Due to his height and physical presence on the ice, Wittchow has been given the Delta Tau Chi name, “Ogre.”
- Check back later this month as we examine the the upperclassmen of Panthers’ collegiate prospects and welcome them into the Delta Tau Chi brotherhood.
- A big thanks goes out to College Hockey News and their database for making it easy to follow these players and keep up with all NHL prospects at the NCAA level.
Follow Jameson on Twitter @JamesonCoop