When someone is asked about elite NHL teams, the Florida Panthers aren’t usually one of the first to come to mind. It’s no slight against the organization; that’s just the way it is for many of the United States’ southern hockey clubs.
However, if that same person were to be asked about teams with elite prospect pools, the Panthers should certainly be one of the first teams thought of.
In recent years, the Panthers have stocked up on a terrific amount of top prospects. Thanks to some great work by Florida’s management and scouts, they’ve assembled arguably the deepest prospect pool in the league.
Now, when it comes to the main man in this pool, Jonathan Huberdeau is without a doubt number one. Selected third overall by the Panthers in 2011, Huberdeau is one of the top offensive prospects in the game. In Hockey’s Future’s Post Season Prospect Rankings, Huberdeau was listed at number six. Having said that, many would agree that he should have been higher, mostly because current NHLers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Brayden Schenn were included.
Huberdeau is viewed as one of the world’s elite prospects, and rightfully so. Kevin Dineen, the Panthers’ head coach, has repeatedly praised Huberdeau’s game, and has extended multiple compliments towards the Saint John Sea Dogs for the way they’ve handled him.
“One of the kid’s best strengths is his natural ability to play the game and his creativity,” Dineen recently told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “He’s going to get out there and work on areas he needs to work on and keep building up his strength. I feel that for one he’s part of a program that’s one of the best-run in the country,” he said, “they’re an extremely well-run organization, they’re a fabulous ownership, [and] they’re well coached.”
The second sentence of that comment is the common critique of Huberdeau’s game. At six-foot one, his height isn’t the problem, but his 170-pound frame might be. But for now, he remains the Panthers’ top prospect.
Nick Bjugstad is typically seen as Florida’s number-two. If he were in a different organization, he might be able to make a case as it’s top prospect, but with the Panthers’ depth, it can’t happen here.
Bjugstad was the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2010, and nearly signed with the club this past summer. Unlike Huberdeau, Bjugstad is a massive physical presence. For a forward who’s six-foot-six, 220 pounds, he has surprisingly good offensive skills. He currently stars for the University of Minnesota in the WCHA.
In the summertime, he stated his intent to return to college hockey for one more year of development. While Panthers’ fans will have to wait a bit longer to see him in action professionally, most expect Bjugstad will have to make only small adjustments to the pro game when the time comes.
Quinton Howden is the logical fit as the Panthers’ next best prospect. For our Canadian readers, Howden will be a name recognized right away. Howden has played in two World Junior Championships, and played a key role in the most recent one in Alberta.
“As far as I know I’m going to the AHL,” Howden told the Moose Jaw Times Herald recently, referring to his plans for the upcoming season.
Another young prospect from the WHL, Alex Petrovic of the Red Deer Rebels, is also highly thought of in the Panthers’ system. Petrovic is a large, physical defender, who at six-foot-four, 205 pounds, is often able to intimidate smaller opponents. He has a heavy shot, and can regularly be found mucking it up in the corners.
While his offensive game is still a work in progress, Petrovic is expected to be able to occasionally contribute offensively when he takes the next step up the ladder.
Colby Robak and Drew Shore, who both played games with the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage last season, are two more of Florida’s stellar prospects.
Shore is seen as a two-way center who, as the “two-way” suggests, plays well at both ends of the ice. Robak is a physical blueliner who isn’t likely a top-pairing guy in the NHL, but is expected to be a solid pro.
At this point, some readers may be wondering why goaltender Jacob Markstrom hasn’t been mentioned yet. There are many people who still consider him a prospect, but for the sake of this article, he’s being considered as a regular NHLer. Whenever the next NHL season begins, Markstrom is expected to make a good run at the Panthers’ starting job between the pipes.
Now, since Florida has such a deep prospect pool, this post could go on for a while. There are still many more great prospects in the Panthers’ system, including Vincent Trochek, Rocco Grimaldi, Kyle Rau, and Mike Matheson.
All of these young players are on a path to the National Hockey League, and will do anything to see their life-long goal become reality. Fans of the Panthers are hoping to see these prospects show up at the BB&T Center in the near future.
The way things have played out, many of these prospects could be arriving very soon.