Panthers Revamp Farm System with 2019 Draft

With nine picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers were able to stack their prospect pool by addressing just about every position. The team already has a handful of strong prospects in the system, featuring Owen Tippet, Grigori Denisenko, and Aleksi Heponiemi. One thing the Panthers were missing was a strong goaltender, but they took care of that early in the first round.

Spencer Knight – Goalie – 13th Overall

With their first pick, the Panthers hit a home run by selecting their future franchise netminder, consensus top goalie prospect Spencer Knight. He could have the chance to study under two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky as Florida is strongly pursuing him this offseason. The 18-year-old Connecticut native is one of the most hyped goaltender prospects in recent years and for good reason. Knight is heading to Boston College next season, a school that’s produced plenty of NHL stars, such as Johnny Gaudreau, Cam Atkinson, and Chris Kreider.

Spencer Knight Panthers Draft
Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Coming in at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he has a strong foundation that will fill out to be a perfect goalie frame. Knight has terrific lateral quickness and a high IQ in the net. He was especially impressive during the World Juniors tournament, posting a ridiculous 1.51 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in six contests. Knight should be expected to take the reigns in goal for the Panthers in just a few short years.

Vladislav Kolyachonok – Defenseman – 52nd Overall

Based on Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings list, Vladislav Kolyachonok looks to be a great value pick; he was drafted 13 spots later than his ranking of 39th on that list. The left-handed blueliner turned 18 years old just a few weeks ago but already stands at 6-foot-2 and 181 pounds. As that frame continues to take form, he should become a legitimate physical presence.

Vladislav Kolyachonok Flint Firebirds
Vladislav Kolyachonok of the Flint Firebirds (Luke Durda/OHL Images)

Like many young defenders, Kolyachonok occasionally struggles with his positioning when he’s not on offense. Fortunately, he’s very mobile and skates well which helps make up for it. His 2018-19 campaign in the Ontario Hockey League was his first year in North America. After being waived by the London Knights, he went on to tally four goals and 29 points in 53 contests with the Flint Firebirds. Playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder might just make the difference.

John Ludvig – Defenseman – 69th Overall

Continuing to bolster their organization’s defensive depth, the Panthers selected John Ludvig early in the third round. The 18-year-old has spent the last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, scoring a combined seven goals and 25 points across 109 games during that span.

Son of former NHL forward Jan Ludvig, John is better known for his defensive play and physicality than his offensive upside. At 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, the left-handed blueliner is a strong shot-blocker and penalty killer. He may never pan out as a top-pair defenseman, but he could become a shutdown defenseman that eats up some minutes.

Cole Schwindt – Forward – 81st Overall

Florida traded the 104th and 114th picks in the 2019 Draft to slide up the draft board and select their first forward of the weekend. Cole Schwindt is a 6-foot-3, 176-pound winger with a decent offensive game. Despite playing on the wing, the 18-year-old plays with more of a pass-first mentality, bettering his linemates in the process.

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Schwindt was teammates with the Panthers’ top prospect, Owen Tippett, for most of the last two seasons with OHL Mississauga, which could have influenced this selection a bit. Regardless, he does have the skillset to pan out in his own regard. As he bulks up, the physical edge to his game should grow alongside the strong ice vision he already possesses.

Carter Berger – Defenseman – 106th Overall

Going back to the blue line, Florida selected defenseman Carter Berger with the 106th-overall pick. He’s a bit older than many of his counterparts, as he’ll turn 20 years old prior to the start of next season. To continue his development, Berger will play at the collegiate level with the University of Connecticut.

The 6-foot, 200-pound blueliner played the last three seasons with the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, a Canadian junior league. In a breakout 2018-19 campaign, Berger racked up 27 goals and 63 points in just 54 contests, displaying the offensive upside that got him drafted. He’ll need to work on his overall defensive awareness and hockey IQ if he plans on making an NHL impact.

Henrik Rybinski – Forward – 136th Overall

The Panthers sent a 2020 fifth-round selection to the Montreal Canadiens in order to move up to 136th-overall and draft forward Henrik Rybinski. Coming in at 6-foot-1, 176 pounds, the right-hander will turn 18 years old later this week. He enjoyed a breakout season with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, scoring seven goals and 35 points in 33 games.

Prior to joining WHL Seattle, he had registered just four goals and 17 points in 77 contests with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Rybinski hasn’t shown a ton of consistency yet but he is still a very raw young prospect. The winger has a good combination of skill and finishing ability but needs to improve his skating over the next few years.

Owen Lindmark – Forward – 137th Overall

With back-to-back picks in the fifth round, Florida opted for another forward, taking the 18-year-old Owen Lindmark. He was a member of the United States’ U18 World Juniors roster, scoring one goal in seven games. Lindmark also led the tournament with a 68.09 faceoff win percentage. The 6-foot forward will head to the University of Wisconsin next season.

Between exhibition and USHL action, Lindmark totalled 11 goals and 25 points in 56 contests. He’s a high-level competitor with a strong hockey IQ but the rest of his game could use some work. His hands and skating abilities are both lacking a bit which could hold him back.

Greg Meireles – Forward – 168th Overall

Had it not been for a breakout 2018-19 season, Greg Meireles may not have been on many draft radars. The 20-year-old scored 36 goals and 97 points for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, finishing 10th in scoring among all skaters. In his two previous seasons with Kitchener, he totalled just 72 points across 121 contests.

Meireles is slightly undersized at 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds. He skates well and obviously has some offensive upside after nearly finishing with a 100-point campaign. Florida drafted him for that offensive potential but it remains to be seen if it will translate to the next levels.

Matthew Wedman – Forward – 199th Overall

One of Rybinski’s WHL Seattle teammates, Matthew Wedman was the ninth and final selection for the Panthers in 2019. Another 20-year-old, Wedman has a strong frame at 6-foot-3 and 196 pounds. He also enjoyed a very successful 2018-19 season, tallying 40 goals and 77 points across 66 games.

Wedman isn’t the best skater, but his big body allows him to fight defenders off the puck to make up for his lack of top-tier speed. Like Meireles, this is a great low-risk, high-reward pick late in the draft for the Panthers. With his skill set, it’s not hard to see Wedman becoming a depth forward in the NHL.