Top Shelf Prospects: Florida Panthers
Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” a team by team look at the top prospects in the NHL. Today, as I continue my alphabetical journey through the NHL I bring you a look at the Florida Panthers. As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick. A player who was either drafted in the 4th round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those asking the cut off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2012 Draft Profiles:
Top Prospect: Jonathan Huberdeau, Left Wing
Born Jun 4 1993 — St-Jerome, PQ
Height 6.01 — Weight 171 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Florida Panthers in round 1, #3 overall of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Jonathan Huberdeau is one of the best young prospects outside the NHL right now. The 2011 third overall pick is a dynamic offensive threat from the wing. Listed by many as capable of playing centre as well, Huberdeau has used almost exclusively at Left Wing for Saint John for most of the last two years. The captain of the Sea Dogs has had a remarkable junior career. He has led the powerhouse team to two straight QMJHL Championships and even won the 2011 Memorial Cup. In 2011 he was both the QMJHL playoff MVP and the Memorial Cup MVP. Last year he was limited to just 37 regular season games due to injuries, but put up an incredible 72 points in that time, nearly 2 points per game.
Offensively, Huberdeau brings everything you could ask for from a player. He has incredible hockey sense and instinct to play the game. Huberdeau reads the play well at both ends of the rink and almost always makes the smart play. He exploits holes in the opponent’s defence and finds openings to create offence for himself or others. An excellent stick handler, Huberdeau is able to both protect the puck and to beat opponents one on one with his soft hands. He can mesmerize goalies and defenders with his arsenal of quick moves and dangles, and his quickness helps him score goals in tight. He also has the ability to let go an NHL ready wrist shot with great accuracy and a quick release. The defence is naturally drawn to him and his talent, and if they are not careful, he has the excellent vision and play making abilities, to spot open teammates and to make a crisp tape to tape pass leaving them with an open net to shoot at. Marry these skills with Huberdeau’s great speed, agility, and balance on his skates, and you have a dynamic offensive force.
Huberdeau is also a willing backchecker and has been used by Saint John on their penalty killing units. Once again it is his great hockey sense and hockey IQ that help him here. He anticipates plays extremely well and as such is very good at cutting down on passing and shooting lanes. He is able to create turnovers and create quick transitions back to offence. He truly is the complete package.
After being sent back to Saint John for an extra year of junior seasoning last year, Huberdeau really should make the Panthers this season. He has all the skill, and should he get enough ice time, could contend for the Calder Trophy.
#2 Prospect: Jacob Markstrom, Goaltender
Born Jan 31 1990 — Gavle, Sweden
Height 6.06 — Weight 196 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Florida Panthers in Round 2, #31 overall of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Markstrom is the best goalie prospect in the world right now. At 6’6″ he’s part of the new breed of NHL goalie, giants who cover a ton of net and give the shooter little to look at. Markstrom combines his excellent size with excellent coverage on angles, solid puck tracking and an ability to almost always keep his shoulders square to the puck. In this way he further minimizes the amount of net his opponents look at. Markstrom has well refined butterfly technique and quick legs that take away the lower portion of the net. His lateral movement is very good and he goes post to post quickly and efficiently. He also has a good glove hand which helps him take away the top portion of the net.
If there is an area where Markstrom still needs work, it is in his rebound control. He is prone to giving up bad rebounds to the front of the net, especially on hard, low point shots. This lack of rebound control can cause headaches for his defence at times, but he also has the ability to recover quickly and be in position for many of the second chance opportunities the defenders can’t clear. This is something that is a common problem with young goalies though, and should be something he can work out in time.
Markstrom is 22 years old and has two seasons in the AHL under his belt. Many analysts, including myself, believe he is ready to take the next step and start his NHL career. It would seem that the Florida Panthers disagree as right now, it appears that the Panthers will go with Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen as their goaltending tandem. Markstrom will spend one more season as the starter in the AHL, and may get some NHL time (as he did last year) if injuries arise. It looks like it will be one more year before he’s up in the show for good.
Prospect #3: Nick Bjustad, Centre
Born Jul 17 1992 — Blaine, MN
Height 6.05 — Weight 212 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Florida Panthers in round 1 #19 overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
For most teams, I’ve looked at two top prospects plus a sleeper. However the Panthers are too good and too deep, I quite simply couldn’t leave Nick Bjustad off the list. The huge centre is listed at 6’5 and 212 lbs in releases from the University of Minnesota. He certainly looks the part as he towers over competitors out there.
Bjustad has a number of offensive weapons. He skates very well for a man his size, and with great balance and a powerful stride that helps him drive to the net. He protects the puck well, controlling the play on his stick, and buying time for teammates to find an opening. When they do, he has the vision and playmaking skill to find them. However Bjustad’s biggest asset is his NHL ready wrist shot. He is a pure sniper with a heavy, accurate shot and a deceptively quick release.
Bjustad is a good two way centre who is as efficient in the defensive end as he is in the offensive end of the ice. He kills penalties, using his large frame and long stick to cut down passing lanes and create turnovers. At even strength he backchecks effectively and uses his size and reach to keep opposing forwards to the outside and to protect the front of the net both against the rush and against the cycle game.
If there is a criticism of Bjustad it is that despite his size, he’s not a very physical player. By that I mean that he’s not a big hitter either in a defensive role or on the forecheck. Its not that he’s soft or anything like that. He is willing to take a lot of punishment and works in the dirty areas of the ice to produce points, but he just doesn’t initiate contact and dominate physically like you’d expect from someone his size. He mainly uses his size to shield the puck in the offensive zone, and to keep opponents away from the net in his own end.
It would appear that Bjustad will return to the University of Minnesota next year for his junior season. He should dominate there, and may be a contender for the Hobey Baker award. Quite frankly its a little disappointing to see Bjustad staying one more year in College. He is certainly AHL ready, if not NHL ready. I do however predict he will leave school after his junior season, and depending how well he does this year might just be ready to go straight to the big club bypassing the AHL.
Sleeper Pick: Corban Knight, Centre
Born Sep 10 1990 — High River, ALTA
Height 6.01 — Weight 180 — Shoots R
Selected by the Florida Panthers in round 5 #135 overall of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Corban Knight is another Panthers prospect who has decided to stay in school this year. Big things are expected from the University of North Dakota senior as he looks to build on his performances as a point per game player the last two years. Knight is an agitator who plays an on-edge, in your face style of game. He is a source of constant forechecking pressure for the UND team, as his good speed helps him to get into the offensive zone quickly. If there is a scrum after the play, you know that you can often find Knight right in the middle of it. Offensively, he is more of a playmaker than a scorer. He’s creates offense by digging pucks out of the corners and getting them to teammates out front of the net. His wrist shot has decent velocity, but he will need to improve his release in order to be a regular goal scorer at the pro level.
Knight may not project as a top 6 forward, however his good work ethic, fiesty attitude, and solid defensive play mean he could become a valuable contributor on the Panthers 3rd or 4th line in the Future. He does need a little more time though, and will probably find himself in the AHL after his senior season.
The Panthers have spent the last several years amassing draft picks and building one of the deepest systems in hockey. I’ve added an extra prospect to this report, and we still haven’t even gotten to Alex Petrovic, and Quinton Howden, players who would be top 2 prospects on many of the teams in the NHL. Add to them even more depth in Drew Shore and Rocco Grimaldi, a boom or bust player in John McFarland, and solid AHL producers like Colby Robak and Joonas Donskoi and you have one of the best and deepest systems in the NHL. Thankfully for their opponents, I felt that aside from Michael Matheson the Panthers had a very underwhelming 2012 draft which is extremely unusual for this team. However after loading up on talent at the 2011, 2010, and 2009 drafts I don’t know if this really even matters. The Panthers system is so stocked at every position that they could afford to trade a few picks to help the big club, and could afford to take some long shot picks in the later rounds. After finally making the playoffs in 2012, the Panthers deep farm system should ensure that they will be a regular participant and won’t be starting another long streak of futility anytime soon.
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