Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2014 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 2014-15 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 wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 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.
After winning the Southeast division in 2011-12, things haven’t gone according to plan for the the Florida Panthers. They were the worst team in the NHL in 2012-13, and the second worst this past season.
They are clearly in rebuild mode, but sped that rebuild up considerably by finding a solution between the pipes with a post-Olympic trade for Roberto Luongo. There are also a number of young bright spots on the team. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have shown that they were worthy of their high draft positions, while Nick Bjustad had a solid rookie season adding size and skill down the middle. Add to that a defensive core that has Dmitry Kulikov, Eric Gudbranson, and the new first overall pick in Aaron Ekblad, and things are certainly looking up for the Panthers in the near future.
Graduates: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjustad, Dylan Olsen, Jimmy Hayes,
Florida Panthers Top Prospects
Top Prospect: Michael Matheson, Defence
Born Feb 27 1994 — Pointe-Claire, PQ
Height 6.02 — Weight 190 – Shoots L
Drafted in the 1st Round, 23rd Overall By the Florida Panthers in the 2012 NHL Draft
The Panthers first round pick in the 2012 Draft, Matheson followed up on an outstanding freshman campaign with continued success this year at Boston College. Matheson joined the 2012 National Champions as an 18 year old, but quickly stepped into a top four role on the team. This year he continued to improve and became a top pairing defenceman, playing in all situations, and quarterbacking the powerplay for one of the top teams in the nation. While a semi-final loss in the Frozen Four was certainly a disappointing way to end the year, it was a very successful season from a development standpoint.
Matheson is an excellent skater. His stride is extremely smooth, and very powerful. He has a great first step, and excellent acceleration which helps him reach top speed extremely quickly. He has excellent edgework, agility, and pivots. This sublime skating helps him in all aspects of his game.
Matheson’s offensive game has really taken off in his two years at Boston College. His slapshot isn’t a howitzer, but it does have decent velocity. What’s more important though is that Matheson keeps his shots low and accurate, allowing his teammates to screen goalies, tip in pucks, and pounce on rebounds. Matheson makes a great first pass in the defensive zone which greatly helps the transition game. He has also shown a willingness to pick his spots and join the rush at key times. Matheson has also used his vision and passing skills to make strong plays in the offensive zone and to become a strong contributor on the BC powerplay.
Defensively Mattheson continues to improve; he has excellent instincts, and plays a solid positional game. Matheson angles attackers to the outside and forces them into non-dangerous areas of the ice. He tries to keep the front of the net clear, and is quick to pounce on loose pucks. Matheson is willing shot blocker and understands how to cut down passing lanes. Matheson is also willing to engage in battles for the puck but he needs to improve his upper body strength at this level and going forward. He certainly looked much stronger as a sophomore than he did as a freshman though, and it is hoped that he will continue to bulk up this summer. All indications are that Mattheson will be back at Boston College next year for his junior season. That said, it would not be a surprise if this is his last year in the NCAA and he turns pro joining the Panthers or their AHL affiliate in the spring.
Prospect #2 Ian McCoshen, Defence
Born Aug 5 1995 — Hudson, WI
Height 6.03 — Weight 205 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the 2nd round, 31st Overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2013 draft.
Taken with the 31st overall pick of the 2013 draft, McCoshen was nearly a first rounder in his own right. He also joined Mattheson at Boston College this past season. McCoshen got big minutes, as he was mostly used on the second pairing for the Eagles. He also appeared at the World Juniors for Team USA, and will likely be a part of the 2015 team as well.
McCoshen is a fast skater, but one who still has some aspects to work on before he can be said to be a very good skater. His top end speed and acceleration are both well above average, and he shows this in both his forward and backward skating. He has a good long stride and generates a lot of power. His balance is also very good , and he is difficult to knock off the puck. However, McCoshen could use some work on his pivots and his edgework, as he is not the crispest in changing directions, and could stand to work on these issues to improve his mobility. These flaws however are relatively minor and should be easily correctable with some hard work and focus on his technique. He has the raw footspeed necessary to make the adjustments and excel.
McCoshen plays a very good defensive game. He has great gap control, and is tough to get around one-on-one. He isn’t a big hitter, and could stand to improve that aspect of his game, but he isn’t afraid to battle on the boards or in front of the net. McCoshen is not afraid to sacrifice his body, as he is a tough and willing shot blocker. He has good size and an active stick which helps him to cut down on passing lanes. He is also very aggressive, putting a ton of pressure on opposing forwards when they have the puck and forcing them to make mistakes by hurrying them and cutting down the amount of time and space they have to make a play.
McCoshen has some offensive upside but the question is how much. He has a powerful slapshot, and has really improved at getting it through traffic and on net over the last year. Like Mattheson, the ability to keep it low and on target generates opportunities for his teammates to create plays through screens, rebounds, and deflections. His stickhandling and skating with the puck have improved and McCoshen moves the puck well, but he plays more of a stay at home game at the NCAA level than he did in the USHL. He has improved his passing both in the offensive zone and in starting the transition game with a crisp and accurate first pass. McCoshen could learn to walk the line a little better and keep his feet moving in the offensive zone in order to open up more passing and shooting lanes at times, but again this can come with better footwork and skating technique going forward.
Prospect #3 Vincent Trocheck, Centre
Born Jul 11 1993 — Pittsburgh, PA
Height 5.11 — Weight 180 [180 cm/82 kg] — Shoots Right
Drafted in the 3rd round, 64th overall in 2011 NHL Draft
Following a dominant final year in the OHL, Trocheck had a solid rookie season with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL, scoring 16 goals and 42 points in 55 games. He even played well enough to get a callup to the NHL playing in 20 games and scoring five goals and 8 points. It was a good start for youngster who has really taken off since being an early third round pick by the Panthers in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Trocheck is a very good skater with good top end speed. His first step and acceleration are very strong, and his agility and edgework are outstanding, as he is able to make extremely sharp cuts. He has good balance on his skates and can battle in the corners or in front of the net effectively, or protect the puck well in the cycle game. Trocheck is not afraid to play a gritty game despite his size, hounding defencemen on the forecheck and not backing down from anyone. He has excellent vision, and very good passing skills and couples that with the soft hands, and a good shot and release to also be a threat to score goals. Trocheck must become better defensively and show the same tenacious energy he shows in the offensive zone in his own end of the ice in order to improve as a player. He should get a chance to crack the Panthers lineup this fall, but a lot will have to do with how his defensive game develops.
Super Sleeper: MacKenzie Weegar, Defence
Born Jan 7 1994 — Ottawa, ONT
Height 6’0″ — Weight 183 lbs — Shoots Right
Drafted in the 7th round, 206th overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Florida is an organization that is very deep in good, young prospects right now. Make no mistake about it, we are not saying that Weegar is the fourth best prospect in the organization, in fact it is unlikely he cracks the top ten. What we do see right now though, is a player who improved a lot over the last year and fits our sleeper criteria of being a fourth round pick or later.
Weegar was the Panthers 7th round pick last year, in a pick acquired from Montreal for George Parros, and one of the last picks of the draft. He followed up a strong rookie season with Halifax, by becoming a near point per game player on an offensively talented Mooseheads team this season. He was even better in the playoffs putting up 22 points in 17 games.
Weegar is a good skater and passer who moves the puck extremely well. He can both lead the rush or get it started with a quick breakout pass and then join as a trailer. He has a good point shot and an effective one-timer and was an important piece of the powerful Mooseheads powerplay that also featured Jonathan Drouin and Nikolaj Ehlers. His ability to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes was a real plus. Defensively, Weegar is good positionally but must add strength not to be overpowered in front of the net.
Weegar is still a long term project and a darkhorse to ever make the NHL, but he did everything you could expect of a seventh round pick in his first year after being drafted. If he continues to show this level of improvement, he might just buck the odds one day.
Overall the Panthers are one of the up and coming franchises in the NHL. It is incredible the number of prospects they have graduated in the last two years, and still have such a deep system with players like Rocco Grimaldi, Kyle Rau, Quinton Howden, Alex Petrovic and others we haven’t even touched on in this report. The graduations will hurt their overall ranking at the end of the series, as the only elite prospect remaining is Aaron Ekblad, but thats not a bad thing when you have guys like Huberdeau, Barkov, and Bjustad producing at the NHL level already, you have to consider that when looking at their future.
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