Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Florida Panthers Prospects
The Florida Panthers were one of the most surprising teams in the National Hockey League last season. Led by the league’s elder statesman Jaromir Jagr, and youngster’s Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad; the Panthers won the Atlantic Division title. However, despite their regular season success, they would fall in the first round of the playoffs, losing out to the New York Islanders.
The off-season sees Dale Tallon out as general manager, replaced by a new school analytics group led by Tom Rowe. The team has already started to make their mark on the roster with Erik Gudbranson, Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell, Willie Mitchell, Rocco Grimaldi and Al Montoya out; while Jared McCann, Keith Yandle, James Reimer, Reto Barra, and Jason Demers were brought in.
Draft Picks: Henrik Borgstrom, Adam Mascherin, Linus Nassen, Jonathan Ang, Riley Stillman, Maxim Mamin, Benjamin Finklestein
Graduates: Jared McCann, Logan Shaw, Quinton Howden, Alex Petrovic, Corban Knight (age),
Florida Panthers Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Michael Matheson
Defense — shoots Left
Born Feb 27 1994 — Pointe-Claire, PQ
Height 6’2″ — Weight 189 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in round 1, #23 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Matheson had a solid season with the AHL’s Portland Pirates putting up 20 points in 54 games. He joined the Panthers late in the season, playing in three regular season games; and scoring an assist in five playoff games. He also played in 10 games for Team Canada at the World Championships scoring six points and winning a gold medal.
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 edge work, agility, and pivots. This sublime skating helps him in all aspects of his game.
Matheson’s offensive game developed over the last several years. While his slap shot isn’t a howitzer, 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 power play. He may never be a huge offensive producer, but can put up some points from the blue line.
Defensively Matheson 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. He got stronger over his time in university, and was able to handle professionals in the AHL last year. How he handles bigger NHL forwards will be telling.
The Panthers expect Matheson to be in the NHL this season. With the Panthers losing four regular defencemen, and only adding two this summer, there should be a couple of openings heading into training camp. He didn’t look out of place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or at the World Championships.
#2 Prospect: Ian McCoshen
Defense — shoots Left
Born Aug 5 1995 — Hudson, WI
Height 6’3″ — Weight 218 lbs [191 cm / 99 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in round 2, #31 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
McCoshen improved his offensive output again at Boston College, scoring six goals and 21 points in 40 games. Folloing his junior season, he signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers, and will go pro this season.
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 edge work, as he is not the crispest in changing directions, and could stand to work on these issues to improve his mobility. He improved this in college; but there are still some adjustments that can be made working daily with professional coaches. The issue should be correctable with some hard work and focus on his technique.
McCoshen has some offensive upside but the question is how much. He has a powerful slap shot, 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 stick handling and skating with the puck have improved and McCoshen moves the puck well, but he played 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.
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 likely needs some time to adjust to the pro game and should start the season in Springfield. He could be one of the first call-ups in case of injury and if he progresses quickly, could have a full-time role later in the season, or by the start of 2017-18.
#3 Prospect: Jayce Hawryluk
Center — shoots Right
Born Jan 1 1996 — Roblin, MAN
Height 5’10” — Weight 194 lbs [178 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in round 2, #32 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Hawryluk and the Brandon Wheat Kings nearly had a dream season. He put up 47 goals and 106 points in 58 regular season games and added 7 goals and 30 points in 21 playoff games. The Wheat Kings would win the WHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well in Red Deer; Hawryluk was injured, and the Wheat Kings were the first team eliminated in the tournament.
As an undersized forward Hawryluk needs strong skating to succeed at the next level, and he definitely has that. Hawryluk has good speed and very good acceleration, which complements his strong edge work and agility. Still his best assets are his core strength and balance as he is very hard to knock off the puck, fore checks hard, wins board battles, and plays a strong cycle game despite his size. He has the power to fight through checks and go to the net or to battle for pucks in the corners or position himself in front of the net and battle with defenders.
Hawryluk has extremely good hockey sense. He uses strong stick handling, and poise with the puck, to slow the game down and he makes the smart play with the puck. He has good vision and passing skills, making his linemates better. Hawryluk is able to find openings in the defence when he doesn’t have the puck, setting himself up as an outlet in the cycle or for a one-timer. His wrist shot has decent power and is extremely accurate, and the release is quick.
Hawryluk doesn’t allow his size to be a factor in his game, playing quite gritty despite that. At 190 lbs, he also has packed a lot of muscle onto that 5’10” frame already, though there may be the opportunity to be leaner and even stronger going forward.
Hawryluk is developed defensively. He has extremely good positioning, and is able to anticipate plays and create turnovers in his own end. He is also a relentless back checker who just never stops moving his feet. Hawryluk supports his defence well and is able to kill penalties for the Wheat Kings.
The Panthers are one of the deepest teams in the NHL at centre, with Vincent Trocheck and Derek McKenzie manning the third and fourth lines. This will make the lineup a very difficult one to crack, at least early on for Hawryluk. The fact is that he is also not yet NHL ready. Expect to see him start in the AHL, and continue to develop.
#4 Prospect: Henrik Borgstrom
The Panthers drafted Borgstrom with the 23rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Borgstrom. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Adam Mascherin
The Panthers drafted Mascherin with the 38th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Mascherin, including a full scouting report. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: MacKenzie Weegar
Defense — shoots Right
Born Jan 7 1994 — Ottawa, ONT
Height 5’11” — Weight 207 lbs [180 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by Florida Panthers in round 7, #206 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Weegar impressed in his second season in the AHL, playing a solid two-way game and putting up 7 goals and 24 points for the Portland Pirates. The former seventh round pick continues to progress each year.
Weegar has good speed in both directions, something he will need to succeed as a diminutive defenceman. He has outstanding edge work and agility, and great pivots. This allows him to cover a lot of ground out there on the ice. His lower body strength must improve. He needs to be strong to avoid being pushed around in the corners and in front of the net.
Weegar is a good skater and passer who moves the puck extremely well. He leads the rush and can also 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 Pirates power play. His ability to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes was a real plus. Weegar makes smart plays with the puck, finding the open man. He makes good decisions on when to join the rush and when to pinch, and does not get caught very often.
Defensively, Weegar is good positionally but must add strength not to be overpowered in front of the net. He is willing to sacrifice his body to block shots, and does a good job of clogging up passing lanes. His gap control is also sound.
Weegar needs another year at the AHL level. Do not be surprised if he pushes for a bottom pairing spot in the near future.
Editors Note: This article written with Lawson Crouse as the Panthers number two prospect. If you are still interested in Crouse’s scouting report, we have included it in the trade article.
Overall the Panthers are one of the up and coming franchises in the NHL, but the prospect system isn’t where you find that. With all the young players they have already graduated, the depth and high end quality of the pool has been diminished. This isn’t a bad thing though, as having these players producing at the NHL level shows the Panthers strong future. The system isn’t barren though. The Panthers also added Linus Nassen, Jonathan Ang, and Riley Stillman, at this years draft. They also have Kyle Rau, Connor Brickley, Sameul Montembeault, Logan Shaw, and Thomas Schemitsch in the system.