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Crouse, Matheson among Panthers' top five prospects

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have emphasized stockpiling draft picks since Dale Tallon took over as general manager in May 2010, and they've generally hit more often than they've missed.

The Panthers have two of the past three Calder Trophy winners: Jonathan Huberdeau (2013) and Aaron Ekblad (2015). The nucleus of their up-and-coming team consists of their recent draft picks. The good news for Florida is there appears to be some more quality prospects ready to help soon, particularly at defenseman.

Here is a look at the Panthers' top five prospects, according to

1. Lawson Crouse, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 11), 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Kingston, OHL: 56 GP,???29-22-51

Crouse, 18, led Kingston in scoring in his second season and helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Crouse (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) is the kind of power forward the Panthers haven't had for a long time, if ever. His junior teammates called him "The Sheriff"???for the way he looked after for them. Crouse said he patterned his game after NHL forwards James Neal, Milan Lucic and Rick Nash, and that combination of offense and physicality made him attractive to the Panthers. Tallon said Crouse would be given every opportunity to earn a roster spot immediately, but he'll have to fight off other promising young players.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

2. Michael Matheson, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 23), 2012 NHL Draft

Last season: Boston College, H-EAST: 38 GP, 3-22-25; San Antonio, AHL: 5 GP???0-2-2

Matheson, 21, signed with the Panthers last spring after completing his third season at Boston College and got some professional experience with San Antonio of the American Hockey League. Matheson led BC???defensemen in scoring all three of his college seasons and was captain in 2014-15.

Ekblad impressed with his two-way game and his poise; Matheson's biggest asset from the time he was a first-round pick has been his skating ability. At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, he's a good outlet passer and looks like someone who eventually will log a lot of power-play minutes.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Rocco Grimaldi, C/RW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 33), 2011 NHL Draft

Last season: Panthers, 7 GP: 1-0-1; San Antonio, AHL: 64 GP???14-28-42

Grimaldi, 21, was called up twice by the Panthers in 2014-15, his first professional season, after playing well enough in training camp to earn a roster spot but being blocked by veterans with one-way contracts. He scored his first NHL???goal against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 22 in his final game of the season.

Grimaldi (5-foot-6, 180) lacks prototypical size, but he showed good offensive instincts in his limited NHL appearances. The Panthers' four veteran free-agents-to-be from last training camp are gone, so Grimaldi has a clearer path to a roster spot.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Ian McCoshen, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 31), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Boston College, H-EAST, 35 GP: 6-10-16

McCoshen, 20, will be heading back to Boston College for his junior season and was selected in the spring as one of its alternate captains for 2015-16. He earned Hockey East honorable mention recognition last season.

Although McCoshen doesn't have Matheson's skating ability, he might have enjoyed a better 2014-15 season at BC. In addition to finishing plus-14, McCoshen led BC with 64 blocked shots. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he plays a solid two-way game.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

5. Jonathan Racine, D

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 87), 2011 NHL Draft

Last season: San Antonio, AHL: 70 GP, 0-7-7

Racine, 22, made his NHL debut in April 2014 when he appeared in one game for the Panthers. He spent all of last season with San Antonio and led it with 149 penalty minutes.

Racine (6-2, 194) is the most physical and aggressive of all the Panthers' prospects at defensemen even though he's not huge by NHL standards. Racine is a fearless competitor who plays a responsible defensive game, which should land him an NHL?????????roster spot at some point despite his limited offensive upside.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

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