NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the top five prospects for the Florida Panthers, according to NHL.com.
[Panthers 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]
How acquired: Selected with No. 13 pick in 2019 NHL Draft
Last season: USA U-18 (NTDP): 39 GP, 32-4-1, 2.36 GAA, .913 SV%
Knight was too enticing for the Panthers to pass up. The 18-year-old was the first goalie chosen by Florida since Sam Montembeault in the third round (No. 77) and Ryan Bednard in the seventh round (No. 206) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Panthers can afford to patiently develop Knight (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) after goalie Sergei Bobrovsky agreed to a seven-year contract July 1. Knight will play at Boston College this season with hopes of being its No. 1 after Joseph Woll signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 24.
"Goalies like him, the way we view him, they don't come around very often," Panthers director of player personnel Bryan McCabe said. "He's very calm and cool in the net, never gets out of his comfort zone, tracks pucks very well, and plays the puck extremely well. He's like a third defenseman out there."
Projected NHL arrival: 2022-23
Video: Spencer Knight on mentality, joining the Panthers
How acquired: Selected with No. 10 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Mississauga/Saginaw (OHL): 54 GP, 33-41-74
Tippett (6-1, 216) got a taste of the NHL when he played seven games in 2017-18. The 20-year-old will be watched closely in training camp after he was one of Florida's early cuts last season, but it appears inevitable he will evolve into a regular even if he starts this season with Springfield of the American Hockey League.
"Camp will decide that, how he plays," McCabe said. "He just needs to work a little more on the details away from the puck and that will come in time with him turning pro, finally. We'll be able to get our hooks in him here and teach him what it takes to play at the next level full time."
Projected NHL arrival: This season
Video: Panthers come in at No. 8 in Prospect Pipeline
How acquired: Selected with No. 40 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Karpat (FIN): 50 GP, 16-30-46
The 20-year-old center excelled at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, leading the tournament with nine points (three goals, six assists) and helping Finland win the championship before completing his first season in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. Heponiemi (5-10, 147) signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers on May 15.
"He's a point producer who makes everyone around him better," Florida general manager Dale Tallon said. "With him, it's getting stronger and physically bigger. He has the hands and the eyes and all the skills to be a successful player. His numbers are staggering the past few years and hopefully he continues on that path."
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21
Video: 31 in 31: Florida Panthers 2019-20 season preview
How acquired: Selected with No. 15 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Yaroslavl (RUS): 25 GP, 4-2-6
Denisenko (5-11, 176) impressed at World Juniors with nine points (four goals, five assists), helping Russia finish third. The 19-year-old is set for his second season in the Kontinental Hockey League.
"He's a special player," Tallon said. "He's a dynamic player with speed, skill and toughness. He'll spend another year over in Russia, and then after that we'll get him back, get him over here, and get him on his path to success in the NHL."
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21
How acquired: Selected with No. 34 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Oshawa (OHL): 68 GP, 34-47-81
Noel provides the size (6-5, 205) and ability to do the dirty work in the future for Panthers skill forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck.
Noel turned 19 on Aug. 8 and is ineligible to play in the AHL, so he'll play another season in the Ontario Hockey League unless he's deemed ready for the NHL.
"He's got just as good of a chance as anyone else," McCabe said. "He's a big power forward who can skate. He's got good hands. He goes to all the hard areas of the ice. When his game is on he's almost unstoppable at times at the OHL level. He's a huge body that a lot of guys in that league cannot contain when he's going. He'll have a good look. I can see him making a run here and hopefully sticking around camp for a long time."
Projected NHL arrival: 2021-22