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Panthers boast deep, talented collection of prospects

by Mike Battaglino

Let's let someone else describe the state of the prospects in the Florida Panthers organization:

"With NHL talent heading every position -- some of whom have All-Star potential -- the Florida Panthers are set to open the tap on a stream of prospects that will start pouring into south Florida for the foreseeable future. In fact, the system is so loaded with talent, the Panthers could split off a second team entirely and have a somewhat competitive squad based only on prospects."

That possible exaggeration comes from But listen to Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, and it might not be that far off.

"We've got a lot of skill now, we've got a lot of size, we've got a lot of depth, and we've got a real solid group of young prospects," Tallon said during development camp this summer. "Our organization is very deep right now."

Jonathan Huberdeau went back to Saint John of the QMJHL and scored 72 points in 37 games, one season after getting 105 points in 67 games. (Photo: Getty Images)

The NHL Draft injected 28 players into the Panthers' system from 2009-11, with 17 picks in the first three rounds and seven top-33 choices.

Tallon said he expects that depth to provide up to three NHL players this season, and as many as eight more by 2014-15.

Here's a look at Florida's top 10 prospects:

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, F: The high-scoring center almost made the big leagues last season after starring at training camp. His NHL debut will come this time.

"He's got a good shot at making our team," Tallon told the Panthers' website this summer. "I thought last year at training camp he made our team; we just wanted to protect him. I think another year under his belt he's going to be ready to go."

Huberdeau, the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, wasn't quite big enough for the League last season. So he went back to Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and scored 72 points in 37 games, one season after getting 105 points in 67 games.

He left this development camp looking to carry 185 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame, thereby anchoring him in Florida.

"I want to stay here," the 19-year-old said on the team's website. "My point is to make the team this year and I'm going to do everything to do it. You want to play in the NHL, that's your dream, and I'm going to do everything I have to do before September."

He was MVP of the QMJHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, and had a goal and two assists in the deciding game of the recent Canada-Russia Challenge.

"He plays better with better players; he's got a presence out there," Tallon told the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. "There's a purpose to every play and every move. He's really a heady player and has got hockey sense that's really incredible."

2. Jacob Markstrom, G: Perhaps the main reason the Panthers haven't traded for Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, Markstrom has gone 15-4 for Sweden in international play since 2008.

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In seven games with the Panthers last season, the 22-year-old went 2-4-1 with a better-than-that-record .923 save percentage.

"He's a good kid, and he works hard at it," veteran goalie Scott Clemmensen told the Miami Herald. "He was here when I was hurt earlier this year. The goalies have a good rapport with each other, all three of us (including starter Jose Theodore), as well as the other goalies in the system. It's important goalies support each other, and it's good to see him get opportunities here."

Taken with the first pick of the second round in 2008, the 6-foot-6, 196-pound netminder played most of last season for San Antonio in the American Hockey League, going 17-12-1 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

He missed about a month after having knee surgery in January but returned to go 4-4 in the AHL playoffs.

3. Quinton Howden, F: A childhood bicycle accident that broke his femur, and put him in a chest-to-toe cast, had doctors concerned he might never be an athlete. Instead, he was the 25th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft and could make it to the League this season.

"I think about it and it drives me to be better and want to prove myself," Howden said of the accident. "But it is something that happened in the past and I move forward from it."

In the more recent past are the 209 points he's scored in 177 games over three seasons with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League.

The 6-foot-2, 189-pound 20-year-old also played four games for San Antonio in the American Hockey League playoffs, giving him another look at the young talent that surrounds him.

"I think it's awesome; I mean you have to start from somewhere, and to see the whole thing start from scratch here, it's awesome," Howden said at development camp.

4. Nick Bjugstad, C: He will play at the University of Minnesota this season, which for the Panthers is better than him playing for the Vancouver Canucks.

Reportedly the primary target of the Canucks in any trade for Luongo, the Panthers have held onto the 6-foot-5, 215-pound center and support his decision to return to school despite their need for help up front.

"This is the right spot for me," Bjugstad said after making his decision in July, right around the time he turned 20. "I am going to be close to finishing my education and hopefully can accomplish the goal that I have had ever since I was little, which is winning a national championship. … I feel I can develop here and become more of a leader on the team as well. Hopefully, I will have a good season."

Minnesota lost to eventual NCAA champion Boston College in the Frozen Four semifinals. Bjugstad, the No. 19 pick in the 2010 draft, had 42 points in 40 games last season as a sophomore.

Colby Robak
Colby Robak
Defense - FLA
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 1 | +/-: 1
5. Colby Robak, D: One of the few skaters on the list with any NHL experience, the 22-year-old got into three games with the Panthers last season. He played 14:40 in his debut and was plus-2.

"He's one of those guys who's confident. He knows what he needs to do," San Antonio teammate Tyson Strachan told the Miami Herald after Robak's first NHL game. “It's impressive what he does night in and night out down there.''

A fixture on the San Antonio power play, Robak had 39 points in 73 games, was a plus-15 last season, and made the AHL All-Star Game. He added five points in eight playoff games.

Rampage coach Chuck Weber said Robak has excellent skating skill for his size (6-foot-3, 194 pounds).

"It's been a huge improvement for him from his rookie year to his second year," Weber told the team's website. “He's matured both in his defensive play and his overall play. He's really made a huge impact for us. …

"If he continues to work the way he does, he's not going to be just an NHL defenseman, he's going to be a top-four NHL defenseman and have a long career."

6. Alex Petrovic, D: His physical style is unique on this list. At 6-foot-4, 206 pounds, the 20-year-old had 141 penalty minutes to go along with 48 points in 68 games for Red Deer in the Western Hockey League last season. In 2010-11, he had 140 PIM and 57 points in 69 games.

"He's a big kid who has skills and really plays with an edge," former Panthers defenseman and current team executive Bryan McCabe told the Miami Herald. "… He has all the potential in the world."

Petrovic, the No. 36 pick in the 2010 draft, joined San Antonio near the end of last season and participated in nine playoff games for the Rampage.

"Just playing at the end of the year was great for me, I was able to get my feet under me," Petrovic told the Miami Herald in June. “… I learned guys are harder to knock around, that's for sure."

As a University of Denver sophomore, Drew Shore had 46 points in 40 games. (Photo: Getty Images)

7. Drew Shore, F: At 21, one of the older players on this list, he signed his entry-level contract in March after his junior season at the University of Denver.

He led the team in scoring with 53 points in 42 games and was plus-21 last season. As a sophomore, he had 46 points in 40 games.

"He's a solid, two-way centerman who you could put out there in the last minute of periods,'' Tallon told the Sun Sentinel in July. "You could put him out there if you need a goal. He can kill penalties; he's a really smart player with good speed."

The Panthers' second-round pick (No. 44) in 2009, he also joined San Antonio for its late-season playoff run.

"I think I'm ready for the next step, mentally and physically. I've got to get stronger and I'm putting an emphasis on that this summer,'' Shore (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) told the newspaper. "I'll come into camp, get my strength up and have a good shot to give my best effort."

8. Michael Matheson, D: The most-recent addition as the No. 23 pick in the 2012 draft, Tallon raved about the 18-year-old after selecting him and again at development camp.

"He can really skate and I love defensemen who can really skate," Tallon told the Miami Herald in June. "He's arguably the best skater in the draft and is a guy who can move the puck. … This guy will bring speed from the back end and that is something we needed to focus on."

Even though his skating impressed nearly everyone at camp, Matheson (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) said he can get better.

"I think that everybody no matter what their best asset there's still work to be done in that area including me and skating," he said. "So being able to work on that area and hopefully become even better in my skating will help me along the way too."

Matheson had 27 points in 53 games for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League last season. He will play for Boston College this season.

9. Vincent Trocheck, F: The heady 19-year-old was praised by U.S. coach Phil Housley for his play at this summer's Junior Evaluation Camp.

"Hockey IQ is my main asset, my smarts and my hands. I think that comes back to when I was growing up," Trocheck said on the Panthers' website.

His dad tried to steer him toward baseball, until he saw his son wielding a bat.

"He would give me baseball bats and stuff like that," Trocheck said. "Then he figured after I started playing hockey with the bat that it was time."

Chosen in the third round (No. 64) of the 2011 draft, the 5-foot-10, 182-pound center scored 62 points in 68 games with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

10. Rocco Grimaldi, C: At 5-foot-6, Grimaldi became one of the shortest players ever selected in the NHL Draft, when he was the No 33. pick in 2011.

More important numbers to a Panthers team seeking some scoring are these: 136 points in 120 games for the U.S. Development Program; 32 points in 19 games of international play for Team USA.

He would be higher on the list, but a rare knee condition -- his right patella never fused into one piece – required surgery and limited him to four games as a freshman with the University of North Dakota last season.

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