Before joining the big boys at training camp, many of the top prospects for the Florida Panthers
, Tampa Bay Lightning
and Nashville Predators
will try to prove themselves against their peers in a three-team rookie tournament beginning Sunday at Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs, Fla.
"The rookie tournament provides our staff with a great opportunity to evaluate the growth and development of our prospects," Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon
said. "Our prospects will get the opportunity to compete in game situations and learn about the commitment and training that is necessary to play at the NHL level. We look forward to seeing all our fans at the rookie camp games as we prepare for the upcoming season."
Florida rookie tournament schedule
- Sept. 11 – Tampa Bay vs. Florida, 6 p.m.
- Sept. 12 – Tampa Bay vs. Nashville, 6 p.m.
- Sept. 13 – Nashville vs. Florida, 12 p.m.
- Sept. 14 – Tampa Bay vs. Florida, 12 p.m.
The Panthers will have three first-round draft choices and three second-round picks among the 26 players competing. The list includes first-round forwards Jonathan Huberdeau
(No. 3 in 2011) and Quinton Howden
(No. 25, 2010) and defenseman Erik Gudbranson
(No. 3 in 2010) and second-round forward John McFarland
(No. 33, 2010), defenseman Alexander Petrovic (No. 36, 2010) and goalie Jacob Markstrom
(No. 31, 2008).
Gudbranson inked a three-year entry-level deal in July and will either stick with the big club out of training camp or return to his junior team, the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. He produced 12 goals for the Frontenacs last season and helped Team Canada to a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y.
"This is a big team to make; this is the NHL, the best league in the world," Gudbranson told the Miami Herald. "I'm going to work my tail off to be here, to make the team and make a difference."
Huberdeau led the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 43 goals, 62 assists, 105 points and a plus-59 rating in 67 games in 2010-11. Not only was his point total was the third-highest in the QMJHL, it also set a new franchise standard for a season. Huberdeau also led the team in scoring during the league playoffs with 16 goals, 6 power-play goals, and 30 points to earn the Guy Lafleur
Trophy as playoff MVP.
"We like character, we like people who are passionate and we like skill, obviously. And Jonathan fits all those," Tallon said. "He's a real kid, a solid two-way player and unselfish, and he's everything you would want in a hockey player."
The Panthers will also send Russian defenseman Roman Derlyuk
to the rookie showcase. The 24-year-old, selected in the sixth round (No. 164) in 2005, had 5 goals and 14 points in 44 games with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL in 2010-11.
The Lightning have invited 21 players, including first-round notables Carter Ashton
(No. 29, 2009), Brett Connolly
(No. 6, 2010) and Vladislav Namestnikov
(No. 27, 2011). Connolly, who could be considered the organization's top prospect, had 46 goals and 73 points in 59 games for the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League in 2010-11.
Joining them are four other highly touted prospects -- forwards Richard Panik
(No. 52, 2009) and James Wright
(No. 117, 2008) and defensemen Mark Barberio
(No. 152, 2008) and Radko Gudas
(No. 66, 2010). Wright, who totaled 16 goals and 47 points in 80 games with the club's AHL affiliate in Norfolk last season, was also called up for one game with the Lightning.
Nashville will send three first-round choices and a pair of second-round picks among its 21 invitees. Goalie Chet Pickard
(No. 18, 2008), defensemen Ryan Ellis
(No. 11, 2009) and forward Austin Watson
(No. 18, 2010) all were drafted in the opening round.
Ellis was Canada's captain at the 2011 World Junior Championships. He also wore the "C" for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires in 2010-11, notching 24 goals and 101 points in 58 games. Joining Pickard in goal is Finland's Atte Engren
, Nashville's seventh-round choice (No. 204) in 2007. The native of Rauma made his North American debut last season, playing four games with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.
Prior to joining the Admirals, Engren manned the net for TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League the previous two seasons. In 2009-10, he received the 2010 Urpo Ylonen Trophy as the league's top goalie after leading Turku to the Finnish Elite League title. In 2010-11, the 6-foot-1, 186-pounder tied for fifth among goalies in games played (51), posting a 2.82 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
The Predators are also high on defensemen Roman Josi
(No. 38, 2008) and Charles-Olivier Roussel
(No. 42, 2009), each of whom was drafted in the second round, and forwards Craig Smith
(No. 98, 2009) and Taylor Beck
(No. 70, 2009).
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale