There’s no way one could wipe the smile off the face of Panthers GM Dale Tallon as he stepped to the podium inside the newly named JetBlue Practice Facility at Saveology.com Iceplex (More Here) Monday to talk to the media following the conclusion of the first day of Development Camp for the Panthers prospects.
While some of the questions catered to the present tense of the team, Tallon always found a way to bring it back to the team’s youth, something that he’s quite ecstatic about.
“We’re really high on all these kids that we have,” said Tallon. “We have a tremendous group of kids here.”
And why wouldn’t Tallon be excited about the immediate and not so immediate future. The Panthers have what some say as the best Organizational Depth in terms of players on their way to the big club and 34 of those players were put through the paces in a two-hour on and off-ice session. That didn't even include former first round picks Erik Gudbranson and Quinton Howden. Gudbranson, the third overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft who played for the Cats last season will miss this year's Development Camp with an infection. Howden, the 25th overall selection in that same draft is in camp but missed the first day with an infeciton.
The first day was mostly geared toward power skating as about two-thirds of the on-ice sessions had the players not even touching a puck.
When talking about the immediate future, Tallon figures that several of the Panthers young guns can make the jump to the pros and contribute at such an early age. While still looking to upgrade the roster through free agency and adding veterans, the Cats third year GM doesn’t want to hold back his draft picks such as Jonathan Huberdeau.
"It's a matter of what we have coming and blocking those people's opportunities to succeed," said Tallon. "There's no sense drafting all these kids and having no place for them to play. We have a plan in place to develop these young guys and we have depth in all positions and we have to open up some space for these guys when they're ready."
Huberdeau, the third overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, had a successful season with St John in the Quebec Major Junior League despite missing time due to an injury. He put up close to two points a game during the regular season and recorded five goals in six Memorial Cup games as the Sea Dogs feel to eventual winner Shawinigan in the Semifinals.
“I don’t think he can prove much more in Junior,” said Tallon. “Now is the time to get him to the next level and improve his overall strength and timing and playing with bigger, stronger men. If it he plays another year of Junior, it’s not really going to help his progress.
“He’s got a good shot at making our team. Last year he made our team but we just wanted to protect him. I think another year under his belt and he’s going to be ready to go.”
While Tallon feels that Huberdeau is as close to a lock to make the big club in the fall as there is , the silky smooth play-maker is taking a short term approach and that is to just get through Development Camp this week and make an impression.
“This year is a new season,” said Huberdeau. “There’s a lot of new players. You have to come here and make your place. It doesn’t matter what happened last year. I need to get a great start and this week is a great way to get that.”
Another prospect that is turning heads as well is 19th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft Nick Bjugstad and that’s easy to see. The center stands above all the rest. Talking to the media Monday, the 6-foot-6 University of Minnesota forward recently completed a successful sophomore season where he posted 42 points (25 goals) in 40 games to lead the Gophers to the NCAA semifinals.
“It was a little better season as opposed to my freshman year,” said Bjugstad who said he will decide following Development Camp whether he will return to Minnesota for a Junior Year or turn pro and make a push to make the Panthers this season. “It’s my second camp here so I’m trying to enjoy it.”
Both Bjugstad and Huberdeau are excited to be at another Development Camp. One of the main reasons is that they see something special going on, just like the GM that drafted them.
“The future is good. We’ve got a lot of good prospects,” said Huberdeau. “It’s a great organization.”
“A lot of good young players,” said Bjugstad. “That’s the thing about this organization. Dale Tallon has done a real good job of drafting guys and I think there’s a real bright future.”
While the prospects will be under tight yet accommodating scrutiny from the Panthers staff from Tallon, head coach Kevin Dineen, Director of Player Development Brian Skrudland and recently named Manager of Player Development Brian McCabe (More Here) among others, everyone knows that the future is bright, starting with this week of workouts on and off the ice.
“We’ve got so many good ones that are here that are going to be battling for positions ,” said Skrudland. “Obviously they’re not all going to be Panthers, I think they’re aware of that, yet at the same time, they’re here and competition is live and well.”
“It's exciting as hell,” said Tallon. “This is what it's all about. I'm really pumped about our future.
“We had a great year last year but our future looks even better and that's what I'm excited about.”
The Panthers will hold three more sessions with practice coming between 9-11am on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.