The Florida Panthers are loaded with young talent and they have one of the deepest prospect pools in the entire NHL. It starts at the top with guys like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Erik Gudbranson. Each of these players is 22 or younger and each has developed into integral pieces of a championship foundation.
When it comes to “Young Guns”, the Barkov’s and Huberdeau’s of the world are just the tip of the iceberg. The Panthers have a talent pool that extends not just to their minor league club but also through the amateur ranks, from college hockey to juniors.
Here is a quick look at some of the Panthers future young guns; the guys you may not be familiar with now but could become household names a few years down the road.
|Defenseman Michael Matheson poses after being drafted in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images) |
Coincidence or not, General Manager Dale Tallon seems to have an affinity for drafting big Boston College bound defensemen. The Panthers selected Michael Matheson in the 1st round (23rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and they followed that up by taking Ian McCoshen with the first pick of the second round (31st overall) in 2013.
Both Matheson and McCoshen were entering their freshman years at Boston College when they were selected by the Panthers. Now Matheson (a sophomore) and McCoshen (a freshman) have gotten the chance to build their chemistry on the blue-line and will continue to do so as they advance from college to the minors and eventually to the Florida Panthers.
At 5’6” Rocco Grimaldi may not look like a big time hockey player but don’t let his size fool you. What he lacks in height, Grimaldi makes up for with skill, skating ability and a deft scoring touch. It was those attributes, not size, that convinced the Panthers to select Grimaldi with the 33rd pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Grimaldi, 20-years-old, is currently a junior at the University of North Dakota where he leads the team in scoring with 19 points (7-12-19) in 20 games. A native of Anaheim, CA, Grimaldi participated in the 2013 World Junior Championships where he scored two goals in the USA’s 3-1 victory over Sweden in the gold medal game.
The NHL Draft is a funny beast. Sometimes you get the surefire superstar in the first round while other times you find quality players in the late rounds. In the 2013 Draft, the Panthers think they accomplished both of those things. We are all familiar with Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers second overall pick, but we may not be as familiar with Christopher Clapperton and MacKenzie Weegar; two players that have already impressed since being selected in the bottom of the draft.
Clapperton, 19, was a 5th round (122nd overall) pick of the Panthers this summer. The forward is currently playing in his third season for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL. When he has been on the ice, Clapperton has been stellar this season. In 29 games he has amassed 39 points (14-25-39) a scoring rate that would put him with the league leaders had he not missed most of December with an injury.
Also playing in the QMJHL is defenseman MacKenzie Weegar who the Panthers drafted in the 7th round (206th overall) of the 2013 Draft. The 20-year-old plays for the Halifax Mooseheads where he is the team’s top scoring defenseman logging 34 points (10-24-34) in 38 games.
With Weegar and Clapperton, the Panthers have a pair of late round draft picks that could develop into top prospects.
Picking stars in the early rounds is nice but when you can find quality players deep in the draft, that is when you know you are on your way to a bright future.