The World Junior Championships began Thursday morning in Sweden, with Team USA looking to repeat its gold-medal-winning performance of last winter.
Among the players on the Team USA roster this year is defenseman Ian McCoshen from Boston College. He also happens to be a member of the Florida Panthers organization and part of a large crop of blue-chip defensemen prospects.
No doubt, the two prospects who have attracted attention recently have been centers Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov, and they’ve pretty much crossed the line from prospects to bona fide young NHL stars.
The reality, though, is that the Panthers have as much high-end young talent in the organization on the blue line as they do up front, if not more.
Clearly, McCoshen is part of that group. Getting named to the Team USA roster was quite an accomplishment for the college freshman, whom the Panthers selected in the second round of the 2013 draft (31st overall) — one round after they took Barkov with the second overall pick.
McCoshen’s college career is off to a tremendous start. He leads all BC defensemen in scoring with nine points (three goals, six assists) in 16 games and his plus-18 ratio is the best on the entire team.
The second-leading scorer among BC defensemen, incidentally, is Michael Matheson, who was the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2012. Matheson has seven points and a plus-9 ratio, following an impressive 2012-13 campaign that earned him New England Division I all-star recognition.
But it’s not just McCoshen and Matheson, although that’s a pretty good start.
Panthers fans got a brief glimpse Monday night at another of the team’s high-end defenseman prospects when Alex Petrovic was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League after Young Gun Erik Gudbranson underwent orbital bone surgery.
Petrovic, who has been viewed as a top prospect since he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft, got 15:35 of ice time against Tampa Bay, including 8:49 in the third period. Coach Peter Horachek said Petrovic didn’t have a strong outing against the Lightning, but he also pointed out that the same applied to practically every player on the roster during a forgettable evening.
Logic says that Petrovic, who was reassigned to San Antonio on Tuesday, will get better with more playing time. Remember, this was his first NHL action of the season after he had appeared in six games in 2012-13, starting with his NHL debut against the New York Rangers on April 18.
Horachek coached Petrovic in San Antonio early in the season before he took over as Panthers head coach and said the young prospect needed to get stronger and quicker with his decisions. That’s really not unusual to hear when it comes to a young player, particularly a defenseman.
Remember that General Manager Dale Tallon often has said it takes defensemen longer to blossom as NHL players, which is why Petrovic still needs more seasoning.
But what Petrovic has is an intriguing skill set, a nice combination of aggressiveness and offensive skill. He fits the mold of the organization’s crop of young defensemen, both at the NHL, minor league and collegiate levels.
Already on the Panthers roster there’s Gudbranson, along with fellow Young Guns Dylan Olsen and Dmitry Kulikov, all of whom are young, tall and have offensive ability.
In San Antonio, you have Colby Robak and Petrovic.
It may be a couple of seasons before the young defenseman prospects can start making an impact at the NHL level, but there’s reason to be confident it will happen.
The biggest reason for hope just might be Gudbranson himself. Before he sustained this injury, Gudbranson was playing the best hockey of his young career and he was continuing to establish himself as a force on the defensive end.
Gudbranson has been getting ice time on the power play and on the penalty-killing unit and, as Horachek pointed out Monday night, has been the most physical presence on the Panthers blue line.
More and more, Gudbranson is showing why the Panthers made him the third overall pick in 2010, a round before they drafted Petrovic. It is pretty evident that the Panthers made a good selection with the player they call “Guddy.”
Based on his start at BC and his selection to the Team USA roster, it sure looks early on as though the decision to draft McCoshen was a good one as well.