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Panthers 2019 D-Men Draft Picks Warming up to South Florida

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

Panthers Development Camp: Day 3

2019 Florida Panthers Development Camp: Day 3

Interviews with Springfield Thunderbirds Head Coach Geordie Kinnear, Panthers defensemen Vladislav Kolyachonuk, Carter Berger and John Ludvig

  • 01:55 •

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Like most prospects making their first trip to Coral Springs for the Florida Panthers' annual development camp, Carter Berger is still getting used to the heat.

"A little almost uncomfortable outside with the heat and humidity," chuckled Berger, who grew up very far from the balmy summers of South Florida in British Colombia. "But it's a great spot, obviously, to live and play hockey. It's a real first-class organization here. I'm really happy."

A fourth-round pick (106th overall) in last weekend's draft at Rogers Arena in his hometown of Vancouver, B.C., Berger is one of three members of the organization's 2019 draft class hoping to one day man the blue line at BB&T Center in Sunrise. In addition to Berger, Florida also used early picks on defensemen Vladislav Kolyachonok (52nd overall) and John Ludvig (69th overall).

In the few days that have passed since hearing their collective name's called at the draft, all three of these newly minted Panthers prospects haven't had much time to soak everything in. They've traveled many thousands of miles, met dozens of new people and been living out of suitcases, but they've done it all with a smile on their face. They're living the dream, after all.

"It's been a whirlwind," Berger said. "It's been a week since the draft and things are finally starting to settle down. I've really just been adjusting to life here and getting my feet wet here… I'm just trying to get comfortable with the organization here and meet some new people."

"It's starting to set in and it's starting to feel like home more," Ludvig said. "I'm a little more comfortable. It's been an awesome week. I'm really happy to be here. You have to get out of your comfort zone. Guys are veterans here, but they're all good guys. It's been pretty easy."

"It's been a busy week, but it's an exciting week," Kolyachonok said. "I always wanted to be here. I really enjoyed my time [in Vancouver] and here. It's amazing. I've waited for this moment my whole life. Now I want to do everything I can to be a Panther."

While they all play the same position, each of these new rearguards brings something different to the table.

A smooth skater with a knack for finding the back of the net, Berger, who went undrafted last year, absolutely dominated the BCHL this past season. The 20-year-old was the top-scoring defenseman on the Victoria Grizzlies, pacing the league's blueliners in both goals (27) and points (63) - both of which were also career-high marks.

"I think I'm an offensive, puck-moving defenseman," Berger said. "I like to jump in the play, beat the forecheckers up the ice and be that fourth man in to create offense as much as I can."

Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Jason Bukala said Berger, who stands 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, was a targeted by the club as one of the "top-10 skaters" in the entire 2019 draft class.

"I want to show all the players, staff and management what I'm all about," Berger said.

Berger is committed to play for the University of Connecticut starting in 2019-20.

"This is the time of the year where the offseason training really starts to pick up," Berger said. "I took a month off after the season to just kind of decompress and let things sink in. There's about nine or 10 weeks until September, so I think everything starts to pick up a little bit around now."

In looking at Ludvig, the first thing that stands out is his physicality.

At 6-foot-1 and 198-pounds, he's an 18-year-old with a mean streak who puts a little bit of fear into his opponents every time he hops over the boards onto the ice. In 58 games with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks last season, he tallied five goals, 13 assists and a career-high 77 penalty minutes. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, he also gladly participated in his fair share of fights.

"I'm definitely a defense-first type of guy," said Ludvig, whose father, Jan, played 314 games in the NHL with Buffalo and New Jersey. "The main thing with me is that I play hard and like to win. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win. Whether it's blocking a shot, fighting, trying to score a goal, I'll do it."

Like he said, there's a lot more to Berger's game than what he can do with his fists.

Playing top-pairing minutes with the Winterhawks, he was typically tasked with shutting down the opposition's top players on a nightly basis. An exceptional shot blocker and penalty killer, he wants to round out his game next season in Portland by showcasing a little more on offense.

"I am a hard-nosed player and I am not going to take it easy on anyone, but a lot of people don't know that I have a little bit of offense in me," Ludvig said. "I plan on showing that in the future."

While Berger learns more towards offense and Ludvig towards defense, Kolyachonok wants to be somewhere right in the middle of the pair, working hard to become a two-way defenseman.

In his first season in North America, the 18-year-old registered four goals and 25 assists in 53 games with the OHL's Flint Firebirds. Prior to that, he'd spent the previous two years honing his skills in his native Belarus, playing with U-17 and U-18 squads in the Belarusian Extraleague B.

At the 2019 U-18 IIHF World Junior Championship, Kolyachonok produced at a point-per-game clip, racking up a goal and four assists over five tournament games while captaining Belarus.

"I want to be better in every part of my game, especially my offense, my conditioning and my shot," said Kolyachonok, who added that he's also determined to build up his 6-foot-2, 187-pound frame in order to prepare himself for the rigors of the NHL. "This is a big summer for me. I want to show up in August and September."

Kolyachonok and Ludvig are both expected to return to South Florida for rookie camp later in the summer, while Berger's collegiate commitments will keep him away until next offseason.

"I think it's been a great week," said Geordie Kinnear, the head coach of Florida's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. "The three days we've been on the ice, the energy from the players has been outstanding. I think there's been a lot of hunger in the group."

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