The Florida Panthers continue to earn high marks this summer.
After having already padded their report card with good offseason grades from various media outlets following the draft and free agency, the organization received yet another accolade this past week as the Sporting News ranked Florida's farm system as the eighth-best in the NHL.
Led by former first-round picks Henrik Borgstrom (23rd overall, 2016) and Owen Tippett (10th overall, 2017), Sporting News contributor Steve Kournianos points to an abundance of top-tier offensive talent as one of the key factors in his glowing assessment of the Panthers pipeline.
"There's no rest for the weary, as teams that already hate playing against the talent-heavy Panthers have to face the reality that the Cats have even more skill on the way, mostly in the form of forwards," Kournianos writes. "Center Henrik Borgstrom leads Florida's crew of playmaking neophytes, and speedy winger Owen Tippett is good enough to make the club out of camp for the second year in a row."
While both Borgstrom and Tippett are expected to make the jump from prospect to regular NHL player in the near future, Kournianos believes that the selections of forwards Grigori Denisenko (15th overall) and Serron Noel (34th overall) in June's draft will help keep the pipeline pumping.
Aleksi Heponiemi, the 40th overall pick in 2017, is also expected to be an impact player.
"Florida owns two puck-possession monsters in wingers Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi, with the latter posting a WHL-best 90 assists - the most in the league by a player of any age in 21 years," writes Kournianos, the founder of TheDraftAnalyst.com.
Overall, here's a quick look at how the Sporting News ranked Florida's top prospects:
1. Henrik Borgstrom (C)
2. Owen Tippett (RW)
3. Aleksi Heponiemi (RW)
4. Grigori Denisenko (RW)
5. Serron Noel (RW)
6. Riley Stillman (LHD)
7. Samuel Montembeault (G)
8. Max Gildon (LHD)
9. Jonathan Ang (C)
10. Ryan Bednard (G)
In looking at that list, one of the most impressive things that stands out is the fact that half of the players listed were selected in the third round or later, including Gildon (66th overall, 2017) and Stillman (114th overall, 2016), who are arguably the organization's top-two defensive prospects.
Gildon, who led New Hampshire's defensemen in goals (8), assists (15), points (23) and shots (84) as a freshman last season, was easily one of the most noticeable skaters at this summer's development camp and was named to USA's roster for the World Junior Summer Showcase.
As for Stillman, who is the son of former Panthers forward Cory Stillman, he will make the jump to pros this season, likely joining fellow top prospects Jonathan Ang (94th overall, 2016) and Samuel Montembeault (77th overall, 2015) on Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield this season.
Under general manager Dale Tallon, the Panthers have made a concerted effort to flesh out the depth of their prospect pool, gathering draft picks and re-thinking the way they approach player assessment. By hitting on high draft picks like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Matheson and Aaron Ekblad, while also managing to find key pieces in later rounds like Vincent Trocheck and MacKenzie Weegar, the team has built one of the strongest cores in the league.
But in looking at how Florida's current crop of talent and how recent drafts have gone, especially with the highly skilled players now being snatched up in the mid-to-late rounds, it's clear that the window of contention for the Panthers could potentially stay open for quite some time.
"I like the direction we're headed," Tallon said in an interview with FloridaPanthers.com last month. "I like what we've got coming [in the pipeline]. The pieces are starting to fall into place, as far as our depth chart and the types of players I like to have within our organization. We think we're getting closer to what we should have long-term."