It's apparent the Florida Panthers have signaled the start of their youth movement following the trade of scoring leader Olli Jokinen at the 2008 Entry Draft. In fact, according to General Manager Jacques Martin, now is as good a time as any to give a few budding prospects within the organization a chance to shine.
"I feel we have some kids like (Shawn) Matthias and (Michael) Frolik that could be ready to play," Martin said.
In the Entry Draft, Florida used three of its five picks on defensemen and another to select Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom
Here's a look at a few of the Panthers top prospects, CENTERS Shawn Matthias --
Mattias was originally drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round in 2006; he came to the Panthers at the 2007 trade deadline in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi. Mattias played for Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championship, helping the Canadians win the gold medal with three goals and five points in five games.
Matthias' Belleville Bulls fell a game short of the Ontario Hockey League championship, dropping a seven-game series to Kitchener and newly appointed Panthers coach, Peter DeBoer. He established career highs with 47 assists, 79 points and a plus-21 rating in 53 games. He also scored two goals in a four-game callup with the Panthers and, with the departure of Jokinen and Jozef Stumpel, has a good chance to make the team this fall. WINGS Mike Frolik --
Frolik has been compared to Steve Larmer, the longtime NHL veteran who starred for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The native of Kladno in the Czech Republic played his first season of North American hockey with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2006-07, finishing fourth among rookies with 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists). He then represented the Czech Republic in the 2007 World Junior Championships, registering four goals and two assists in six games. Injuries slowed his progress this past season with Rimouski, but he still managed 65 points, including 41 assists, in 44 games. Michael Repik --
Repik, a native of Vlasim in the Czech Republic, was sidelined for two months with a concussion but returned to complete his third full season with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. He finished with 27 goals, 61 points and a plus-29 rating in 51 games. He also compiled five goals and six assists in 10 playoff games. Kenndal McArdle --
McArdle, the Panthers' first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2005, had a tough time in his first professional season. He struggled to overcome injuries (broken jaw, fractured foot) with Rochester of the AHL, scoring just five goals in 36 games. He was demoted to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL at the end of the season, registering three goals and four points in six games.
McArdle, 21, averaged a point a game for Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League in 2005-06 and 2006-07 season. He had 10 goals and 20 points in 26 games for the Warriors in 2006-07 before being dealt to Vancouver in November 2006. He played a role in the Giants' Memorial Cup-winning season, totaling 22 points and 54 penalty minutes in 37 games before signing a contract with the Panthers. DEFENSE Keaton Ellerby --
In his third season with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, Ellerby, a first-round pick (No. 10 overall) in 2007, racked up a career-high 25 points, including 23 assists, and 120 penalty minutes. He split time with Kamloops and Moose Jaw this past season, totaling 21 assists, 23 points and 81 penalty minutes with the Warriors. Despite his good mobility and feistiness, he still needs to exhibit more consistency. Derrick Lapoint --
The fourth-round pick (No 116 overall) in 2006, Lapoint is the Panthers' top-rated NCAA prospect, even though he's just a year removed from posting 13 goals and 36 assists in 59 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. The 6-foot-3, 186-pounder chipped in with two goals and five assists in 31 games as a freshman for the North Dakota.
Lapoint was dominant in the Wisconsin High School ranks, earning High School Player of the Year while playing for Eau Claire North High. He displayed solid skating skills, good passing and stickhandling ability while logging plenty of minutes. GOALIES Tyler Plante --
The Panthers' second pick in the 2005 Draft turned pro in 2007-08 after spending four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League -- during which he won the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the top rookie in the WHL after going 34-11-2 with a 2.58 goals-against average in 2004-05.
Plante struggled at the AHL level, going 6-16-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage with Rochester. He was better with Florida of the ECHL, where he went 4-5-1 with a 2.81 GAA and .921 save percentage in 10 games. Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer