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Panthers Pipeline Highlighted on Hockey News' 'Future Watch' List

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

The Florida Panthers pipeline certainly isn't lacking in firepower.

With the recent release of the annual "Future Watch" list from The Hockey News, the Panthers continue to garner recognition for their burgeoning pool of talent, as five of the team's prospects - all of them forwards - have been named among the league's top-100 prospects on this year's esteemed rankings.

Founded in 1947, The Hockey News is widely recognized as one of the sport's preeminent publications.

"We're proud of the work our amateur scouts have put into evaluating talented young players around the world," Panthers president of hockey operations and general manager Dale Tallon said. "We have a collaborative, progressive process in place, which has allowed us to successfully identity and develop future Florida Panthers. The prospects in our pipeline will help us achieve and sustain success as an organization in years to come as we continue to work toward our goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to South Florida."

In perusing the rankings, you won't get very far before you come across your first Panther, as Grigori Denisenko, who was taken 15th overall in last year's draft, occupies the sixth-overall spot on the list.

At the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, the 18-year-old was one of the most talked about players at the event, earning a spot on the tournament's all-star team after posting four goals and five assists in seven games to help Russia claim a bronze medal. He also finished tied for the tournament scoring title.

Still getting his feet wet in the KHL, Denisenko recorded four goals and two assists in 25 regular-season games and three assists in six playoff games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this season. But, as it was at World Juniors, he shined within in his own age group, finishing with 17 points over 13 international contests.

"He's a special talent," Panthers director of player personnel Bryan McCabe said. "He obviously had a coming out party at the World Juniors. I don't think many people knew about him because he played over in Russia. But playing at the tournament in Vancouver, he really elevated his game and showed everyone what he was about."

Next up on the list you'll find Henrik Borgstrom, who comes in at No. 16. After making his NHL debut at the tail end of last season, the 21-year-old center has been steady during his first season in the pros. The 23rd overall pick in 2016, he was named an AHL All-Star before being called up to the NHL in December.

In 49 games with the Panthers this season, he's accumulated eight goals and 10 assists.

Just a few spots behind Borgstrom in the No. 23 spot is Owen Tippett, who is poised to make the jump to the pros next season. The 10th overall pick in 2017, the 20-year-old winger is currently competing for the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL playoffs. As of now, he is tied for second in the postseason with five goals.

Prior to his playoff run, Tippett registered a combined 33 goals and 74 points in 54 games split between Mississauga and Saginaw (he was traded from the Steelheads to the Spirit for a player and six draft picks in January). He also turned heads at the World Juniors, posting four points in four games with Canada.

Florida is the only team in the NHL with three prospects ranked in the top-25 on the "Future Watch" list.

"It's a credit to our scouting staff," McCabe said. "They put a lot of hard work and time in at the rinks, going all over the country watching these guys and getting dialed in. They've done a great job drafting, as you can tell by the list in The Hockey News, but you can also see with the guys we've got playing right now… The future's bright. We're not happy with where we're at this year, but we've got a lot of guys in the stable coming up through the ranks here that are going to make us a great team for a lot of years."

Farther down the list, you'll find a pair of Panthers prospects on opposite ends of the size spectrum.

Listed at 5-foot-10 and 147 pounds, Aleksi Heponiemi's build is likely the only reason he's ranked 64th on the list instead of somewhere closer to the top-25. But in his first season competing in his Liiga, the top pro circuit in his native Finland, the former 2017 second-round pick showed that stature isn't an issue.

Producing at almost point-per-game clip, the 20-year-old winger ranked 11th in league-scoring with 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games this season. Additionally, at the World Juniors, he finished tied with Denisenko in tournament scoring, picking up nine points to help lead Finland capture a gold medal.

Heponiemi is currently competing in the semifinals of the Liiga playoffs.

The fifth and final Panther on this year's list, all 6-foot-5 and 213 pounds of Serron Noel can be found occupying the 80th overall spot. One of the organization's youngest prospects, Noel was just 17 years old he was scooped up with the 34th overall selection in last year's draft - a pick that still looks like a steal.

Recently named the top forward on the OHL's Oshawa Generals, Noel finished the season with career-highs in goals (34), assists (47) and points (81) in 68 games. His 81 points also ranked him 22nd in the league. Like Tippett, he is currently competing in the OHL playoffs, notching four points in five games.

"He had a great, great year," McCabe said of Noel, who was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract in March. "I always love to see guys perform well in the playoffs. Both Tippy and him are off to good starts. They won their first-round series. We hope those guys can win a championship in juniors before they start their pro careers."

Looking ahead, McCabe said he's excited to see how all five prospects continue to develop.

"We expect them to make the next step and keep working towards their goal of making the NHL and making a career of it, winning a Stanley Cup and helping put the Florida Panthers over the top," he said.

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