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Panthers Prospects on the Prowl

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Frank Seravalli

Special to floridapanthers.com


‘Tis that time of season. No, not for shopping, eating, or dipping into the eggnog, but it is time once again for some of the best hockey in the world to drop the puck again. This year’s World Junior Championships will take place in the Czech Republic. The cities of Liberec and Pardubice will play host to the best under 20-year old players representing ten different countries. The winners will be immortalized in junior hockey history, and the losers will be relegated to a lower division of junior tournaments.

Luckily for Panthers fans, Florida ties four other NHL clubs for the largest number of draft picks represented with five. Hopeful future Panthers will be suiting up for the United States, Canada, Russia, and the Czech Republic.

Forward Shawn Matthias (tsn.ca)
Perhaps the most interesting player to keep an eye on will be Shawn Matthias on Team Canada. The Mississauga, ON native was not originally a Panther when drafted – but came over to the team in the trade with Detroit for Todd Bertuzzi. After two relatively quiet seasons in Belleville (OHL), Matthias had a breakout season last year. Matthias put up 73 points in 65 games, more than doubling his production from the 2006 season that was good enough to get him drafted in the middle of the 2nd round. He has continued to compound on his totals this season.

One of Matthias’ biggest assets is his size – the center is a hearty 6’4” tall with a 213 pound frame. In addition, Matthias has vastly improved on his passing and play making abilities. Instead of just relying on putting the puck in the net, Matthias has put the puck on his teammate’s sticks to make himself a more versatile threat. This season, Matthias not only challenged for a spot on the Panthers in training camp, but he is in the top five in OHL scoring. He has notched an impressive 56 points in 30 games.

Matthias, 19 years old, previously appeared in a Team Canada jersey in the U18 World Championships two years ago. His scoring prowess has been on display in the three exhibition games overseas while preparing for the start of the tournament; Matthias netted four goals and an assist. Look for Matthias to continue his dominant play as a key member of Canada’s attempt at a fourth straight gold medal.

Forward Michael Frolik (Getty Images)
Just as big as Matthias will be for Team Canada, so too will Michael Frolik be an integral part of Team Czech Republic’s success in the tournament. Frolik, Florida’s 1st round pick in 2006, brings creativity, speed, and leadership to the table in Liberec and Pardubice. As witnessed through his All-QMJHL Rookie team selection last year, Frolik has adjusted well to the North American style of play. He is on pace to exceed his 73 points that he notched last season. This year, Frolik was named an alternate captain on his Rimouski Oceanic squad and in October he was named the “Q” Offensive Player of the Week.

Frolik, only two days older than Matthias, is part of the Czech squad that could contend for a medal. They have failed to medal in each of the last two tournaments, but they should give Canada a run for their money in Group A. The Czech’s and Frolik could matchup with Team USA and Panthers prospect Matt Rust in the tournament's playoffs.

Forward Matt Rust (Getty Images)
Rust, just 18 years old, is a freshman on #1 ranked University of Michigan in the NCAA’s CCHA. He is currently tied for fifth in team scoring with 12 points in 18 games. This is Rust’s first appearance in the world’s most prestigious junior tournament, though he appeared last year in the U18 version.  Rust has helped Michigan jump out to a 16-2-0 start in the first semester. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the Panthers 4th round pick this year is a product of the US National Development program which has produced numerous NHL stars. Rust hasn’t been shy in contributing to Michigan’s success, so look for the U20 rookie to step up in the Czech.

Forward Evgeni Dadonov (Getty Images)
The Panthers also have two Russian prospects participating in the tournament. Goaltender Sergei Gayduchenko and Evgeni Dadonov will be making their World Junior Championship debuts for a team that is a strong contender for a medal. The Russians have grabbed the silver medal in each of the last three seasons. Dadonov, 18, has quadrupled his point production from last year for Chelyabinsk Trator, his hometown club, in the Russian league. The crafty forward was a 3rd round pick this year. Gayduchenko, one of the last players chosen in the 2007 draft, has made big strides in his game. An awkward 6’5” and 222 pounds, Gayduchenko is one of the biggest goaltenders in recent history. He will challenge for playing time throughout the tournament.


Check in throughout the tournament as floridapanthers.com will have live coverage and feature stories on all of its prospects from the Czech Republic.

FIRST ROUND
Match #
Date
Time (EST)
Matchup
Venue
1
Dec. 26
10am
Sweden vs Slovakia
Pardubice Arena
2
Dec. 26
10am
USA vs Kazakhstan
Tipsport Arena
3
Dec. 26
2pm
Czech Republic vs Canada
Pardubice Arena
4
Dec. 26
2pm
Finland vs Russia
Tipsport Arena
5
Dec. 27
10am
Slovakia vs Canada
Pardubice Arena
6
Dec. 27
10am
Kazakhstan vs Russia
Tipsport Arena
7
Dec. 27
2pm
Czech Republic vs Denmark
Pardubice Arena
8
Dec. 27
2pm
Finland vs Switzerland
Tipsport Arena
9
Dec. 28
12pm
Denmark vs Sweden
Pardubice Arena
10
Dec. 28
12pm
Switzerland vs USA
Tipsport Arena
11
Dec. 29
10am
Slovakia vs Czech Republic
Pardubice Arena
12
Dec. 29
10am
Kazakhstan vs Finland
Tipsport Arena
13
Dec. 29
12pm
Canada vs Sweden
Pardubice Arena
14
Dec. 29
12pm
Russia vs USA
Tipsport Arena
15
Dec. 30
12pm
Denmark vs Slovakia
Pardubice Arena
16
Dec. 30
12pm
Switzerland vs Kazakhstan
Tipsport Arena
17
Dec. 31
8am
Sweden vs Czech Republic
Pardubice Arena
18
Dec. 31
8am
Russia vs Switzerland
Tipsport Arena
19
Dec. 31
12pm
Canada vs Denmark
Pardubice Arena
20
Dec. 31
12pm
USA vs Finland
Tipsport Arena
PLAYOFF AND REGULATION ROUND
21
Jan. 2
10am
Qualification Game (2A-3B)
Pardubice Arena
22
Jan. 2
10am
Relegation Game (4A-5B)
Tipsport Arena
23
Jan. 2
2pm
Qualification Game (2B-3A)
Pardubice Arena
24
Jan. 2
2pm
Relegation Game (4B-5A)
Tipsport Arena
25
Jan. 3
10am
Relegation Game (5B-5A)
Tipsport Arena
26
Jan. 3
12pm
5th Place Game
Pardubice Arena
27
Jan. 3
2pm
Relegation Game (4A-4B)
Tipsport Arena
28
Jan. 4
10am
Semi-Final (1A vs winner 2B-3A)
Pardubice Arena
29
Jan. 4
2pm
Semi-Final (2B vs winner 2A-3B)
Pardubice Arena
30
Jan. 5
10am
Bronze Medal Game
Pardubice Arena
31
Jan. 5
2pm
Gold Medal Game
Pardubice Arena
View More