PLEASE NOTE THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY ADAM REID.
After completing my two previous articles regarding rookie phenom goaltender Jacob Markstrom, I decided I would keep with the future Florida Panthers’ players theme and take a look at our top three player prospects, based entirely on my own opinion.
In no particular order, my top three selections for our top rookies would be Erik Gudbranson, Quinton Howden and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Name: Erik Gudbranson
Height/Weight: 6-3, 195 lbs.
Hometown: Orleans, Ontario
Birthdate: January 7th, 1992
Erik Gudbranson was drafted in the 1st round, 3rd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers. The selection originally was a gamble on the Panthers part as Gudbranson missed 27-games that season with mononucleosis. In 41 games during the 2009-2010 season with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, Gudbranson managed just two goals, and 21 assists, while racking up 68 penalty minutes. Followed by the playoffs where in 7 playoff games Erik scored 1 goal, and added 2 assists as Kingston was eliminated in the first round by the Brampton Battalion. Despite his play, at the end of the season, Gudbranson was awarded the Bobby Smith Trophy, an award that is credited to the OHL Scholastic Players of the year.
Last season, Gudbranson entered training camp with some expectations of earning a spot on the Florida Panthers roster. He battled hard and technically won a roster spot, but the organization and Gudbranson’s agent couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract, so Erik was sent back to Kingston for the season.
Gudbranson made good use of his time last season with the Frontenacs as he appeared in 44 games scoring 12 goals along with 22 assists he also accumulated 105 penalty minutes. When you compare those numbers to the previous season, in just one year he scored 10 more goals, and had 37 more penalty minute as he become more aggressive after the puck which is what the Panthers wanted to see.
This season, Gudbranson entered camp with high expectations of earning a spot on the roster. With hard work, and determination, Erik finally received his spot on the roster. He made his NHL debut on opening night against the New York Islanders on October 8th 2011. The first point of his NHL career was on December 1st against the Los Angeles Kings. On December 11th, Gudbranson scored his first NHL goal against the New York Rangers.
It was announced on December 9th that Gudbranson would not be joining the rest of his fellow Canadians in the World Junior Tournament as the Florida Panthers agreed that they would not release him, keeping him here . This decision signifies his value to the Panthers at this level as they battle for a playoff spot.
Expectations: The Panthers hope that Gudbranson will continue to grow, and develop as a player as the NHL season rolls on. Now that he has his first point, and first goal out of the way, the monkey is finally off his back, and he can focus on playing his own brand of hockey. Florida is hoping that he will become a great outlet player from the blueline, and be able to log big minutes night in and night out, beginning in the not too distant future. Things can only get better for the young defenseman as his hockey career begins to flourish.
Height/Weight: 6-3, 183 lbs
Hometown: Oak Bank, Manitoba
Birthdate: January 12th, 1992
Just like Erik Gudbranson, Quinton Howden also had his name called by the Florida Panthers in the first round, as he was selected 25th overall by the Cats in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Howden spent the 2009-10 season in the WHL playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors. In 65 games with the Warriors Howden scored 28 goals, and added 37 helpers, making a strong case as to why he deserved to go in the first round of the draft.
Being strong, and making a case for himself is the story of Quinton Howden’s life. When he was young, he was involved in a bicycling accident where he broke his femur, and ended up in a cast from chest to toe. Doctors really doubted he would become much of an athlete as a result of the accident.
Just like Gudbranson, Howden was also sent back to his minor league last season, where he too proved he would step up his game to make a statement in the NHL. In just 60 games last season with the Warriors, Howden led the way with 40 goals, and 39 assists, good for 79 points.
After a tremendous season, Howden was offered a shot at cracking the lineup with the Panthers again this season. He had a good training camp, but due to great offseason acquisitions by the Cats, and some injuries, he was once again sent back to his minor club. In 20 games this season, Quinton has 14 goals and 15 assists already to lead the way for his team.
Howden was selected to once again represent Canada in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship, and easily made the cut as he will once again wear the Red and White. Unfortunately, during tryouts, Howden took a hit from Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly and is now suffering from what appears to be concussion like symptoms, but it is believed that he will be good to go on Boxing Day when Canada plays their first game against Finland.
Expectations: Florida intends for Howden to develop into a great multipurpose player which has a lot of firepower from the wing. With his experience through international hockey, and representing Canada, Howden will know how to be a leader on the squad.
Height/Weight: 6-1, 171 lbs.
Hometown: Oak Bank, Manitoba
Birthdate: January 12th, 1992
Huberdeau entered the 2011 NHL Entry draft with a lot of attention focused on him as one of the high ranked prospects which teams sought after. He was certainly expected to go high in the selection process, and that he did as the Florida Panthers selected him with their 3rd overall selection.
Huberdeau’s hype was built off tremendous play the previous season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. In only 67 games, Huberdeau scored 43 goals, along with 62 assists for an astonishing 105 points.
Thanks to the play of Huberdeau, Saint John easily won the QMJHL championship, and represented the league in the 2011 Memorial Cup. He was nominated for three awards, but did not receive either despite scoring 30 points in only 19 games in the playoffs.
In the Memorial Cup final, Huberdeau scored a goal, and added an assist, as the Sea Dogs captured the championship with a 3-1 win over the Mississauga Majors. Huberdeau was awarded the Stafford Smyth Memorial Trophy.
Entering training camp, Huberdeau appeared to be a lock to earn a spot in the Florida Panthers lineup. During preseason play, Huberdeau tallied three goals, and added one assist in five games, as he lead the Panthers in scoring. But, just like Gudbranson, and Howden before him, he was also sent back to his junior club, for one more season in order to build his confidence, get stronger and be able to dominate at this level.
Huberdeau has 10 goals and 28 points in 13 games as captain of the Sea Dogs this season. Just like Howden he was selected to represent Canada at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship. He is also trying to recover from an injury, as he is rehabilitating from a broken foot. Though he is wearing a walking cast, he skated on Friday for 15 minutes, and is penciled in the lineup for the opening day of the tournament as he is a key factor in Canada returning to golden glory at the tournament.
Expectations: Expectations are high in Florida for Jonathan Huberdeau. Coming of a great season in the QMJHL, Florida Panthers fans expect him to be the guy to become their player of the future. Huberdeau with the right work ethic could easily become the face of the franchise and one day the next captain of the Florida Panthers. Big things are expected as fans look to him to come in and make an impact within the organization making them a great team, with a solid center as their foundation, or franchise player.
When you look at these three men, Gudbranson, Quinton and Huberdeau, you see optimism and can’t help but to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside knowing that these three men will play a major role in the future of the franchise as our team becomes younger and younger each year, we have a massive stockpile of talent just waiting to come up, and make in impact in the NHL. A new wave of players, and talent to build a future Stanley Cup winner, all headed by these 3 guys.