For the summer months, since there aren’t any games for me to recap I’ve decided that I’ll be spotlighting a different Panthers prospect each week. After much thought, I decided that the perfect prospect to profile first would be my favourite player since he is a huge reason why I follow both the Florida Panthers and San Antonio Rampage so closely.
Michael Caruso began his pro-hockey career in 2004 with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. During his four years in Guelph, the 6’2” defenceman racked up 17 goals, 64 assists and 370 penalty minutes, in addition to playing for the Western Conference All-Stars during the 2008 OHL All-Star Classic, to make quite the name for himself. In 2005, Mike also earned the honour to play for Team Ontario during the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Canada. He would be drafted 103rd overall by the Florida Panthers the following year, in 2006. 2 years after finishing his career in Guelph, Mike was named one of the “Top 40 All Time Guelph Storm Players” as voted on by the fans. He returned to Guelph that summer for an Alumni Reunion Game where he would get to play another game alongside some of his former teammates like Drew Doughty and Ryan Callahan.
The 2008-09 season would mark the beginning of Caruso’s rookie season in the American Hockey League. He spent his first three AHL seasons with the Rochester Americans. In the 215 games Mike played in an Amerks uniform, he tallied 7 goals to go along with his 23 assists and 285 penalty minutes. His most impressive season with the Amerks was his last one. In the 2010-11 season Mike scored a career best 5 goals, in addition to being voted the Most Improved Player and the Unsung Hero by his teammates.
Mike got a change of scenery this past season when the Panthers agreed to have their prospects play in San Antonio, nearly 2,000 miles away from his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario. It wasn’t the picture perfect start everyone was hoping for, as it took 24 games for Mike to record his first point in a Rampage uniform. Caruso was playing great hockey, but no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t seem to catch a break on the score sheet. Finally, during the first game back after the Holiday Break in December Mike was able to find the back of the net. I guess all he needed was a trip back home and a bit of his mom’s cooking to give him the extra boost to get that first point. His point streak would continue the next night when the Rampage faced off against the Texas Stars. Throughout the remainder of the season, Mike’s play continued to pick up. During the “Pink at the Rink” night, Caruso netted the only Rampage goal of the evening with 3 seconds remaining in the game to prevent a shutout in front of the Rampage’s first ever sellout crowd. Later on in February, he stepped up as a leader while Captain Nolan Yonkman was on recall to the Florida Panthers when he served as an Alternate Captain for the team. Caruso finished the year with 5 goals for the second straight year in addition to the 8 assists and 63 penalty minutes he picked up. He continued to add to those numbers throughout the Rampage’s playoff run. During the first round against the Chicago Wolves, Mike picked up his first AHL playoff point in the fourth game of the series when he blasted a shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net. After defeating the Wolves in the first round, the Rampage faced the top seeded Western Conference Oklahoma City Barons for the second. During the series, which lasted 5 games, Mike assisted on 3 more goals. Two of those assists came in the Rampage’s Game 1 victory, and the other in the 2-1 Game 4 loss. The next game would be the final game of the season for San Antonio, but it was definitely a memorable season for both Mike and the Rampage.
Mike’s current contract with the Florida Panthers is up on July 1st, making him a restricted free agent a few days before his 24th birthday. Although he isn’t known for an offensive style of play, his outstanding work ethic, passion for the game, and leadership both on and off the ice is what make him the valuable player he is.
As always thank you for reading and feel free to leave any comments, opinions or which prospects you would like to see spotlighted in the future!
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