Yesterday on our Offseason Primer, we took a look at the upcoming NHL Draft and the possible players we might see the Panthers select. Today we will take a look at some of the young players in the system who could make an impact next season for the Florida Panthers.
We already have gotten a good look at some of Florida’s most exciting talent. Players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom will continue to be key pieces in the Panthers’ plans as we shift our focus to the 2013-14 campaign. The Panthers’ talent pool however does not end with these three. Over their years of futility, Florida has stocked up on young and exciting talent. We are beginning to see the result of all those player acquisitions as many of the young players Florida has acquired over the years are looking primed to break into the NHL sooner rather than later.
Here is a quick look at four Panther prospects with the best chance to make an impact at the NHL level next season:
Nick Bjugstad is a player that most Panther fans are already familiar with as he signed with the Panthers at the conclusion of his collegiate season with the University of Minnesota and was able to appear in 11 NHL games. In those games Bjugstad managed only one goal and a -8 rating while averaging 15:12 per game.
It was clear that Bjugstad had some trouble adjusting to the NHL game and he was the first to admit that it is going to take some time to settle in. The good news is, by getting those 11 games in at the end of the 2013 season, Bjugstad will be that much further along in his development and will be more comfortable going into the 2013-14 season than he would if he had not yet played a single NHL game.
I expect Bjugstad to experience some growing pains next season but I would be surprised if he is not, at the very least, an above average third line center by the end of the year. Long term, Bjugstad should develop into a top-six offensive scoring threat but for now I think the Panthers would be ecstatic to get anywhere from 10 to 20 goals out of their young center.
Quinton Howden was another Panther to receive an extended look at the end of the 2013 season. In 18 games, Howden failed to record a point and had a -11 rating while averaging 10:27 per game. While the numbers obviously were not there, it was clear, from watching Howden, that the winger made significant strides as his time with the Panthers progressed.
At 6’3″ Howden has a tantalizing combination of size and speed. While he was mostly deployed on the Panthers’ fourth line, the 21 year old displayed a level of skill that is indicative of immense scoring potential further on down the road. Howden played most of last season with Florida’s AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage and in 57 games he tallied 30 points on 13 goals and 17 assists.
Depending on the moves the Panthers make in the offseason, Howden could possibly start the year in the NHL. If he fails to make the team out of training camp, I would expect him to be one of the first players called up as an injury fill in. While Howden will certainly have his fair share of struggles as he adjusts to the NHL game, I think we will see him make an impact and I think 10 goals or so next year is not too much to expect from this talented forward.
The 21 year old defender made his NHL debut last season and in his six games played, he made an exciting case for why he deserves to be a featured Panther blue-liner for years to come. While he did not record a point, Petrovic did average 18:46 per game and saw some time in power play and shorthandedsituations.
At 6’4″ and 206 pounds, Petrovic has the size to become a physically dominating defender. He also has a blazing shot from the point and he displayed a keen ability to jump into the play offensively when the situation warranted it. What really stood out in Petrovic’s short Panther stint was his calm demeanor with and without the puck. Petrovic was one of the few Panthers to seem completely unfazed in their debut. Petrovic almost seemed too confident at times as he would sometimes hold onto the puck too long or try to do too much in his own end. Overconfidence however, is not a bad problem to have. As he spends more time in the league he will learn when he can take chances and when he should just make the safe play.
I expect Petrovic to challenge for one of the six defensive roster spots next season. If he does not make the top six out of training camp Petrovic, like Howden, will be one of the first players called up as an injury fill in. Based on the short preview last season, I have high hopes for Petrovic and my prediction is that by the end of the year, Petro will be firmly entrenched as one of the Panthers top four defenders.
Nobody in the Panthers’ system had a more decorated season than Vince Trocheck. Playing for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, Trocheck led the league in scoring with 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists) in 63 games. Trocheck also won the Red Tilson Trophy awarded to the OHL’s most outstanding player. In addition to all that, Trocheck also led his Whalers to the Western Conference Championship of the OHL playoffs.
It is clear that Trocheck has accomplished all that he can playing junior hockey and he will almost certainly be playing professional hockey at the start of next season. Wether he his playing his games with the Panthers or with their AHL affiliate Rampage remains to be seen but a player with Trocheck’s scoring ability will not be kept out of the NHL for long. The 20 year old may see very little time with the Panthers next season or he could cement his place as a dominant offensive force for years to come.