It was a very busy and very eventful draft weekend, and as expected the Panthers and GM Dale Tallon were very busy yet again. The Panthers came in with the third overall pick and decided to stand pat, drafting Sea Dogs forward Jonathan Huberdeau. As we've all heard before, Huberdeau is a top-notch offensive talent who will need another year or so of time in juniors to mature, but will likely be competing for a spot on the Cats in the next two camps. He'll bring a much-needed jolt of offensive flair and production to a very shallow forward corps in Florida.
But what about the rest of the draft picks? The big-name players taken in the first thirty picks are usually covered ad nauseum and it's rare to hear more about the guys taken in the lower rounds. As many hockey fans know, some real diamonds can be dug up from the lower rounds (see: Henrik Zetterberg), so we're going to take a look at some of the prospects drafted by the Cats this Saturday. Join us after the jump for more.
Rocco Grimaldi, F - 2nd round, 33rd overall
Much commentary was made of Florida's first selection in the second round on Saturday, as diminutive forward Rocco Grimaldi was picked at 33rd overall. A small forward at 5'6, 165 lbs., many teams left Grimaldi on the board due to concerns about his size translating to the NHL level (and, for some insane reason, potential concerns over his openness with his religious beliefs). That being said, many hockey pundits felt that snagging Grimaldi at 33rd was a major steal, as his offensive flair has been seen at every level he has played at. Hockey fans are familiar with the other "little guys" in the NHL that have become pretty big point producers over the years, such as Marty St. Louis, and the hope is that Grimaldi's game translates to that level in the NHL. At only 18, Grimaldi will likely not make the NHL jump for at least one more year yet, but he should definitely become one of the top forward prospects in the Panthers system moving forward.
Rasmus Bengtsson, D - 2nd round, 59th overall
Few Swedish defensive prospects in the draft not named Adam Larsson had as much positive feedback as Bengtsson, who some felt should have been taken ahead of fellow Swede Oscar Klefbom. His stock continued to rise after the combine, as he was reportedly in fantastic shape (3.6% body fat, lowest of any player in the draft). Bengtsson is known as a very smart, very effective defender with not much offensive upside at this point. However, his defensive game is very stalwart, and he has great mobility and vision. Clearly if he is to reach the NHL he'll have to further refine his offensive game a bit more, but Bengtsson will have the most success as a defensive defenseman. He is very good with his stick defensively, similar to current Panther Mike Weaver, and he has excellent vision in the transition game, often making solid first passes out of the zone. He is a perfect penalty-killing style of defenseman and if his maturation continues as well as his physical growth, it's very likely he will be suiting up for the Panthers in the next couple of seasons. Bengtsson is still only 18, so expect him to return to the Allsvenskan next season.
Vincent Trocheck, F - 3rd round, 64th overall
A teammate of Panther prospect John McFarland with the Saginaw Spirit, Trocheck was third in scoring for the Spirit this past season and is maturing into a solid two-way center capable of playing tough minutes. With the Panthers having a big need for depth down the middle, Trocheck is a solid pick that should show dividends for the Panthers within two to three seasons. He is a smaller forward at 5'11", 180lbs, but has shown a willingness to get his hands dirty and do the tough work needed in the corners and behind the net to make plays. He often plays bigger than his actual size, and has a very strong worth ethic as well:
"He's smart," Saginaw coach-GM Todd Watson says of Trocheck. "Good hockey sense — he wants to be a pro, he's determined to be a pro, do whatever it takes a pro, He's a very bright kid, he's a very convicted kid ... he plays like a six-four guy."
Trocheck's offensive game continues to improve, but he will need to continue to mature physically and work on his skating a bit more to stick in the NHL. Still, he has great hands and a natural tendency to do what it takes to succeed on the ice, so expect to see Trocheck get a pretty good look at camp the next couple of offseasons.
Logan Shaw, F - 3rd round, 76th overall
Shaw is seen as a bit of a project player long-term, but has all the tools to become a 2nd or 3rd line wing in the NHL if his development continues. He lead a pretty weak Cape Breton Screaming Eagles team in scoring this past season, and led the team in shots by a large margin. Shaw's biggest asset for the Panthers is his size, as he's only 18 years old but is listed at 6'3", 197 lbs. He will continue to grow and fill out and will likely fill the role of a tenacious forechecker for the Panthers in the future. His offensive game should continue to mature but at an NHL level it is expected he will become an energy guy and a depth winger. He does have good hands and a pretty good shot, so if Shaw continues to work hard it's entirely possible he could become a decent scorer at the NHL level as well. Another interesting note: Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel recently spoke with Scott Luce, the Panthers scouting director, and was told Shaw has a long-time allegiance for the Panthers. Can't say that for too many prospects selected by Florida in recent years!
Jonathan Racine, D - 3rd round, 87th overall
Racine will likely fill the role of a stay-at-home defensive prospect in the Panthers system, as he hasn't wowed scouts with his offensive game. However, he is a big, physical kid with the nastiness often displayed by fellow Panther prospect Erik Gudbranson. At 6'1", 182 lbs, he will need to continue to pack on some muscle to stand up to the rigors of the NHL, and he will definitely stick down in juniors another couple of seasons to do just that. He will need to continually work on his skating and role in the transition game and further refine his defensive zone coverage. One thing the Panthers liked about Racine's game is his ability to play a very physical game and another is his willingness to stand up for teammates and drop the gloves, as evidenced by the many YouTube videos of Racine engaging in some fisticuffs (even a fight against top Panther pick Huberdeau!) As with most defensemen, development is often slower, so Racine is at least two to three years out from having a real shot to crack the Panther lineup.
Kyle Rau, F - 3rd round, 91st overall
For two straight drafts now, Tallon has drafted Minnesota's "Mr. Hockey" award winners. Last year was Nick Bjugstad, and this year Rau was selected by the Panthers as the last pick of the third round. A Minnesota native, Rau was showered with cheers and applause when drafted this past Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, as he's a local hero for giving Minnesota high school Eden Prairie the state championship this past season with a triple-overtime game winner. Rau will join Bjugstad at the University of Minnesota next season, but will be several seasons away from becoming an NHL-ready player. He is smaller in stature at 5'9" and 163 lbs., but will have plenty of time to fill out and refine his game. His numbers at the high school level were fantastic, but he will be making the jump to the collegiate ranks next year and that should be a good litmus of his long-term potential. Watch for Rau's name next season as a member of the Golden Gophers.
Yaroslav Kosov, F - 5th round, 124th overall
Kosov is a towering young man already, listed at around 6'3", 220lbs. It's very clear he was drafted for one thing: size. His offensive production playing in the MHL was nothing to write home about, but he showed decent hands for a guy of his stature. At only 17, he will continue to fill out and become a seriously imposing physical force on the ice. It's almost a foregone conclusion that the Panthers drafted Kosov to be a third or fourth line forechecking winger capable of wearing down an opposition's defensive group. He is not known as a goon or enforcer currently, but may have to adapt his game a bit to fit in the NHL. He's a definite project player and will likely be several years out from suiting up as a Panther, if at all.
Ed Wittchow, D - 6th round, 154th overall
Another Minnesota product, Wittchow is a good puck-moving defenseman with good vision and a solid first pass. At 6'3" and 189 lbs., Wittchow is a pretty big kid already and will continue to fill out. He is a very solid skater for his size and has great acceleration. He will need to continue to develop all aspects of his game and will have several years to do so. He's projected to be a capable defensive player with a bit of offensive upside, and would likely be in a third defensive pairing if he's able to crack the NHL lineups. He does play with a bit of an edge, which should help him further define his role as he continues to develop his play style.
Iiro Pakarinen, F - 7th round, 184th overall
Pakarinen, a Finnish-born right winger playing in SM-liiga, is the Panthers final pick in this year's draft, but was a very solid choice to finish the draft (no pun intended). Known as a player with a solid shot and some natural scoring prowess, Pakarinen is only 18 years old but has great size (6'1", 194 lbs.) and uses it to great effect, battling hard in the corners and using his size to finish his checks. His offensive numbers don't jump off the score sheet but his minutes aren't quite there yet either, and as he continues to age and develop he will likely start seeing more opportunities. He could mature into a solid 3rd or 4th line winger capable of being a very strong forechecker, and his finishing ability gives him the potential to move up even higher on the depth chart. He was a very solid choice by the Panthers to end the draft and has a fair amount of long-term potential for Florida. He is one to watch in the Cats upcoming rookie camp.