With a rookie camp and tournament coming up in only a few days, as well as Hockey's Future recently releasing their own respected list, it's time for my Top 20 prospects. The rankings are listed by my view of potential for success of the players, the position they play, and the value each player has to the organization.
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, C
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2011
HF Rank (1)
It's easy to see why Huberdeau is regarded by many as the Panthers' best prospect. At the age of 17, Huberdeau became one of most dangerous forwards in not just the QMJHL, but in the CHL itself. Backed by his superior puck skills and vision, Huberdeau lead the Saint John Sea Dogs to a first place finish with 105 points (43G/62A) in 67 games, and led them to a Memorial Cup championship, winning the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament's Most Valuable Player with 30 points (16G/14A) in 19 games. While Huberdeau has the skills to play in the NHL, he lacks the muscle. He has great hockey sense and the size to play in the NHL, but could use some work on turning the puck over during careless plays. A future All-Star and franchise player, Huberdeau should be ready to take over South Florida next season, on either the wing or center.
2. Jacob Markstrom
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2008
HF Rank (2)
After years of being the Panthers best prospect, Jacob Markstrom has finally found his match. Last season, Markstrom became the youngest goaltender to ever play for the Florida Panthers, and looks to make his first NHL start his season. A monster in the net because of his size, Markstrom takes up a lot of space and plays wide with his arms and legs that lets him get down and up out of his butterfly stance quick and easy. After a hard adjustment period to smaller ice, Markstrom suffered a knee injury that required surgery, cutting his season short. With his rehab on track, Markstrom looks to be healthy for the start of the San Antonio Rampage season, where he hopes to play a full season before challenging Jose Theodore to the number one goaltending job next season.
3. Erik Gudbranson, D
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2010
HF Rank (3)
Erik Gudbranson had a season many weren't expecting from him, his point totals grew with 34 points (12G/22A) on a defensive Kingston Frontenacs team. A potential All-Star, Gudbranson is expected to make the team out of camp after signing an entry level contract. He looks to improve his growing offensive skills and use his size and mental toughness well in the NHL. In a few years, he and Dmitry Kulikov should be a fine top paring.
4. Quinton Howden, LW
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2010
HF Rank (4)
Quinton Howden had a breakout season with the Moose Jaw Warriors, scoring 79 points (40G/39A) in 60 games. One of the best skaters in the CHL, Howden knows how to use his speed well and how to control the puck on the ice. The two-way forward seems NHL ready and looks to have a good shot at making the Panthers roster. If he does make the NHL, Howden will be perfect for Florida's checking line and penalty kill team, if not, he has a great chance of making the Canadian juniors team, as well as another playoff run with Moose Jaw. Bjugstad and Howden are tied for the number four prospect in my book, but since Howden might start his NHL career this season, he gets the number four spot.
5. Nick Bjugstad, F
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2010
HF Rank (6)
A former Mr. Hockey in Minnesota, Nick Bjugstad is huge forward with the skills to be an impressive power forward. Used on wing with Minnesota, Bjugstad scored 20 points (8G/12A) in 29 games, after missing the beginning of season with mononucleosis. While he isn't a very physical player, Bjugstad knows how to use his size to protect the puck and how to play in the defensive end. With more ice time next season with Minnesota and a shot on the American junior team, Bjugstad should improve his skating and improve his hockey sense. If his offense stays on track, Panther fans might not have to wait long to see Bjugstad's two-way game in the pros.
6. Rocco Grimaldi, F
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2011
HF Rank (7)
First round talented, Grimaldi has the talent to play in the NHL. A proven track record of production at every level, the captain of America's National U18 team will take his game to North Dakota. A dedicated player with a great work ethic, Grimaldi is one of the most fastest and agile skaters in his draft class. Able to outskate defenders, Grimaldi also has great puck skills and hand-eye coordination, which helps him pass the puck to open teammates or put the puck into the net himself with his amazing wrist shot. The only knock on Grimaldi is his size. His season with North Dakota should better than most freshmen, with many of the Fighting Sioux's best players leaving. He could also see time on the American junior team as well.
7. Evgeny Dadonov, RW
Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2007
HF Rank (5)
Evgeny Dadonov meteoric rise to being a part of the Panthers future continues after an impressive season with the Florida Panthers. Averaging 14 minutes on the ice, Dadonov scored 17 points (8G/9A) in 36 games, being one of the productive players on the post-deadline Panthers roster. Don't pencil him on the roster yet, Dadonov will have fight for a spot with the many forwards brought in by Tallon during the season. While making the NHL roster would be great, another season in the AHL wouldn't hurt, as his defensive game does need some work. The short, yet physical winger has NHL talent and can be a top-six forward when he cements a permanent spot in the NHL.
8. Drew Shore, C
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2009
HF Rank (8)
A Sexton pick, Drew Shore had an impressive season with Denver scoring 46 points (23G/23A) in 40 games. A player that does everything well, Shore's skating ability stands out the most, as he's able to reach a top speed that many professional NHLers can't. Shore doesn't play a very physical game, but does have potential to be a two-way froward, as well as an effective penalty killer. Shore has a great work ethic, but often does try very hard to do too many things on the ice, that often causes many turnovers. If Shore continues to improve, this might be his final season with Denver, as the Panthers might give him an entry level deal.
9. Colby Robak, D
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2008
HF Rank (10)
After four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Colby Robak played 76 games with the Rochester Americans scoring 24 points (7G/17A). Already an effective power play quarterback, Robak has pretty good hand-eye coordination and uses it to make smooth saucer passes. He knows how skate pretty effectively, and his defensive game improved heavily thanks to his stick-checking skills. However he isn't strong enough for NHL action yet, despite his size, and he often looses focus on his defensive assignments. With another season in the AHL, Robak could be a part of the Panthers top-four parings in the future, as well a power play specialist.
10. Rasmus Bengtsson, D
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2011
HF Rank (13)
Part of a strong crop of Swedish defensemen in the 2011 NHL draft, Rasmus Bengtsson is a player that showed up on the international stage last season. Scoring 12 points (3G/9A) in 19 games with Sweden's U18 team in the International Juniors, Bengtsson is a two-way defensemen with a long road ahead him. Bengtsson is a smart player with solid hockey sense that plays a quiet and responsible game on defense. Used on the powerplay with the U18 Swedish team, Bengtsson is an effective passer and a future specialist on the powerplay. Bengtsson is a project player who should spend a few more seasons in Sweden, working on his skating and trying to assert himself in the offensive zone. He has the potential to be a top four paring defensemen.
11. Alex Petrovic, D
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2010
HF Rank (9)
A physical and very big defensemen, Alex Petrovic had a breakout season on a powerhouse Red Deer Rebels team scoring 57 points (7G/50A) in 69 games. Petrovic isn't shy about using his size against opposing players, even if he does abuse it at times. While he doesn't skate as well as most players and his puck skills aren't what you want in a two-way defender, he has the potential to be a top-four defensemen, and could help out the Rampage if they make the playoffs this season.
12. Joonas Donskoi, F
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2010
HF Rank (17)
Donskoi is a highly talented two-way forward who knows how to handle the puck and skate at an NHL level. Scoring 27 points (16G/11A) in 52 games for Karpat, Donskoi was second on his team in goals scored. Holding his own against older players, Donskoi isn't shy about going after puck and knows how to play a smart game. Signed to a one-year extension with Karpat, Donskoi will look to continue his success in Finland's top league before crossing over to North America next season. He has the talent to be a top six forward, but he'll need to add some strength if he wants to achieve it.
13. Michal Repik, RW
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2007
HF Rank (11)
Michal Repik played 31 games for the Panthers last season, scoring eight points (2G/6A) while averaging almost 13 minutes of ice time, mostly on the Panthers fourth line. A very talented and speedy winger, Repik's offense and skating are NHL ready, but with the veterans signed by Tallon this off-season blocking him, it looks like he'll spend the beginning of the season in the AHL. If the Panthers can give him the ice time he needs, Repik could turnout to be one of the most dangerous forwards on the Panthers roster.
14. John McFarland, C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2010
HF Rank (12)
McFarland didn't have much success in 2010-11, as the former first-overall OHL selection preceding Taylor Hall, played 49 games for two teams (after a mid-year trade) in the OHL last season, scoring 38 points (25G/13A) for the Sudbury Wolves and Saginaw Spirit. Still a great skater, McFarland was often invisible over lengthy stretches last season. Signed to an entry-level contract, McFarland has the faith of the Panthers organization, and still has the talent to be a top-six forward. An impressive camp and breakout season are things McFarland needs to stay relavent in a system stocked with talented centers.
15. Corban Knight, C
Drafted 5th round, 135th overall, 2009
HF Rank (14)
Another Sexton pick, Knight had a breakout season with North Dakota. Scoring 44 points (14G/30A) in 44 games, Knight looks to be the Fighting Sioux go-to guy next season. A fine skater and face-off master, Knight is often described a pest, a player that makes opposing teams miserable. With another season at North Dakota, Knight should be ready to join the Panthers organization next season. While he doesn't have the offensive skills to be an effective top-six forward, he has the skills to be an amazing checking line forward, one that can win clutch face-offs and get into the heads of opposing players and coaches.
16. Garrett Wilson, LW
Drafted 4th round, 107th overall, 2009
HF Rank (18)
Wilson had a breakout season with the Owen Sound Attack, scoring 86 points (40G/46A) in 66 games, and 21 points (11G/10A) in the 22 playoff games before a concussion sidelined him for the rest of the Memorial Cup. An OHL First All-Star last year, Wilson signed an entry level contract with Florida and will likely join San Antonio in the fall. A two-way forward with top-six talent, Wilson will likely be destined for a checking line role with his gritty play and physical play in front of net.
17. Vincent Trocheck, C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2011
HF Rank (16)
Trocheck appeared on a lot of scouts' radars after his playoff performance, scoring 11 points (6G/5A) in 12 games for the Saginaw Spirit, as well scoring 62 points (26G/36A) in 68 games. A good decision maker and developing playmaker, Trocheck should get time with the American Junior team and is expected by some to have a breakout season next year. While he doesn't have any skills that standout, he does have an amazing work ethic and solid hockey sense.
18. Zach Hyman, F
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2010
HF Rank (19)
The CJHL Player of the Year scored 102 points (42G/60A) in just 43 games with the Hamilton Red Wings, and will begin his college career at the University of Michigan. A sleeper pick with top-six talent, Hyman's career is hard to project. He has some playmaking skills and knows how to use his size, but it's unknown how his game will translate out of Junior-A hockey. His freshmen year will determine his future in the NHL.
19. A.J. Jenks, LW
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2008
HF Rank (15)
Jenks' first season in the pros got off to a slow start, scoring 20 points (8G/12A) in 63 games. A power forward with agility and speed, Jenks needs at least one extra season in the AHL to develop. He's already a solid defensive player who can win face-offs and does well on special teams, but his offense needs a lot of work if he hopes to do anything more than kill penalties effectively in the NHL.
20. Marc Cheverie, G
Drafted 7th round, 193rd overall, 2006
HF Rank (None)
Cheverie spent time in both Cincinnati and Rochester, getting off to a rocky start after a very successful college career with the Pioneers. Cheverie knows how to use his body to cover the net and like many University of Denver goaltenders, plays a controlled game with the emphasis on positioning. Cheverie had early success with Cincinnati, winning runner-up for ECHL Goalie of the Month in November after going 6-0-2 with 2.59 GAA and a .949 save percentage, so he does have the potential to start. But he'll need to adjust to the full schedule of the pros if he wants to make it to the NHL as a starter rather than a career backup.