While the Rampage offense has better upside thanks to new prospects entering the organization, the San Antonio defense has only two Panthers prospects, as three returning defensemen and an AHL veteran coming aboard. 204 goals were allowed by the Rampage (sixth in the western conference) last season, and fewer could be allowed this season. Here's my prediction on the defense:
Nolan Yonkman - Tyson Strachan
Yonkman returns to the Rampage blueline for his third (overall) season with the club. Last year's captain has 530 AHL games of experience to go together with his 6'5" size. Yonkman was captain of the Milwaukee Admirals from 2007-2010, bringing leadership and a mentor role for the young defensive corps. Never scoring more than 13 points in his career (matched a season ago), Yonkman can be expected to kill penalties and play a shutdown role.
A familiar name among Florida fans, Tyson Strachan (pictured above) signed a professional tryout (PTO) contract with the Rampage over the summer, and will play with the team for the foreseeable future. Strachan appeared in 17 games with the Panthers (including two playoff games), and 57 with the Rampage last season (also including seven playoff games), and could find a limited powerplay role, as well as being a major force among penalty-killers.
Colby Robak - Michael Caruso
Robak led Rampage defensemen in scoring last season, and was fifth overall. I expect Robak to play on the first pairing as soon as Strachan leaves the roster, along with inheriting the veteran's shorthanded ice time. Robak should be running the San Antonio powerplay and will be watched very closely by Panthers management, as his entry-level deal expires in June.
Caruso has been with the Panthers organization since 2008, playing three seasons with the Rochester Americans, and last year with the Rampage. Caruso scored a career-high 13 points and matched his goal total from last season with five. A fine AHL defensemen, Caruso could take Strachan's spot on the top paring, if Robak doesn't get off to a good start.
Alexander Petrovic - Jason DeSantis
Alex Petrovic was a beast on the Rampage powerplay in the postseason; a previous WHL Defenseman Of The Year, Petrovic will replace departed Roman Derlyuk on the roster, receiving hefty powerplay minutes and could even sneak into the penalty kill if his defense matures.
Jason DeSantis' role on the defense could be anywhere. The Oxford, Michigan native scored 11 goals for the St. John's IceCaps (AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets), was second in IceCaps scoring by defensemen, and third overall. Expect DeSantis to get a lot of minutes on the man-advantage.
Like the defense, the goaltenders for the Rampage will be familiar faces to anyone following the Florida organization. Eight different netminders suited up for San Antonio in 2011-12, with six actually seeing time.Now that the NHL lockout is in full effect, the Rampage have only to worry about injuries taking away goaltenders (at least for now), and won't have to try their luck with ECHL and European goaltenders to fill the void in net.
Markstrom played less minutes in the AHL than he did in his rookie season, but had a much more successful year overall. The Gavle, Sweden native stopped 92.7% of the shots he faced, allowing only 2.32 goals per game. With luck, Markstrom will have a healthy season in the pros and show Panthers Brass he is ready for the NHL grind in 2012-13. Before saving San Antonio's season only months ago, Dov Grumet-Morris played for Lørenskog IK of the GET-ligaen (Jack Skille's current hometown league thanks to the lockout). Don't let his age fool you, as Grumet-Morris can and will challenge Markstrom for the starter's job and might even suit up for the Panthers (he has a two-way deal with Florida) if the organization is fully committed to keeping Markstrom in the AHL.
Cincinnati (ECHL) bound:
- CHL Goaltender of the Year Michael Houser signed a three year entry level contract with Florida after impressing the Panthers brass at the rookie development camp. He'll likely be backup to Brian Foster in Cincinnati, or even third string behind Zoltán Hetényi (Nashville Predators goaltender).
- Drafted by Panthers in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, 131st overall, John Lee played four seasons (three with prospect Drew Shore) at the University of Denver. Scoring only 43 points in 162 games in college, the Fargo, ND native will have to impress if he wants a future in North American hockey.
- Josh McFadden also signed a three year deal with Florida after the rookie development camp. The Guelph, ON native was the captain of the Sudbury Wolves last season. In 2010-11 McFadden scored 72 points (19G/53A) in 67 games. In 222 OHL games, he has 150 points (0.68 PPG).