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A look at the Florida Panthers - San Antonio Rampage relationship, and what to expect in 2014-15

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San Antonio will, for the first time, showcase a wealth of Florida's recent draft picks and free agent signings in the coming year. Who is likely to be in the mix, and who is on his way out? Further, is the AHL club being utilized correctly by the Panthers?

Ronald Martinez

As the Florida Panthers' top minor league affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage have great importance to the NHL club. For the last two seasons, with injuries, free agency and trade losses, a number of players have been shuttling back and forth between Central Texas and South Florida. This list includes players key to the Panthers future, such as Drew Shore, Vincent Trocheck, Quinton Howden, Alex Petrovic, and until his trade to Vancouver, "goaltender of the future" Jacob Markstrom.

The Rampage play an important role in filling the Panthers' needs, both temporary and long term. But San Antonio is also a team very much in flux, as the first wave of Dale Tallon-drafted prospects have now begun to fill spots on the team's roster. The Rampage will, for the first time, begin to showcase these players and determine who among them fall into roles as genuine NHL-level prospects. This is in contrast with prior seasons, where the team's roster was filled with a thinning selection of prior management's draft picks and AHL journeymen. But now, with so many former picks turning pro around the same time period, and several recent try-out and entry-level contracts signed, it will be interesting to watch how the Rampage roster fills out for 2014-15, and correspondingly, who gets sent to the Panthers' ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati.

This does not mean that the Rampage will showcase the best of Tallon's draft picks. The top players drafted are obviously already in South Florida to stay, with Gudbranson, Huberdeau, Barkov, and Bjugstad all firmly established as NHL players who have not spent time in San Antonio. Aaron Ekblad cannot play in the AHL next season due to restrictions in the CHL/NHL agreements. He will likely never play in the AHL. Instead, we will see the other Panther prospects battle for AHL time as they attempt to draw the attention of the NHL club. Roster spots in Central Texas are open for the taking, but they will likely be filled by one of a number of types of AHL player.

An AHL affiliate typically tries to fill its roster with four types of players, and the Rampage are no different in this regard. First (and foremost) the team must develop young players for NHL-level play. The AHL is often considered the second best hockey league in the world, and it is here that players play against grown men and NHL-caliber talent for the first time on a nightly basis. "If you can, make it here, you'll make it, anywhere".... well kind of. The second type of player an AHL team wants works hand in hand with the first: veteran players who are no longer (or never quite were) NHL quality, who can show the youngsters the ropes, and teach them the "right" way to do things. The third type of player is not necessarily a young player, but a player who has some special AHL level talent, yet is not good enough to be an every day NHL player. That type of player is often used for emergency call up duty by the NHL team, in case of injury or illness to a regular player. Finally, the fourth type of player is more or less a try-out: a player that may not have been drafted, or at least was not drafted in an early round, to determine if they have the ability to play at this level. Maybe this player was a late-bloomer, or needed a fresh start.

But an AHL team also runs in many respects like the parent NHL club, in that: players are professionals who must be signed to contracts, and reach restricted free-agency and unrestricted free agency, all within the parameters of a payroll that must be kept in check while managing players who are on one-way or two-way contracts, and the all dreaded movement of players between parent club and AHL or ECHL via waivers and loans. This can be as complicated, or more so, than running an NHL roster.

The Panthers have 22 players signed for next season who may be be a part of the Rampage roster for large chunks of the year. These players are:

  • Rocco Grimaldi (C/W)
  • Quinton Howden (RW)
  • Steven Hodges (C)
  • John McFarland (C)
  • Joey Crabb (RW)
  • Bobby Butler (RW)
  • Connor Brickley (C/W)
  • Logan Shaw (RW)
  • Jonathan Racine (D)
  • Josh McFadden (D)
  • Shayne Taker (D)
  • Alex Petrovic (D)
  • MacKenzie Weegar (D)
  • Michael Houser (G)
  • Sam Brittain (G)
  • Greg Zanon (D)
  • Brett Olson (C)
  • Drew Shore (C)
  • Vincent Trocheck (C)
  • Garrett Wilsom (LW)
  • Ryan Martindale (C)
  • Blake Parlett (D)

Some of these players may end up spending significant time in the ECHL next season for various reasons. Because the Panthers share their ECHL team with Nashville they have limited roster spots at that level. Therefore, we'll include these signed players for the time being as part of the AHL roster, unless there is just no real chance that they are going to play in Texas. Josh McFadden, for example, while signed, is not likely to play much at the AHL level because he has not been an ECHL standout. Also, of these 19 players, Shore, Trocheck, Petrovic and Howden could end up making the Panthers roster next season. But it is equally likely that they may spend the early season (or more) with the Rampage, so I have included them here.

Looking at this list we can see how these signed players fall into the four types of AHL roster players the Panthers want to build: Howden, Shore, Trocheck, Petrovic, Racine, Grimaldi and Houser are all young players being groomed for NHL full time duty. Hodges, McFarland, Shaw, Brickley, Weegar, McFadden, and Taker are all either about to be evaluated on try-outs, or (in the case of McFadden, McFarland, and Shaw) are nearing the end of their try-out period and must now reveal whether they can be NHL players or not. Crabb, Olson (Brett) and Zanon are veteran players who play the game the right way, have a wealth of experience, get occasional NHL call up duty, and are expected to teach the younger players the "ropes." Butler is that in-between player; he has had limited NHL success, but has failed to become a regular at this point in his young career. Butler is likely to continue as an injury and illness call-up for the Panthers.

Much has already been written about Howden, Shore, Trocheck and Petrovic in other articles. They are close to being NHL regulars and need not be discussed in great detail here. Suffice to say they are nearly done with their AHL "seasoning." Any one of them could easily end up breaking camp with the Panthers or be called up this coming season. They will be key pieces in San Antonio (if they end up there) to continue their development. Petrovic was recently rated as the Panthers prospect with the "hardest shot" by hockeysfuture.com, and that is something the NHL club could use sooner rather than later. Howden was rated by the same website as the Panthers' fastest prospect. Racine is also well-known in the Panthers community as a developing shut-down defender who is likely to play for the NHL team within the next three seasons. Think of Racine as a bigger Mike Weaver and you understand the kind of game he plays. These players are guaranteed positions with the Rampage as young and developing NHL players next season.

Rocco Grimaldi, Weegar, Hodges, Sam Brittain and Brickley, were all Florida picks that are about to commence their initial season of entry-level contracts. Grimaldi and Weegar are of particular interest as highly-touted prospects by the Cats. Along with those prospects already discussed, these two will be the most highly-rated and lauded of the Panther prospects in San Antonio next season and most eyes will be on the two of them to see how they handle the pro level competition. Hodges and Brickley will have "to fight for the right to" stay in the AHL (if you will) and not play in the ECHL. McFarland is a speedy forward with offensive talent, but he has been inconsistent and lacks much in the way of two-way play. It is unlikely that McFarland remains a Panther prospect, but he may get another shot at the AHL level this coming season. Shayne Taker recently finished his NCAA career as a solid defenseman for Notre Dame. He is big, physical, has a hard shot, and has shown improving production numbers every year in college. He was signed to a try-out with the team. Whether this places him in San Antonio or Cincinnati remains to be seen. Blake Parlett looks to be similarly situated for a tryout with the organization. Houser is likely to be the number one goalie in San Antonio to start next season but may face competition from the recently signed Sam Brittain.

Garrett Wilson and Ryan Martindale were both re-signed by the Panthers during this off-season. Wilson is 23-years-old and plays left wing. In 70 AHL games last season he put up only 30 points. In 2012-13 he played 26 AHL games and scored 5 points. That same season he played 38 ECHL games and put up 29 points. In 2011-12 he played in 63 games and put up 35 points. He is a big player, 6'2 and 200 lbs, and is a hard worker who got some NHL time last season (3 games no points, -1). Hockeysfuture.com recently rated Wilson the Cats "Hardest Working" prospect and noted that he works tirelessly at any task asked of him and ended up getting special teams play with the Rampage. Wilson has value as a wing on a franchise that lacks depth at that position. He still has the opportunity to find his way into a 4th line role in the NHL, while also showing a knack for putting up points in the AHL. Wilson is likely one of the top left wings on the Rampage next season.

Ryan Martindale was acquired in an AHL player for AHL player trade between the Rampage and Oklahoma City (the Edmonton farm team). He is a big 6'3, 207lb. center on a franchise not lacking at that position. With Barkov, Bjugstad, Pirri, Trocheck, and Shore all looking to become the Panthers' four centers, not to mention the newly acquired Dave Bolland, a center prospect on the Rampage needs to set the world on fire or play a very solid 4th line style role to have any hope of making the NHL club. Much can be determined simply by the fact that Martindale was dealt to the Rampage in a trade for Steve Pinizzotto and Jack Combs. When you are dealt in an AHL for AHL transaction it simply does not bode well for your NHL future in most instances. Martindale is reputed to have excellent talent at both ends of the rink and can kill penalties, but has had injury issues and some questions as to his commitment level. He is 22-years-old and put up 28 points in 58 AHL games last season. In 2012-13 he played 41 AHL games and put up 14 points. With Brickley and Hodges also vying for center spots on the Rampage, along with UFA Greg Rallo, Martindale's long-term future here is questionable. But he has a Tallon "body style" and centered none other than budding L.A. Kings star Tyler Toffoli in the OHL, so it's possible, If nothing else, he could become a Brett Olson style player who spends most of his career producing at the AHL level.

These 22 players who are already signed for next season (if all end up with the Rampage) leave few roster spots to be filled by the team.

"Who do you love?"

Enough, that is, to sign to a new contract. The Rampage/Panthers had four restricted free agents they decided to part ways with, as none of these four players were offered contracts and are done with the Panthers:

  • Jonathan Hazen (RW)
  • Anthony Luciani (RW)
  • Steven Anthony (RW)
  • Mattias Lindstrom (LW)

The Rampage/Panthers have 5 unrestricted free agents, 2 of whom are NHL veterans who spent the majority of last season at the AHL level. They are:

  • Ryan Whitney (D)
  • Mike Mottau (D)
  • Michael Caruso (D)
  • Greg Rallo (C)
  • Mark Mancari (RW)

Whitney is a 31-year-old NHL veteran, generally known as a puck moving defenseman. In 45 AHL games last season he put up 23 points. In 7 NHL games last season he scored no points and was -7. It is likely that his NHL career is over. It is impossible to determine at this point if he was a valuable locker room influence for the younger defensemen on the Rampage or not. With at least Racine, Zanon, Petrovic, and Weegar slotted for AHL duties next season, only 2-4 positions remain open for the Rampage. Whitney may very well be in competition with Mottau, and Caruso for one of those slots. He made $900,000 last season, compared with $200,000 for Mottau, and $90,000 for Caruso, making him by far the most expensive of these options. One would think that at the price tag he commands he'd best be one heck of a positive influence or he's going to be sent packing.

Mottau is 36-years-old and played 28 AHL games last season, putting up 9 points.  He played 8 NHL games this season with no points and was -3. Mottau is an NHL veteran, having played 321 NHL games throughout his lengthy career. In his brief stints with the Panthers Mottau always played hard and well on the defensive side of the puck. But at 36, it is likely he has little left beyond next season. Whether he gets a one-year deal to help train the youngsters on the blue line is the only question left at this point.

Of perhaps greater interest is what the Panthers and Rampage decide to do with Michael Caruso. The 25-year-old defenseman played 35 AHL games last season and 35 games in 2012-13. He played 68 AHL games in 2011-12, 78 in 2010-11 and 67 in 2009-10. That's quite a few games to show how much talent he has. There is no more guesswork involved with Caruso. The most points he has ever put up were 13 in 2011-12, but his +/- has always been decent on some bad teams. He is, at best, a bottom pairing defensemen and as a left-handed shooter he is far down the depth chart. Whether the Rampage decide to keep him on board as a capable defensive option is clearly a large question mark, but his future with the Panthers, that looked promising coming out of the lockout (before he was injured), appears to be no more than a possible injury call-up in the future. With the stockpile of defensemen in the system Caruso is likely finished with this organization. Does he have a better shot elsewhere? If he could not crack the Panthers lineup there is little chance he will do so elsewhere but he could eke out a solid AHL career.

Greg Rallo was third in points on the Rampage last season as a 32-year-old AHL veteran center. Rallo broke into the AHL in 2007-08. He played in 68 AHL games last season and put up 33 points, a rather steady number for this minor pro performer. He played 10 games for the Panthers in 2012-13 and had an assist. Rallo is valuable to the Rampage with his hard play, points production and veteran experience. At 6'0, 198 lbs., he is not a particularly large player, but he plays bigger than his size, and that may be valuable for teaching the likes of Hodges and Brickley.

Mark Mancari is a 28-year-old right wing who was acquired from the Chicago Wolves. He played 55 AHL games with 33 points last season. Like Rallo, Mancari is a career AHL player, who has been in the league since 2005-06 and been a consistent performer. As a right wing, Mancari's future with the Rampage will likely hinge upon what plans are for Howden and Shaw, as Crabb and Butler are signed and also play the right side. He has played 42 NHL games over his career and could be used as a 4th line injury call-up by the Panthers if necessary.

There are several other players that have popped up on the radar as former Panther draft picks or free agent signings that spent considerable time in Cyclones uniforms last season. With the Cyclones exceptional success in the playoffs this season some of these players that were not necessarily in consideration before, could get a look for AHL signings or additional AHL time this coming season. These players include:

  • Wade Megan (F)
  • Joe Basaraba (F)

In 43 games for the Rampage last season Megan scored 11 goals and added 6 helpers, while spending considerable time on the 3rd and 4th lines. For the Cyclones he played 16 regular season games and put up 20 points. He rejoined Cincinnati for their playoff run and put up 13 points in 22 playoff games. Megan may yet play himself into an AHL role but much depends on what he does next season.

Basaraba signed with Cincinnati after completing his college career at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. In 10 regular season games with the Cyclones he put up 5 points and in 3 playoff games he went pointless. Basaraba is unlikely to crack San Antonio's roster next season.

One other name is also still in the conversation for San Antonio next season: Tyler Barnes. Barnes was signed to an amateur try-out with San Antonio this spring after finishing his career at the University of Wisconsin. It is yet to be determined whether he impressed management enough to earn a minor league contract with the Rampage.

No matter the names, next season's Rampage team will begin showcasing the first of the next level of Tallon's draft picks and free-agent signings. It looks to be merely a time and experience issue before Trocheck, Shore, Howden and Petrovic are on their way. The compelling stories will be Grimaldi, and whether he can make it as a pro despite his size; Racine, and whether he continues on the road to become a physical, shutdown defenseman like the King's Matt Greene; Garrett Wilson, and whether his work ethic will translate to NHL 4th line grinder or Bobby Butler-type AHL standout career; MacKenzie Weegar and whether he can indeed continue to be the next coming of Brian Campbell playing against professional men; Sam Brittain and Michael Houser and which of them (or maybe none of them?) may become the heir apparent to Roberto Luongo as the goalie of the future. Who will they surround these youngsters with to teach them how to do things right? And will any of the young try-outs turn into the next Jason Garrison? Plenty of intrigue to keep us interested.

Roster look complete, are the Cats using this team correctly?

The next question is, are the Panthers using their AHL affiliate correctly? Are we, as a franchise, rushing players into the NHL without proper seasoning? This is certainly a criticism that we hear often, but is it true? Are the Panthers using their AHL affiliate to grow the most important two types of players the affiliate has for the NHL team: prospects and try-outs?

To make this determination I decided to take a look at what some of the top teams in the league are doing with similarly situated draft picks. This could be a monumental undertaking that could take you (the reader) weeks to get through, and therefore some parameters had to be set. I looked at every draft from last season back through 2005. Why 2005? Because with the 2004-05 season lost to labor strife a lot of developing and young players played full seasons in the AHL that year- that they may not have otherwise done. If Panthers fans look back at Jay Bouwmeester, he was playing full seasons in the NHL when suddenly he is in the AHL in 2004-05. This throws off the result if included. This can also be said of the 2012-13 season, but enough of the Panthers picks were still playing in juniors and college that it had less of an impact. Nonetheless, it cannot be helped that 2012-13 will skew the numbers slightly. Further, I only looked at players who played 30 or more NHL games. Rather arbitrary I know, but it should give us the kind of comparison we are looking for as it will filter out the majority of picks who never were NHL quality. Even many of those who have played 30 games never panned out in the NHL, but we'll stick with that number.

I realize that Detroit was not one of the best teams in the league this year, but their minor league developmental program is often portrayed as the shining example of how to slowly develop players. I also included Washington as they were one of the premier teams in the east until last season, and their minor league affiliate, in Hershey, was a great team for a solid chunk of this time period. Here than, a team by team look at several teams:

Boston Bruins:

Between 2005 and 2013, the Bruins drafted 9 players who ended up playing 30 or more NHL games for one team or another. Three of these players were drafted in the top 10 of their draft years, which will be an important distinction moving forward. Dougie Hamilton played no AHL games. Tyler Seguin played no AHL games. Phil Kessel played 2 AHL games. Not much in the way of "AHL development" going on for the Bruins top draft picks in this time period.

Of the 6 other players the Bruins drafted during this time period who have played 30 or more NHL games, the breakdown looks like this (starting with Bruins "stars"):

  • Milan Lucic (2nd round, 50th overall) No AHL games
  • Brad Marchand (3rd round, 71st overall) played 79 AHL games in his first pro season, followed by 34 his second pro season (when he played 20 NHL games). He would never again play in the AHL. Marchand played a season and a half of AHL games.
  • Matt Lashoff (1st round, 22nd overall) has played 74 NHL games since his draft in 2005. He has been more or less an AHL regular. He never really made it to "the bigs."
  • Vladimir Sobotka (4th round, 106th overall) played 18 AHL games his first pro season (along with 48 NHL games), and 44 AHL games his second pro season (along with 25 NHL games) before he was traded away from Boston, but his AHL time was over after more or less one season's worth of games.
  • Recent NHL arrival Jordan Caron (1st round, 25th overall), played 47 AHL games (and 23 NHL games) in 2010-11 (his first pro season). In 2011-12 he played 17 AHL games and 48 NHL games. In 2012-13 he played 47 AHL games and 17 NHL games.
  • Joe Colborne (who would finally make the NHL level last season with Calgary after being drafted in 2008) played 6 AHL games in his first pro season and 55 his second season before being traded to Toronto and finishing his development elsewhere..

Detroit Red Wings:

Between 2005 and 2013, the Red Wings drafted 13 players who have played 30 or more NHL games. Of great importance is that none of these players were drafted in the top 10 of their draft years. Only 3 of these players were even 1st round draft picks. Some of the reason Detroit may provide more AHL seasoning for its picks comes into sharper focus when you consider that fact.

  • Tomas Jurco (2nd round, 35h overall) played 106 AHL games before hitting the NHL roster for 36 games last season.
  • Riley Sheahan (1st round, 21st overall) played 110 AHL games before coming up to the Red Wings for 42 games last season.
  • Tomas Tatar (2nd round, 60th overall) played a whopping 265 AHL games before becoming a Red Wing's regular for 18 games in 2012-13 and 73 games last season.
  • Gustav Nyquist (4th round, 121st overall) played 122 AHL games before becoming an NHL regular. He did play an additional 15 AHL games last season, but it was well known that this was due only to salary cap and positional issues for the Wings and not whether he was ready or not.
  • Brendan Smith (1st round, 27th overall) played 152 AHL games before becoming a permanent fixture with the Wings.
  • Joakim Andersson (3rd round, 88th overall) played 189 AHL games before becoming a Red Wings regular.
  • Cory Emmerton (2nd round, 41st overall) played a whopping 270 AHL games (including a return to AHL duties last season after playing 119 NHL games in 2011-12 and 2012-13).
  • Shawn Matthias (2nd round, 47th overall) was traded to the Panthers before playing in the AHL. The Panthers ended up playing Matthias in the AHL for 88 games before he became an NHL regular.
  • Jan Mursak (6th round, 182nd overall) never made it as an NHL regular (having played 46 NHL games) and returned to Russia to play in the KHL. He did play 190 AHL games for the Wings. Often even playing loads of AHL games does not turn a draft pick into an NHL regular.
  • Jakub Kindl (1st round, 19th overall) played 229 AHL games before joining the Red Wings full time.
  • Justin Abdelkader (2nd round, 42nd overall) played 109 AHL games for the Wings.
  • Darren Helm (5th round, 132nd overall) played 122 AHL games for the Wings.
  • Mattias Ritola (4th round, 103rd overall) played 228 AHL games for the Wings but never caught on at the NHL level.

To be sure, the Wings are indeed having players spend a great deal of time in the AHL before moving up to the NHL level. Ritola, Kindl, Mursak, Tatar, and Emmerton really blow up the average for Red Wings players at the AHL level. It does not appear, however, that this is purely for "seasoning" purposes. The majority of players who caught on more recently with the Red Wings like Sheahan, Jurco, Smith, Helm, Abdelkader and Nyquist all played one to two seasons in the AHL. These players reveal another factor at play, which is that the Red Wings had a stellar, but established lineup for so long, it was nearly impossible for young players to get their break. As those older players retired, newly drafted players have been getting called up faster (and the Wings have suffered in the standings). So the Wings "seasoning" of young players looks more like a combination of several factors, including the afore mentioned seasoning, a log jam of talent that prevented spots from opening up at the NHL level (Nyquist was the perfect example of this), and the fact that their draft picks (due to their NHL level of success) left them with far later picks and players who were not close to ready to make an impact.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Much like Detroit, Pittsburgh's recent success has left them with picks late in the draft rounds. From 2005-13, the Pens have drafted 13 players who have played in at least 30 NHL games. Of those 13, five were first round picks. Of those 5 first round picks, 2 were top 10 picks. Sidney Crosby was a first overall pick in 2005 and played no AHL games before entering the NHL. Jordan Staal was the second overall pick in 2006 and likewise played no AHL games. The other 11 Penguins picks were as follows:

  • Olli Maatta (1st round, 22nd overall) no AHL games.
  • Beau Bennett (1st round, 20th overall) played 42 AHL games.
  • Simon Despres (1st round, 30th overall) played 107 AHL games.
  • Robert Bortuzzo (3rd round, 78th overall) played 236 AHL games (he never truly made it into the NHL).
  • Luca Caputi (4th round, 111th overall) played 228 AHL games (and like Bortuzzo never made an NHL career)
  • Jake Muzzin (5th round, 141st overall) played 146 AHL games.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (6th round, 171st overall) has played 203 AHL games.
  • Chad Johnson (5th round, 125th overall) played 170 games in the AHL.
  • Kristopher Letang (3rd round, 62nd overall) played 10 games in the AHL.
  • Joe Vitale (7th round, 195th overall) has played 134 AHL games.
  • Brian Strait (3rd round, 65th overall) has played 220 AHL games.

As has been realized by other writers in other places (such as at thehockeywriters.com), the Penguins draft history has been less than stellar since 2006. But what is clear for these purposes is that Pittsburgh moved first round picks into the NHL at the same sort of pace as most everyone else. It is equally clear that later round picks typically end up playing far more AHL games and fewer NHL games. While many of these players have hit my self-imposed 30 NHL game threshold, most of them did not become NHL regulars, as could be expected by late round picks. The Penguins are no different than any other team in the east that was studied for this article in how long they are seasoning top prospects with NHL futures, despite being a successful team with few roster spots open.

Chicago Blackhawks:

For all Detroit's noted draft success, during the same time period (2013-2005) the Blackhawks have picked 11 players who have played in more than 30 NHL games. 3 of those picks were in the top 10 of their respective draft years and 1 was a first round pick outside the top 10. Looking initially at the 3 top 10 picks, Patrick Kane (1st overall pick) played no games in the AHL. Jonathan Toews (3rd overall) played no games in the AHL. Jack Skille (7th overall) has bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL and will continue to do so with the Islanders this coming season. Once again, there is a notable difference when looking at players taken in the top 10 picks, and especially the top 5.

Looking next at players who became NHL regulars or stars:

  • Brandon Saad (2nd round, 43rd overall) played 31 AHL games before joining the Hawks full time.
  • Andrew Shaw (5th round, 139th overall) has played 66 AHL games while joining the Hawks full time.
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson (4th round, 108th overall) played 99 AHL games before becoming an NHL regular.
  • Dylan Olsen (1st round, 28th overall) played 156 AHL games before becoming an NHL regular with the Panthers.
  • Brandon Pirri (2nd round, 59th overall) played 238 AHL games before finally getting a shot full time at the NHL level with the Panthers.
  • Marcus Kruger (5th round, 149th overall) played no AHL games before becoming an NHL regular. He played 34 AHL games but that was during the lockout and he had already become an NHL regular.
  • Ben Smith (6th round, 169th overall) played 155 AHL games before cracking the NHL roster full time last season. This does include 54 AHL games during the lockout.

Much like the Bruins, we see most of the Hawks star power spending little or no time in the AHL. They are generally no place near what the Red Wings players are seeing in numbers of AHL games. But even the Hawks numbers of AHL games has some explanation (like Detroit) in NHL log jams that prevent players from cracking the big time roster. Pirri, Jimmy Hayes, and Dylan Olsen, were all (to some extent) victims in that regard.

Los Angeles Kings:

Between 2013 and 2005, the Kings drafted 16 players who have played more than 30 NHL games. Three of these picks were top 10 draft picks, and an additional 2 were 11th overall picks. Of these 5 players. Brayden Schenn (1st round, 5th overall) played a total of 47 AHL games (he was ultimately traded to Philadelphia). Drew Doughty (1st round, 2nd overall) played no AHL games. Thomas Hickey (1st round, 4th overall) was traded to the Islanders and played 212 AHL games. Jonathan Bernier (1st round, 11th overall) played 115 AHL games. Anze Kopitar (1st round, 11th overall) played no AHL games.

The majority of the Kings draft picks played in the AHL lockout of 2012-13, including those who had already played a season or two of NHL games. Thus, the numbers all become a bit inflated.

  • Tyler Toffoli (2nd round, 47th overall) played 77 AHL games.
  • Kyle Clifford (2nd round, 35th overall) played no AHL games.
  • Jordan Nolan (7th round, 198th overall) played 136 AHL games.
  • Vyacheslav Voynov (2nd round, 32nd overall) played 266 AHL games.
  • Andrei Loktionov (5th round, 123rd overall) played 135 AHL games.
  • Oscar Moller (2nd round, 52nd overall) played 110 AHL games (and is now back playing in Sweden)
  • Wayne Simmonds (2nd round, 61st overall) played no AHL games.
  • Alec Martinez (4th round, 95th overall) played 147 AHL games.
  • Dwight King (4th round, 109th overall) played 212 AHL games.
  • Trevor Lewis (1st round, 17th overall) played 182 AHL games.
  • Jonathan Quick (3rd round, 72nd overall) played 33 AHL games.

Washington Capitals:

The Caps drafted 13 players in this time period who have played 30 or more NHL games. Six of those picks were first rounders and 2 of those were top 5 picks. The 2 top five picks were Karl Alzner (5th overall in 2007) and Niklas Backstrom (4th overall in 2006). Alzner played 104 AHL games while Backstrom played none. The other Washington picks were as follows:

  • Tom Wilson (1st round, 16th overall) played 3 AHL playoff games.
  • Marcus Johansson (1st round, 24th overall) played 2 AHL games.
  • John Carlson (1st round, 27th overall) played 48 AHL games.
  • Semyon Varlamov (1st round, 23rd overall) played 33 AHL games.
  • Connor Carrick (5th round, 137th overall) played 13 AHL games.
  • Dmitri Orlov (2nd round, 55th overall) played 76 AHL games.
  • Cody Eakin (3rd round, 85th overall) played 82 AHL games.
  • Braden Holtby (4th round, 93rd overall) played 132 AHL games.
  • Michal Neuvirth (2nd round, 34th overall) played 40 AHL games.
  • Mathieu Perrault (6th round, 177th overall) played 167 AHL games.
  • Tim Kennedy (6th round, 181st overall) played 260 AHL games.

Kennedy has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL throughout his playing career. For the most part, Washington's 1st round picks are headed straight for the NHL, or are playing a very small number of AHL games, typically less than one season. The Caps picks are not spending much time at the AHL level in general, and this includes goalies, who normally require more minor league seasoning before playing in the NHL.

Florida Panthers:

Between 2013 and 2005, the Panthers drafted 15 players who would go on to play 30 or more NHL games. The Panthers have had 5 top 10 draft picks in that time. Barkov, Huberdeau, and Gudbranson were all Tallon picks that played no games in the AHL. Keaton Ellerby and Michael Frolik were also top 10 draft picks. Frolik played no AHL game and Ellerby played 150 AHL games before being traded and bouncing around the NHL.

  • Nick Bjugstad (1st round, 19th overall) played no AHL games.
  • Quinton Howden (1st round, 25th overall) has played 120 AHL games but has not proven himself as an NHL regular yet.

All the remaining draftees were picked by prior management.

  • Dimitri Kulikov (1st round, 14th overall) played no AHL games.
  • Drew Shore (2nd round, 44th overall) has played 99 AHL games and looks on the cusp of making the cross to full time NHL duty next season.
  • Jacob Markstrom (2nd round, 31st overall) played 131 AHL games before being traded.
  • Colby Robak (2nd round, 46th overall) has played 268 AHL games and is finally on a one-way NHL contract next season.
  • Matt Bartkowski (7th round, 190th overall) was traded to Boston, but played 175 AHL games before joining the Bruins this season.
  • Michal Repik (2nd round, 40th overall) played 243 AHL games and never made a full time NHL career.
  • Evgeny Dadonov (3rd round, 71st overall) played 100 AHL games before playing 51 NHL games. After those 51 games however, Dadonov would return to the AHL for 55 more games before returning to the KHL.
  • Kenndal McArdle (1st round, 20th overall) never made it to the NHL as a regular.

Vincent Trocheck has not yet played 30 NHL games, but its worth noting that he has played 55 AHL games to date.

The Panthers are ultimately little different than the other teams referenced. Generally, top 5 draft picks are moving straight from NCAA, juniors, and Europe to the NHL, along (to a lesser extent) with picks made from 6-10 overall. After that, it is ultimately a player by player determination of who is ready and who is not, but the Cats are seasoning later round draft picks in the AHL at similar levels with Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago (and more recently with Detroit), and more so than Washington. The difference is that this team has had more top 10 picks. We also appear to be doing a better job than Pittsburgh at drafting NHL-caliber prospects.

The criticism that the Panthers are rushing players into the NHL does not show through in these (admittedly) very limited comparisons. The Panthers appear to be using their AHL franchise much like these other franchises I've used for comparison, just with less success. That lack of AHL success is likely due to two things- the first being that the mid-level prospects other teams have completing their development as either soon-to-be NHL players or workable AHL level players do not really exist in great numbers in San Antonio because of prior management's poor work, and the second being poor free agent signings at the AHL level. The top 8 teams in the AHL last season were affiliated with Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Toronto, Detroit, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Columbus. While some of these would be expected (in the case of L.A., Detroit, and St. Louis), others- not so much. While AHL teams are often full of a team's prospects, even the best of NHL teams do not necessarily have the best AHL teams.

Once again, this is an area of inquiry where the Panthers prior lack of effective drafting, management, and player acquisition is rearing its ugly head. The Tallon management team has really had to start from scratch and build anew, and that includes the AHL team as well. For the first time in a long time, the Panthers may have a log jam of their own at the NHL level that mandates more AHL seasoning for certain players. Shore, Howden, Trocheck and Robak are all dealing with this issue now.

As much as folks say this will be an important and interesting off-season and season for the Panthers (and they are correct), it will be equally so for San Antonio. Much like the NHL team, the Rampage will need the right mix of veterans to teach the prospects, as well as effective injury call ups to be of maximum benefit to the Panthers. It will be very interesting to see how this "second tier" of prospects perform, and who (if anyone) provides a surprise graduation to the big leagues.