After the loss to the Bruins, are you looking for some good Panther news? Well, sir, or ma'am, you have come to the right place. Michael Matheson, the Panthers first round draft pick in 2012 has left Boston College after his junior season and signed an entry-level deal with the club. He will report for immediate duty with the San Antonio Rampage. Yet another warm LBC welcome to the newest blue-liner in the Panthers organization! What, you may ask, is the story on this young man, and why are we so excited to have him in the fold? Here is the www.hockeysfuture.com write up regarding Michael (who they listed as the Cats top prospect).
"Matheson has had to shoulder the load at Boston College after the team lost several key players to graduation and other commitments. Though his statistics have not been impressive, the experience handling adversity in a larger role should benefit Matheson in the long run. He has played a much more disciplined game in his junior season and has been relied upon in all situations. After struggling early in the year, the Eagles again finished the season as one of the top teams in Hockey East and could make some noise in the post-season."
From the same website, an examination of Matheson's talent:
"Matheson is a top-flight offensive defenseman prospect. He has improved his defensive positioning since early in his college career but is still a work in progress in his own zone. He needs to improve his physical play and focus less on the puck as opponents attack. When he moves out of his zone Matheson shines. He has dazzling speed and is a skilled puckhandler who adds tremendous pressure up ice with his skating and his shot."
Also taken from hockeysfuture.com and their Frozen Four preview of the Boston College vs. University of Denver match-up (Denver won, but Matheson scored one of Boston College's two goals, and assisted on the other):
"Boston College’s predominantly young blueline possesses elite-level skill and tremendous speed. Junior Michael Matheson (FLA) provides both leadership and stability that have been crucial to the Eagles success this season. Matheson has played in all 37 games this season, posting 23 points (two goals, 21 assists)."
Matheson's road to the professional ranks has been a well thought out development, starting before the Panthers made him their 1st round choice in 2012. As this article from 2013 shows, the then teenaged defenseman and his family chose NCAA hockey for all the right developmental reasons:
"My dad and I sat at our kitchen table and put schedules side by side," he said. "We just took a basic college schedule and a basic QMJHL schedule, and looked at how often the games were and in juniors, you’re playing pretty much every two days and there can be a lot of travel at times, so getting in lifts would have been hard. On a typical week at BC I can get in at least three good workouts per week."
Boston College has done just that for the junior blue-liner, as Matheson has grown into a 6'2", 194lb. 22-year-old with much improved defensive zone ability to go along with his offensive prowess. The prospect has packed on size and muscle since being drafted.
Boston College issued a press release regarding the signing which included this description of Matheson's accomplishments:
"Matheson, who captained the Eagles as a junior this past season, played in 112 games for Boston College, logging 14 goals and 57 assists (71 points) along the way. The Canadian blue liner was Boston College's leading career point scorer the entire 2014-15 season"
Dale Tallon had this to say about the signing (from the Panthers website):
"Michael is a talented, young, mobile, hard-working defenseman who we are pleased to have signed," said Tallon. "Since being selected in the first round of the NHL draft in 2012, Michael has led Boston College to three consecutive NCAA appearances, while also serving as the team’s captain this past season. He is another one of our top prospects who will continue to develop his game playing while playing in the American Hockey League."
The skill set that this blue-liner is known for-- smooth, fast skater, excellent puck handler and puck mover, exceptional as the quarterback on the power play, and with a vastly improved defensive zone game and solid shot-- all position him perfectly to someday replace an aging Brian Campbell. Campbell has one more season under contract with the Cats before he becomes a 36-year-old UFA. While Campbell has been a somewhat controversial player amongst Panther fans this season, he is still a smooth skating and solid puck moving defenseman, but certainly time and age has begun to catch up with him. A replacement will have to be developed, and Matheson's name is the one most often associated with that role.
To be sure, the Panthers do not have a prospect that could fill Campbell's role in the organization like Matheson is projected to (especially with Mackenzie Weegar 's struggles in his first professional season in the AHL). But Matheson offers a bit more (in theory) with a better shot, larger size, and more physicality that Campbell has brought for his last several years. Further, Matheson is a left-handed defenseman (like Campbell), who could pair well with the hard, right-handed shot of Aaron Ekblad.
Other than Matheson and Weegar, the Panthers defensive prospects do not tend to have this particular Cambell style skill set. Alex Petrovic is an Erik Gudbranson style defender who has a big shot and big, punishing frame he uses to gleefully crush opponents; Jonathan Racine is known as a punishing shut-down defender with no offensive upside. Ian McCoshen is somewhat of a cross between Matheson and Petrovic, perhaps in the Kulikov role of doing many things well. With that in mind, Matheson's importance as a prospect is brought into sharper focus.
The Panthers NHL level defense seems stable for next season, as all seven of the present defensemen are signed for next season. However, at the end of next season both Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell will be unrestricted free agents, and Gudbranson will be a restricted free agent. This likely means that Matheson will be given the opportunity to develop at his own pace at the professional level in Portland next season. Based on his history of smart developmental progressions, as well as the ability noted by all NHL scouts, there is every reason to believe that Matheson can develop into a very suitable replacement when Campbell decides to hang up the skates. Until then, we will enjoy watching him play in San Antonio and Portland and eagerly track his progress.
Welcome, Michael, it is wonderful to have you on board!
For a nice personal interview with our newest signee, check out: