A Look to the Future: Your 2014-15 Florida Panthers
The huge weakness with the Florida Panthers farm system is how many years away the prospects are. Dale Tallon and his staff know this well and bought in a few veterans to hold down the fort until the prospects are ready to make the jump to the NHL. While the farm system doesn't have an elite scoring talent, it has depth at each position and its only going to grow over the years as Tallon's blueprint rolls on over the years.
Before we begin, I want to mention that these lines DO NOT include free agent, trade or draft acquisitions that could happen before the 2014-15 season. So no Sidney Crosby coming over in 2013-14. I will also add in contract renewals to players that I believe will have an impact on the top lines (Stephen Weiss).
Your projected 2014-15 Panthers after the jump...
David Booth - Weiss - Jonathan Huberdeau
Booth is signed through 2014-15 and will be 30 years old at that time. Weiss's contract expires in 2013-14 and unless something unforeseen happens, will sign an extension. If Huberdeau doesn't crack the roster this season (as in 2011-12) he'll be in the final year of his entry level contract. Panthers fans know (or should know) about Booth and Weiss, so I won't spend time on them, so the focus here is on Huberdeau.
Huberdeau played most of his 2010-11 season at left wing, and with the Panthers depth at center, he'll likely be playing for Florida on the wing. Huberdeau is an excellent playmaker in the making, who already has great puck skills and on-ice vision. He's a hard worker in the offensive zone, and his unique creativity with puck has drawn similarities to Jason Spezza. The Spezza comparison works both ways however, as he does tend to make some awkward passes that lead to turnovers and he isn't the most physical guy on the ice. While he should work on both in the next four years, Huberdeau should should fit in fine with Booth and Weiss, and could very well be a future All-Star.
Scottie Upshall - Drew Shore - Rocco Grimaldi
Upshall is in the final year of his contract and will be 31 at the end of it.
Shore's stock rose after a huge breakout season with the University of Denver. He's a solid skater, with decent hands that make him an incredible passer. He has a very underrated two-way game, and has the makings of a go to penalty-killer. While his offense tends to come and go, his consistency should be decent enough to get top six minutes.
The third piece to the second line is Grimaldi. The speedy winger who can out-skate bigger and taller defenders and isn't afraid to play physical with them comes with an amazing skill-set. He has an amazing shot, great vision, and great hand-eye coordination. His defense is fantastic as well, as Grimaldi could very well be an effective penalty-killer for the Panthers.
Quinton Howden - Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Fleischmann
Howden is the best skater in the Panthers farm system, and is probability the fastest as well. His offensive skills are boosted by his great hands, his technique, and his solid shot. He has the makings of a decent scoring winger in the NHL. What many people don't know about Howden is his defensive game, as Howden always knows how to stay with his assignments. He doesn't come in with much hockey sense and he isn't much of a physical player, but his offensive talent is good enough to make up for it.
Bjugstad has the body of a basketball player, and plays very well for a player of his size. He's a very hard worker and his huge frame makes him ideal to move and protect the puck, as well as killing penalties. His skating could get better, and his size often goes to waste as he doesn't play all that physical. That and his hockey sense isn't as impressive as most of the other prospects in the system.
Fleischmann is the highest paid forward on the team, and entered the final year of his contract. Like Upshall, he'll be 31 at the end of it.
Sean Bergenheim - Tomas Kopecky - Joonas Donskoi
Like the others, Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Kopecky contracts with the Panthers end, Kopecky being the oldest forward on the team at 34.
Donskoi, drafted in 2010, is an impressive puck-handling forward. Not a physical player, Donskoi uses his skills to outplay other players. While his hockey sense isn't the best, he's a project player with a high ceiling.
Dmitry Kulikov - Erik Gudbranson
Believe or not, but Kulikov will be only 24 during the 2014-15 season. He's entering the final year on his entry level contract and should sign an extension.
The first pick of the Dale Tallon era, Erik Gudbranson, is a two-way defensemen. His presence on the ice is enough to take forwards off their game, and he could put the puck into the net as well. He's skating is impressive for a player of his size, and he comes in with a great mobility and foot speed. Not to mention his leadership skills both on and off the ice.
Brian Campbell is the highest paid player on the team and has the longest contract, ending in 2015-16. He'll also be 36 at the end the 2014-15 season, making him the oldest player on the roster.
Colby Robak is a future power play specialist. He's excellent at moving the puck and has enough speed to keep up with NHL forwards. He's pretty good at stick-checking and has good hand-eye coordination. However he isn't very threatening to opposing forwards and often tries too hard on offense.
Rasmus Bengtsson - Ed Jovanovski
Rasmus Bengtsson comes in with some decent hockey sense and a defensive game that gets the job done, despite not being flashy. He can control possession well, without making many errors, and knows how to use his body. His hands are great in one-on-one situations, and he can be effective on the powerplay. However his offense needs a lot of work first.
If Jovanovski is still playing, he'll be 40 years old and likely be playing his final season.
Jacob Markstrom is an extremely huge goaltender. After having an adjustment period to North American ice, Markstrom was beginning to get into a grove until a leg injury cut his season short. Markstrom works the butterfly game well, as he has a quick lower body and a big chest that can square up pucks. While he isn't the most athletic goalie in the game, Markstrom can still make acrobatic second saves and steal games for his team.
Another big, butterfly style goalie, Brittain is solid at controlling rebounds. He plays smart and is usually in good position to make saves. His size is enough to play in the NHL, but his physical skills are enough to keep him in the pros.