Florida Panthers Top 20 under 21: #10 Christopher Wilkie

Prospect finds himself in the right place to hone his game

As a freshman at a powerhouse NCAA hockey program playing for a National Championship, Chris Wilkie saw little action last season. But, that does not mean he was not learning from those around him and at practices, and the results of that development were apparent on our pick at #10.

#10 - Chris Wilkie - Right Wing- University of North Dakota (NCAA)

Highest Ranking: 10  Lowest Ranking: 17

Wilkie is yet another late round NHL draft pick with an admittedly low statistical chance at making an NHL career. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (162nd overall), which is a round that does not lend itself to a likelihood of NHL success. At the time he was drafted, Wilkie was tied as one of the USHL's top goal scorers, with 35 goals in 2014-15. He was ranked just outside the top-100 in NHL Central Scouting's ranking of North American skaters.

Very little attention was paid by Florida Panthers fans or LBC readers to Wilkie in 2015-16, for good reason. As a freshman at the University of North Dakota, Wilkie did not see a great deal of playing time in the 32 games he played for the team formerly known as Sioux. Wilkie put up only 5 goals and 4 assists, 14 penalty minutes, and went -3. Whether on the ice or not, Wilkie was around a National Championship team, as North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac to earn the title. This is what brings us to Wilkie at #10 on our rankings.

Wilkie was quite noticeable at Development Camp this summer. Much like another prospect we covered in this series, Patrick Shea, he showed a knack for attacking the net in scrums and with enviable quickness and power. For a player listed at 6'0”, 200 lbs., he was difficult to move by many of the defensemen at camp, which is where he and Shea differed. Hockey's Future listed Wilkie as the Panthers 2016-17 breakout prospect of the coming year, and predicted he will see far more opportunities at North Dakota this coming season.

Due to the lack of big minutes last season (and those were spent on the 3rd and 4th lines) scouting reports of Wilkie's game at this point are few and far between. Not many pundits were paying that close attention to a forward buried deep on the team's depth chart. Going back to late 2013, Future Considerations had this somewhat glowing report:

Wilkie is a fleet footed prospect who is up to top speed in a flash, controls the puck well and has a solid shot. So shifty on his feet, he can make a defender look foolish and thread the needle with a strong pass all in a split second. His effort levels are inconsistent but when he is on he can be a difference maker.

Many of the descriptions of Wilkie’s game resort to the evaluations from his time in the USHL, describing his offensive prowess along with a lack of two-way play and inconsistent efforts. Small minutes in 32 games at UND- where he was not given many offensive opportunities- is not enough to dispel former evaluations. But Panthers fans can be confident that playing 3rd and 4th line minutes as a freshman at UND, Wilkie has developed his two-way game and consistency.

Wilkie is obviously a player that LBC staff is massively divided about- with me ranking him at 10th on this list, and others listing him as low as 17th. The main source of optimism comes from Development Camp. Wilkie showed an ability to handle the biggest and fastest opponents, including Ian McCoshen. It was evident that a year spent practicing and playing alongside NCAA Hockey’s best team paid dividends. While he is only entering his second season of NCAA hockey, it will be a season that will likely tell us whether he deserved this high ranking or not. If Wilkie is indeed given top-6 minutes and games at UND, and shows himself as an emerging two-way player on a powerhouse program, our high ranking will be justified. If he flops there is still time to correct, but it will likely mean the statistics about late round picks remain correct and his NHL future will be in grave doubt.

If all goes well in North Dakota, Wilkie might just find himself the subject of talk about a 3rd or 4th line wing future. Until then, he still has much to prove: Remember, Corban Knight was a standout at UND and Hobey Baker finalist and barely cracked an NHL roster. Wilkie faces an uphill battle, but on the development spectrum, he has come a long way.