Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Florida Panthers Prospects
After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16, much was expected of the Florida Panthers last season. Strange front office decisions, coupled with a number of key players being sidelined with long-term injuries, meant that the Panthers could not repeat their division winning season.
A tough season meant changes in Florida. Dale Tallon is back in as general manager, and Bob Boughner takes over as coach. Right wing Evgeni Dadonov signed from the KHL, while Radim Vrbata joins from Phoenix. Meanwhile Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault, Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, and Thomas Vanek all left the franchise. Can Dadonov and Vrbata, plus a return to health for Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov replace the missing offence? They can probably take care of a big chunk of it, but there is still room for some young talent to get an opportunity to make an impact in Sunrise.
Top Prospect: Owen Tippett
The Panthers drafted Tippett with the 10th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Tippett. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Henrik Borgstrom
Center — shoots Left
Born August 6th, 1997 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’03” — Weight 195 lbs [191 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 1st round, #23 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Coming over from Finland, Borgstrom had an outstanding freshman season with University of Denver Pioneers. He put up 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points in 37 games, helping the team to the National Championship. He also played at that World Juniors, but did not score in six games. Borgstrom wasn’t the only member of the Finnish team who had a disappointing tournament though, as they finished 9th, barely avoiding relegation.
Borgstrom’s skating is a bit unorthodox. His stride is choppy. This can take away from his top end speed. He is more quick than fast. His first step and his acceleration are both good. He wins races to loose pucks. If Borgstrom gets an opening, he drops his shoulder and can get seperation from his defender. He improved his agility and edge work as the season went on, but are still a bit of a work in progress. Borgstrom needs to add lower body strength to improve balance and be stronger on the puck.
Borgstrom has very good stick handling ability. He protects the puck extremely well, and can slow the play down, waiting for an opening to make a slick pass to a teammate. He can thread the needle through small openings, and has the hockey IQ to see plays developing. Put this all together and he is an excellent play maker.
He can also play the role of sniper, with good wrist shots and snap shots, as well as a quick release. Borgstrom, is not afraid to drive the net, and has the soft hands to finish in tight. He needs to bulk up in order to win more battles on the boards, and to control the puck better in the cycle game. Bigger, stronger opponents knock Borgstrom off the puck.
Borgstrom uses his high hockey IQ and good motor in the defensive zone. He supports the defence down low. He positions himself well to cut down shooting and passing lanes. Bigger forwards overpower Borgstrom when he defends the cycle. This is another area where added muscle would improve his game.
Borgstrom heads back to the University of Denver for his sophomore campaign. He should have another big season. Look for Borgstrom to sign his first pro contract when the college campaign is done. If the Pioneers don’t go to the Frozen Four again, he could even get in some end of season games for the Panthers. With the college season having games mainly on weekends, he should take the opportunity to spend time in the weight room during the week.
#3 Prospect: Adam Mascherin
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 6th, 1998 — Maple, Ontario
Height 5’9″ — Weight 197 lbs [175 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 2nd round, #38 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Mascherin had a huge season for the Kitchener Rangers. He scored 35 goals and 65 assists for 100 points in 65 OHL games. He finished third in assists and third in points in the league. In the playoffs he scored four points in five games, but the Rangers were eliminated in the first round.
Mascherin is a solid skater. His stride is a bit wide. He has good, but not great speed and acceleration, but really excels in other areas. Mascherin has great agility and edge work. He can make quick cuts on a dime, and uses this to his full advantage to get by defenders on the rush, or get past them and find open ice without the puck. He also has a strong lower body, and his excellent balance helps him to fight for loose pucks, or skate through checks and cut to the net.
Mascherin is a pure sniper. His shot is very heavy, but it is his release that really fools goaltenders and leads to the puck finding the back of the net. Its tough to describe, and you really have to watch the highlights, but Mascherin has a very unique release that surprises the opposition. His shot is deadly accurate, and he is able to pick corners or find the tiniest of openings. Mascherin also has the ability to score goals in tight, with the hand-eye co-ordination to get tip-ins, or pounce on rebounds.
He is also an excellent play maker, with good vision and the ability to make a pass through the smallest of openings. Mascherin is undersized in terms of height, coming in at just 5’9” tall, but at nearly 200 pounds, he has a thick and powerful body. This helps him to protect the puck in the cycle game and to win battles along the boards or establish position in front of the opponents net. He is not afraid to play a gritty game and get involved in the real tough areas of the ice.
Mascherin continues to work on his defensive game. He is willing to work hard and bring his gritty style to his own zone, however, he must be careful not to get himself out of position by chasing the puck too much. Disciplined positioning is an issue from time-to-time. He must also show that he can battle down low with bigger forwards. Mascherin has spent some time at centre, but could stand to improve his face-off skills if he wants to continue in that spot. It is more likely that he ends up on the wing.
Mascherin will likely head back to the Kitchener Rangers. He could be one of the OHL’s best players this season, and challenge for the league scoring title. He is a couple of years away, but the upside is high.
#4 Prospect: Ian McCoshen
Defense — shoots Left
Born Aug 5 1995 — Hudson, WI
Height 6’3″ — Weight 218 lbs [191 cm / 99 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 2nd round, #31 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
McCoshen had his first pro season. He spent most of the year with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, putting up four goals and 16 points in 68 games. He also had one assist in three NHL games with the Panthers.
McCoshen is a fast skater, but one who still has some aspects to work on before he can be said to be a very good skater. His top end speed and acceleration are both well above average, and he shows this in both his forward and backward skating. He has a good long stride and generates a lot of power. His balance is also very good, and he is difficult to knock off the puck. However, McCoshen could use some work on his pivots and his edge work, as he is not the crispest in changing directions. He improved this in college; but there are still some adjustments that can be made working daily with professional coaches. The issue should be correctable with some hard work and focus on his technique.
McCoshen’s offensive upside is limited. He has some tools, but is more of a stay-at-home tip. He has some power in his slap shot, and really improved at getting it through traffic and on net over his college career. However, facing the faster players in the pros, its something he will need to continue to work on. McCoshen keeps his shot low and on target. This generates opportunities for his teammates to create plays through screens, rebounds, and deflections.
His stick handling and skating with the puck have improved and McCoshen can start the transition but does not join the rush. He has improved his passing both in the offensive zone and in starting the transition game with a crisp and accurate first pass. McCoshen could learn to walk the line a little better and keep his feet moving in the offensive zone in order to open up more passing and shooting lanes.
McCoshen plays a very good defensive game. He has great gap control, and is tough to get around one-on-one. He isn’t a big hitter, and could stand to improve that aspect of his game, but he isn’t afraid to battle on the boards or in front of the net. McCoshen is not afraid to sacrifice his body, as he is a tough and willing shot blocker. He has good size and an active stick which helps him to cut down on passing lanes. He is also very aggressive, putting a ton of pressure on opposing forwards when they have the puck and forcing them to make mistakes by hurrying them and cutting down the amount of time and space they have to make a play.
McCoshen will go to camp looking to make the team. He will need to crack a top six role though, as he does not need to clear waivers to go to the AHL. The Panthers will want him in the lineup or in the AHL, not in the press box. McCoshen could be one of the first call-ups in case of injury. If he progresses quickly, could have a full-time role later in the season.
#5 Prospect: Jayce Hawryluk
Center/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 1st 1996 — Roblin, MAN
Height 5’10” — Weight 194 lbs [178 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 2nd round, #32 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Hawryluk spent his first pro season with Springfield. A broken hand suffered in training camp caused him to miss the start of the campaign. Once he got into the line-up in December, he got hurt again, getting hit from behind in his first AHL game. Overall, he played in just 47 games last season. He scored nine goals and 26 points. Injuries are becoming an issue for Hawryluk who also missed time during his last two junior campaigns.
As an undersized forward Hawryluk needs strong skating to succeed at the next level, and he definitely has that. Hawryluk has good speed and very good acceleration, which complements his strong edge work and agility. Still his best assets are his core strength and balance as he is very hard to knock off the puck, fore checks hard, wins board battles, and plays a strong cycle game despite his size. He has the power to fight through checks and go to the net or to battle for pucks in the corners or position himself in front of the net and battle with defenders.
Hawryluk has extremely good hockey sense. He uses strong stick handling, and poise with the puck, to slow the game down and he makes the smart play with the puck. He has good vision and passing skills, making his linemates better. Hawryluk is able to find openings in the defence when he doesn’t have the puck, setting himself up as an outlet in the cycle or for a one-timer. His wrist shot has decent power and is extremely accurate, and the release is quick.
Hawryluk doesn’t allow his size to be a factor in his game, playing quite gritty despite that. At 194 lbs, he also has packed a lot of muscle onto that 5’10” frame already, though there may be the opportunity to be leaner and even stronger going forward.
Hawryluk is developed defensively. He has extremely good positioning, and is able to anticipate plays and create turnovers in his own end. He is also a relentless back checker who just never stops moving his feet. Hawryluk supports his defence well and is able to kill penalties for the Wheat Kings.
Expect Hawryluk to start the season in the AHL. He basically missed half of a season last year and so did not get the experience or development he needs. Hawryluk can be an injury call-up, and if things go well could even stick with the big club later in the year. His future might be more suited to a move to wing, given the Panthers depth at centre.
#6 Prospect: Aleksi Heponiemi
The Panthers drafted Heponiemi with the 40th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Heponiemi. There have been no games played since that report, so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Samuel Montembeault
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born October 30th 1996 — Becancour, Quebec
Height 6’3″ — Weight 195 lbs [191 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 3rd round, #77 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Montembeault finished up a solid junior career with a good overage season for Blainville-Boisbriand. He had a .907 save percentage in the regular season and .910 in the playoffs. He was named to the QMJHL second all-star team. The Armada went all the way to the WHL final before losing to the Saint John Sea Dogs.
At 6’3″ Montembeault has the size needed to be a top NHL goalie. He takes full advantage of his frame by playing well out in his crease. He cuts down angles, and just does not give shooters a whole lot of net to shoot at. Montembault has quick legs, and plays an effective butterfly style. He takes away the bottom portions of the net and also has decent rebound control for his age. Like most young goalies though, this is still an area that can improve. M
Montembault gets side to side quickly and tracks the puck well. He also is calm and cool under pressure, not reacting badly to a goal against, traffic in his face, or a bad call from a ref.
Montembeault is a bit of a project right now. The question that should be asked at this point is if the soon to be 21-year-old spends his first pro season as a backup in the AHL, or if he goes to start in the ECHL. It could be a few years before Montembeault is NHL ready.
Sleeper Prospect: MacKenzie Weegar
Defense — shoots Right
Born Jan 7 1994 — Ottawa, ONT
Height 5’11” — Weight 207 lbs [180 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 7th round, #206 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Weegar had another solid season in the AHL, playing a solid two-way game and putting up 14 goals and 36 points for Springfield. The former seventh round pick continues to progress each year, and even got in three games for the Panthers.
Weegar has good speed in both directions, something he will need to succeed as a diminutive defenceman. He has outstanding edge work and agility, and great pivots. This allows him to cover a lot of ground out there on the ice. His lower body strength must improve. He needs to be strong to avoid being pushed around in the corners and in front of the net.
Weegar is a good skater and passer who moves the puck extremely well. He leads the rush and can also get it started with a quick breakout pass and then join as a trailer. He has a good point shot and an effective one-timer and was an important piece of the Pirates power play. His ability to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes was a real plus. Weegar makes smart plays with the puck, finding the open man. He makes good decisions on when to join the rush and when to pinch, and does not get caught very often.
Defensively, Weegar is good positionally but must add strength not to be overpowered in front of the net. He is willing to sacrifice his body to block shots, and does a good job of clogging up passing lanes. His gap control is also sound.
There is a spot open on the Panthers blue-line with only six defencemen currently listed as NHL regulars on capfriendly. Weegar has played three years in the AHL. It would not surprise if he grabs the sixth or seventh defence spot out of camp.
The Panthers had just five picks in this year’s NHL Draft. Tippett, Heponiemi, and Sebastian Repo are added to a forward group that has a number of young players including recent graduates Malgin and McCann. In addition to the players profiled, are Henrik Haapal, Juho Lammikko, Jonathan Ang, and Dryden Hunt.
On the blue line, the club added Max Gildon, and Tyler Inamoto. The big club also saw Michael Matheson make an impact as a rookie, and features Aaron Ekblad who is still young, but already a great defenceman. Riley Stillman, Linus Nassen, Michael Downing and Thomas Schemitsch are still developing. Montembeault, Ryan Bednard, and Evan Cowley are the goalie depth. The Panthers signed Harri Sateri out of Europe, but he is too old to be considered a prospect.
Main Photo: LONDON, ON – DECEMBER 9: Owen Tippett #74 of the Mississauga Steelheads skates against the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on December 9, 2016 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Steelheads defeated the Knights 7-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)