Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Florida Panthers Prospects
The Florida Panthers had a slow start to the 2017-18 season. The team made a late charge up the standings, but it was not enough to overcome the hole they had dug. In the end, they finished just one point behind both the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
Searching for secondary scoring, the Panthers added Mike Hoffman following a complicated set of trades involving the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators. It was the club’s one big move of the off-season so far. The Panthers hope that he will add some second-line scoring spark in their line-up.
Top Prospect: Henrik Borgstrom
Centre — shoots Left
Born August 6th, 1997 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’3″ — Weight 185 lbs [191 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 1st round, #23 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Borgstrom had another excellent season with the University of Denver. He put up 23 goals and 29 assists for 52 points in 40 games. Following the season, he signed his entry-level contract with the Panthers. Borgstrom played four games and scored his first NHL goal.
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 separation from his defender. He improved his agility and edgework over his college career, 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 stickhandling 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 playmaker.
He can also play the role of sniper, with good wrist shots and snapshots, 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.
The Panthers hope that Borgstrom makes the roster out of camp. He has a real chance to win the third line centre role and start his NHL career. Even if training camp does not go well and he is sent down, expect to see Borgstrom get time as a call-up for injuries. He should be a full-time NHLer very soon.
Prospect #2: Owen Tippett
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born February 16th, 1999 — Peterborough, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 200 lbs [185 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 1st round, #10 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Tippett made the Panthers out of camp last year but was sent back to the OHL after seven games. He had a strong season with Mississauga scoring 75 points in 51 games. This is the same point total he achieved in his draft year, but Tippett did it in nine fewer games. He wasn’t quite as good in the playoffs with five points in six games and the Steelheads fell in the first round.
Owen Tippett is an outstanding skater. He has excellent speed and acceleration. His ability to change speeds allows him to take defenders wide and drive to the front of the net, where he has the soft hands to finish in tight. He also has the agility and edgework necessary to make a wide variety of moves, and quick cuts that make him extremely tough to defend. Tippett also has good balance, and the lower body strength and power to fight through an opponents checks.
Tippett is extremely dangerous off the rush. If defenders back off to respect his speed, he can use his excellent wrist shot or snapshot and beat goalies with a quick release. Tippett’s shot is amongst the very best in the OHL. He is a pure sniper who is dangerous anytime he finds open space to get a shot off. He also shows the ability to find soft spots in the defensive zone, and get open to let off a one-timer. Tippett also has excellent hand-eye coordination and can tip in shots from the point. He is not afraid to battle down low and fight for the key space in front of the opposition’s net.
Tippett improved his playmaking skills last season. However, there are still times where he can stand to slow things down and hold on to the puck just a little longer before rushing a play. He has also improved his puck protection and work down low in the cycle game. Tippett is good at fighting off defenders and creating time for teammates to get open in the cycle. Once he has a little patience to continue working the cycle a little longer, he should be able to get even more assists.
Tippett’s defensive game is a work in progress but has gotten better over his junior career. He shows commitment to bringing back-pressure and supporting defenders but has not always shown good reads and hockey sense. His instincts and anticipation continue to show improvement though.
Tippett also heads to training camp looking to earn a spot in the Panthers line-up. The question here is about how much ice-time he can expect. It would not be a surprise if he gets another early-season audition with the big club. At that point, Dale Tallon and Bob Boughner will have to decide if he should play his 10th game and burn a season on his entry-level contract. Tippett needs ice-time. If he cracks the top-nine and is contributing, the Panthers can use his offensive spark. However, if he is a fourth liner in the NHL, then they should send him back to the OHL where he can dominate offensively and grow his defensive game.
#3 Prospect: Aleksi Heponiemi
Centre — shoots Left
Born January 9th, 1999 — Tampere, Finland
Height 5’10” — Weight 147 lbs [178 cm / 67 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 2nd round, #40 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Heponiemi had a huge season with the Swift Current Broncos. He scored 28 goals and 90 assists for 118 points in 57 games. He also played for Finland at the World Juniors with two goals in five games. Heponiemi put up 30 points in 26 games as the Broncos won the WHL Championship.
Undersized at just 5’10”, and weighing just 147 pounds, Heponiemi certainly faces some issues, even at the junior level. When one looks at the players who have overcome being undersized to really excel in the NHL, they have one thing in common, and that is fantastic skating ability. Heponiemi certainly meets that criteria.
He is very fast, with an excellent first step and acceleration. Defenders must respect Heponiemi’s speed, as he can beat them to the outside, and cut back to the net. He changes speeds very well, which can fool a defender or catch them flat-footed. He is also very elusive in one-on-one situations. Heponiemi has very good agility and edgework and is able to get past defenders with quick turns and cuts. He is also able to use these skills to make quick movements to change angles, and open up passing lanes. Heponiemi needs to get stronger though, as this would help his balance, and his ability to win battles on the boards.
Heponiemi has outstanding hands. He can make dekes in a phone booth and is extremely dangerous one-on-one as a result. Heponiemi sees plays developing, and makes smart passes. He is an excellent playmaker, who can make tape-to-tape passes through tight openings. He also uses his stickhandling and skating to extend plays, waiting for a teammate to get open. Heponiemi has an accurate wrist shot, with a good release. However, he must work on adding power.
Heponiemi is better in the cycle game than one would expect based on his size. Of course, there is room to improve by bulking up. However, he is able to control and protect the puck by having good hockey IQ. He uses his smarts and angles to avoid being hit. When he does get hit, its rarely a clean shot. He is able to roll off of checks and keep control of the puck.
Heponiemi works hard in his own zone and tries to backcheck, but his size can cause issues. He is overpowered in battles for loose pucks. He also has issues in containing bigger, stronger forwards around the cycle game. His positioning is generally pretty good, but like many youngsters can still use some refinement.
Heponiemi could have played another year in the CHL but has decided that a year playing pro hockey against men in Finland will be better for his development. He will join Karpat and play in the SM-Liiga. Facing bigger and stronger will help him to learn what he needs to succeed at his diminutive size in the pro game. He has high-end talent but is likely a couple of years away from being NHL ready as adding muscle takes time.
#4 Prospect: Grigori Denisenko
The Panthers drafted Denisenko with the 15th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Denisenko. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Max Gildon
Defence — shoots Left
Born May 17th, 1999 — Plano, Texas
Height 6’3″ — Weight 191 lbs [191 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 3rd round, #66 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
A third-round pick one year ago, Gildon had an excellent freshman season with the University of New Hampshire. He scored eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 36 games.
Gildon’s start-up and stride look a bit awkward, however, it does not seem to slow him down at all. While he is not a speedster, he has decent top-end speed as well as good acceleration. Gildon skates well in both directions. He can join the rush, as well as pinch in at the blue line but must pick his spots to avoid getting caught. Gildon also has decent edgework and agility given his height. He needs to fill out a bit, and improve his lower body strength to be stronger on the puck, and win battles on the boards.
Gildon has a good array of shots. His slap shot and one-timer are very heavy, and he can use them to be a real threat from the point. However, he could stand to improve its accuracy. His wrist shot and snapshots are also dangerous. They feature a quick release and are more accurate than his slap shot. He mainly uses wrist and snapshots when he is a trailer on the rush, or when he pinches in from the blue line. Gildon has good instincts on when to slide down looking for a pass.
Gildon is also a good passer. He can start plays with a strong first pass from his own end. He is also decent in controlling the puck at the blue line and finding open seams to get it to a teammate. Gildon is not the classic power play quarterback, but can still make some plays from the line. He also has the stick handling skill to skate the puck out of danger and start the transition game.
Gildon has the size and skill to play a physical game in his own end. Forwards need to have their head up when they head down his end of the ice. He is also good in the corners, throwing his weight around, and working to clear the front of the net. Gildon needs to add muscle to his frame, in order to play this style at the pro level. He also has to be more consistent in using that physicality. Gildon has good instincts and positioning. He uses his stick to break up passing and shooting lanes, as well as to poke the puck away from opponents. Once a turnover is created, he quickly transitions to offence.
Gildon appears to be headed back to the University of New Hampshire this fall. He should play a huge role and get plenty of ice time. He also has a chance to make the American squad for the 2019 World Juniors. Once his college season is done, the Panthers will likely try to sign him. He needs to fill out his frame and continue to round out his game before he is NHL ready.
#6 Prospect: Riley Stillman
Defence — shoots Left
Born March 9th, 1998 — Peterborough, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 199 lbs [185 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by Florida Panthers in the 4th round, #114 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Stillman started the season with the Oshawa Generals but was traded at the OHL trade deadline to the Hamilton Bulldogs. He finished the season with five goals and 29 assists for 34 points in 62 games. Stillman was a force in the playoffs with five goals and 14 points in 21 games as the Bulldogs won the OHL title.
Stillman is an extremely mobile defenceman, powered by his strong skating technique. He has good speed in both directions, coupled with a good first step and rapid acceleration. Stillman has excellent edgework and agility. He combines this with great gap control to be very hard to beat in one-on-one situations. He is able to get a lot of power out of his stride, which allows him to muscle through checks, but also gives him the ability to explode when changing directions, so he doesn’t lose much in terms of speed when he makes a quick cut. Stillman also has good balance.
The offensive numbers may not have been great, but Stillman shows a lot of offensive tools. He made strides throughout his junior career and this was very evident in his offensive improvements. He uses strong stickhandling and combines it with his skating skill to move the puck up the ice efficiently and lead the rush. Stillman has the poise to walk the line on the power play and open up passing and shooting lanes.
He is a good passer, who can get the transition game started with a good first pass, as well as quarterback things from the point. Stillman has the vision to find openings, and the skill to feather the puck through tight spaces. Stillman also has a decent slap shot, and a heavy writer shot with an accurate release. He gets his shot on net, and through heavy traffic. Stillman also understands how to keep his shot low to generate more opportunities for his teammates to get deflections and rebounds. His hockey IQ is very high.
Stillman’s defensive game is also well developed. As mentioned he is difficult to beat one-on-one. Those who try can often find themselves flattened with a strong open ice hit. He also has very good positioning and is willing to battle along the boards and in front of the net. Stillman understands how to cut down passing and shooting lanes and is a willing and able shot blocker.
Stillman leaves junior hockey and is headed to the pro game. He likely needs a year or two in the AHL, continuing to develop, before he is ready for the NHL. Expect Stillman to play in Springfield next season.
#7 Prospect: Ian McCoshen
Defence — shoots Left
Born August 5th, 1995 — Anaheim, California
Height 6’3″ — Weight 217 lbs [191 cm / 98 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 2nd round, #31 overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft
McCoshen spent most of last season with the Panthers but often found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch. He played just 38 games, scoring three goals and one assist for four points.
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 type. 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 needs 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 stickhandling 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 good 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 should be part of the Panthers roster again this season. However, he will need to fight to crack the top-six and not be stuck in the press box again. McCoshen is still young for a defender but his upside seems limited.
#8 Prospect: Maxim Mamin
Center/Wing — shoots Left
Born January 13th, 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 201 lbs [188 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 6th round, #175 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Mamin came over from Russia last season and played his first season on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. In 32 games with Springfield he scored nine goals and 25 points in 32 games. Mamin also played 26 games with the Panthers scoring three goals and four points. He also played for Russia at the IIHF World Championships, scoring three goals in six games.
Mamin is not the fastest skater, his speed is merely average. However, he has a very powerful stride. He can fight through checks and get to the front of the net. Mamin is a strong, power-forward type. He wins battles along the boards and establishes his position in front of the net. Mamin has excellent balance and is very tough to knock off the puck. His agility and edgework are decent.
Mamin has the skill and power to score in tight to the net. He creates havoc with his big body, screening goalies, scoring on tip-ins, and pouncing on rebounds. From further out, he also has a good wrist shot and quick release. Mamin plays a power forward’s game. He wins battles in the corners and plays well in front of the net as well. Mamin loves to get in on the forecheck. He pressures defenders to move the puck quickly or be plastered to the boards.
Mamin shows some ability to be a playmaker as well. He controls the puck and extends possession with his soft hands. While he’s not the most creative player, Mamin has shown the ability to fire in a pass to a teammate through traffic.
Mamin is physical and aggressive at the defensive end of the ice as well. He backchecks hard and loves to take any opportunity to take the body. Mamin is willing to block shots if the need arises.
Mamin played some centre in Russia, but it appears that his NHL future lies on the wing. His power game is most effective in this spot. Mamin will head to Panthers training camp trying to make the team on a full-time basis. The competition for spots is fierce and he must come out ready to take the position.
#9 Prospect: Serron Noel
The Panthers drafted Noel with the 34th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Noel. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Samuel Montembault
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 Draft
Montembeault played his first professional season, putting up a 3.25 goals against average and a 0.896 save percentage in 41 games for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
At 6-foot-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.
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. He simply needs to play a high number of games over the next couple of seasons. Goalies typically spend longer developing than forwards and defencemen. It could be a few years before Montembeault is NHL ready.
Sleeper Prospect: Jonathan Ang
Centre — shoots Right
Born January 31st, 1998 — Markham, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 170 lbs [183 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 4th round, #94 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Moved at the OHL Trade Deadline, Ang split his season between the Peterborough Petes and Sarnia Sting. He finished with 25 goals and 70 points in 65 games. He also added two goals and nine points in 12 playoff games.
Ang has blazing speed, as he is one of the fastest skaters in the OHL. He also has outstanding acceleration as he reaches top speed in just a few steps. He also has very good edgework and agility, allowing him to manoeuver through traffic easily. Ang has a powerful stride and good balance. This helps him to fight through checks and to win battles for loose pucks.
Ang can be extremely dangerous off the rush, but he does not always take advantage of his speed. Instead of going wide on defenders and driving to the front of the net; he is often content to pull up and try to set up a teammate. He sees the ice well and makes strong passes through tight areas. Ang’s speed also allows him to get in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders and creating turnovers.
Ang has a good wrist shot and release. It is powerful and accurate. He does not always use it enough though. This has improved in recent years but could still get even better. He possesses real skills, and could score more goals, but is often a little bit too unselfish in the offensive zone.
Ang is also good defensively, as his coaches trust him to kill penalties and play in important defensive situations. His speed and quickness allow him to react to situations and create turnovers. He does a really good job of cutting down passing lanes. Once a turnover is created, Ang quickly transitions to offence.
Ang has now finished his junior career. He will likely need some time in Springfield to further develop his offensive game. Ang may never be a top-six centre, but if developed properly could be a solid depth piece providing speed and two-way play.
The Panthers are deep up front. With Borgstrom and Tippett, they have a pair of blue-chip prospects. Denisenko, Heponiemi, Noel, Mamin and Ang provide solid secondary options. The team also has Dryden Hunt, Logan Hutsko, Patrick Bajkov, Jayce Hawryluk, and Henrik Haapala up front.
On defence, the Panthers add Ludwig Byström, Tyler Inamoto, Thomas Schemitsch, and Benjamin Finkelstein.
In goal, the Panthers have Montembault and Ryan Bednard.
The Panthers have high-end talent in the system but their depth could be improved going forward.
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