Goaltending future lacks certainty for Florida Panthers
JUL 12, 2014 11:45a ET
Although you may not find an advertisement for it in the help wanted ads, the Florida Panthers are currently hiring.
Goaltenders wanted, apply within.
With only two goaltending prospects currently under contract, the Panthers began their annual development camp this week hoping that one of the four goalie invitees -- Sam Brittain, Evan Cowley, Colin Steves and Hugo Fagerblom -- would rise above the rest as the team looks to name Roberto Luongo's heir apparent.
Brittain, 22, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers on July 2 shortly after graduating from the University of Denver. A fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, Brittain posted a 19-14-6 record with a 2.22 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in his final season with the Pioneers. For his efforts, Brittain was nominated for the inaugural Mike Richtar Award as one of the NCAA's top goaltenders.
No longer encumbered by the stress of contract talks, Brittain looked relaxed throughout camp, focused solely on the work that needs to be done.
"I understand that they're guys ahead of me, but I'm just going to work my hardest and impress as many people as I can along the way." Brittain said of his spot on the team's depth chart. "I think the biggest thing for me is taking care of what I can do. I can't worry about how the other guys are going to play or what the coaches are going to do. I've just got to do my best and work my hardest no matter what happens."
Stepping in for Brittain as Denver's starting goaltender next season will be fellow Panther prospect Evan Cowley.
Cowley, 18, saw limited ice time in his freshman season while serving as Brittain's backup, compiling a 1-2-0 record with a 1.76 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. A fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft, Cowley looked to be one of the best goaltenders at this year's camp before allowing five goals in the team's intrasquad scrimmage on Friday.
Though his week may have ended on a sour note, Cowley's vast improvement since last year's camp caught the attention of the Panthers' director of player development, Brian Skrudland.
"I thought Evan Cowley really stood out," Skrudland said when asked what players piqued his interest during the week. "All week leading up until probably today ... they were all really good, but Evan, for me, just did a lot of little things really well."
Opposite of Cowley during Friday's scrimmage, goalie tryout Colin Stevens played 30 minutes of shutout hockey as the New York native looked to leave a lasting impression on Panthers coaches and scouts.
Stevens, 21, posted an impressive 28-4-2 record with a 2.05 and .929 save percentage while backstopping Union College to their first-ever NCAA National Championship last season.
"I think there's always room for improvement," Stevens said of his week with the Panthers. "Obviously, there's always things you look back on and say 'I wish I did this better, I wish I did that a little better'. Overall, I felt like I did a pretty good job and it was a good experience."
Having already attended development camps with both the New York Rangers and Florida, Stevens will spend the rest of the summer training at his alma mater, hoping that he has done enough to merit a training camp invite come September.
Not expected to be in attendance at September's training camp is 2014 seventh-round pick Hugo Fagerblom.
Standing 6-foot-6, Fagerblom's size is currently his biggest asset as the team hopes the compelling Swede's skills someday catch up to his already imposing frame. And although his lackluster performance during this week's camp left much to be desired, the team isn't too worried about a player who they consider to be a long-term project.
"He's 19-feet tall or something," Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland said jokingly when asked about the hulking netminder. "I get a sore neck talking to the kid."
Looking ahead, it's hard to say if any of these four prospects will ever make the NHL, let alone become starting goaltenders.
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, however, has faith that the team's next great netminder may come from this current crop of young talent.
"I like what I see," Tallon said.