Florida Panthers top 10 prospects

Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, is also the top prospect in the Florida Panthers' system.

Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Following a similar blueprint to the one that yielded a Stanley Cup in Chicago, general manager Dale Tallon has quickly restocked a Panthers farm system that was fairly barren upon his arrival to South Florida in 2010.

While drafting in the top five of the NHL Draft in four of the past five years has certainly helped bolster the quality of their talent pool, Tallon’s ability to find exceptional players beyond the first round has been essential to the team’s rebuild.

Last year’s top prospect, Aleksander Barkov, made an immediate impact as the team’s first-line center before knee injuries cut his promising rookie season short. Prior to that, 2010 first-round pick Jonathan Huberdeau captured the first Calder Trophy in team history as the NHL’s top rookie during the 2012-13 season.

Headlined by 2014 No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad and an abundance of other exceptionally talented defensemen, the Panthers’ current crop of prospects is quite possibly the best the team has seen in their 21-year history.

Here’s a look at the Panthers’ top 10 prospects, according to FOX Sports Florida’s Jameson Olive.

1. D Aaron Ekblad

Drafted: 2014, first round, 1st overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

The first defensemen selected No. 1 overall since 2006, Ekblad is likely to make an immediate impact with the Panthers in the upcoming season. Ekblad, 18, was named the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding defenseman in 2013-14, leading all players at his position in goals (23) and finished tied for fifth in points (54). Calder Trophy expectations for the talented rookie should be tempered, however, as the learning curve for defensemen is often much greater than that of other positions.

2. D Michael Matheson

Florida Panthers news

Drafted: 2012, first round, 23rd overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

Electing to return to Boston College rather than signing an entry-level contract with the Panthers this offseason, Matheson will serve as team captain during his junior year with the Eagles. Matheson, 20, has 11 goals, 46 points and a plus-33 rating in 74 NCAA games. Last season, he led all BC defensemen in points and played an integral role in the team’s run to the Frozen Four. He was voted an AHCA Second-Team All-American, Hockey East First-Team All-Star and a New England Men’s Division I All-Star in 2013-14.

3. C Vincent Trocheck

Drafted: 2011, third round, 64th overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

A gritty, two-way center, Trocheck, 21, made his NHL debut with the Panthers towards the tail end of the 2013-14 season. Making the most of his opportunity, Trocheck notched five goals and three assists in 20 games while leading all Panther forwards in ice time with an average of 18:53 per game. Prior to his promotion, Trocheck led the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, in scoring with 16 goals and 42 points in 55 games. While Trocheck has certainly proven that he is capable of playing at the NHL level, the team’s current logjam at the center position will likely keep him in the AHL for another year.

4. C/RW Rocco Grimaldi

Drafted: 2011, second round, 33rd overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

Forgoing his final two years of eligibility at the University of North Dakota, Grimaldi signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers in May. Grimaldi, 21, finished his collegiate career with 31 goals, 77 points and a plus-22 rating in 86 games. Though it remains to be seen how his 5-foot-6 frame will transition into the professional game, a promising display at July’s development camp coupled with an insatiable work ethic has Grimaldi on the fast track to the NHL.

5. D Ian McCoshen

Drafted: 2013, second round, 31st overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

During his first season at Boston College, McCoshen’s production and ice time were certainly not that of a typical freshman. Playing a responsible, two-way game, McCoshen, 19, earned five goals, eight assists and 48 penalty minutes in 35 games last season. He was named rookie of the week for his game-winning goal against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell during the NCAA tournament to send BC to the Frozen Four. Internationally, the 6-foot-3, 206-pound McCoshen competed for Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships where he recorded no points but garnered praise for his sound defense.

6. LW Quinton Howden

Drafted: 2010, first round, 25th overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

One of the fastest prospects in the entire NHL, Howden has worked tirelessly over the past two seasons to transform himself into a two-way player rather than relying simply on his speed to create offense. Last season, Howden, 22, tallied four goals, including one short-handed tally, in 16 games with the Panthers while serving as a bottom-six forward and penalty killer. Prior to his promotion, Howden notched 10 goals and 17 assists in 59 games for the Rampage. Likely to begin the upcoming season in the AHL, Howden should be looked at as a potential early call up if an injury befalls any of the Panthers’ wingers.

7. RW Jayce Hawryluk

Drafted: 2014, second round, 32nd overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18


Already drawing comparisons to both Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher, Hawryluk projects to be a high-energy agitator with an offensive touch. Standing just 5-foot-10, 192 pounds, Hawyrluk, 18, led the Brandon Wheat Kings in scoring with 24 goals and 64 points in just 59 games during the 2013-14 season. Entering his third year in Brandon, Hawryluk has compiled 42 goals, 107 points and 90 penalty minutes in 120 career games in the Western Hockey League.

8. D Alex Petrovic

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

Drafted: 2010, second round, 36th overall

While the fanfare surrounding Petrovic has certainly diminished over the past two seasons, the 6-foot-4, 206-pound defensemen still has the potential to fit into the Panthers’ long-term plans. Limited by a nagging upper-body injury last season, he compiled two goals, 11 assists and 79 penalty minutes in 43 games for the Rampage. Unable to establish a foothold in the NHL when given the opportunity, Petrovic, 22, has just one assist, 39 penalty minutes and a minus-5 rating in 13 games with the Panthers over parts of the past two seasons. He is likely to start the upcoming season in the AHL but should be looked at as a potential early call up if the Panthers defense struggles.

9. D MacKenzie Weegar

Drafted:2013, seventh round, 206th overal

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

The Panthers last pick of the 2013 draft, Weegar signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the team in May. In his final season with the Halifax Mooseheads, Weegar, 20, finished tied for fourth in scoring among Quebec Major Junior Hockey League defensemen with 59 points in 61 games. An offensive-minded defensemen who likes to do most his damage on the power play, Weegar will need to work on growing his game beyond special teams during his first professional season in the AHL.

10. D Jonathan Racine

Drafted: 2011, third round, 87th overall

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

A stay-at-home defensemen, Racine’s contributions aren’t often found on the score sheet, but are nevertheless just as valuable. Tasked with shutting down the top players on opposing teams, Racine, 21, plays a physical game with the ability to win tough battles in the corners and along the boards. In his first season with the Rampage, he earned 91 penalty minutes, including seven fighting majors, to go along with six assists in 51 games. Already having garnered praise from both coaches and management for the immense strides he’s made in his development over the past year, Racine’s future with the Panthers looks bright.

You can follow Jameson Olive on Twitter @JamesonCoop or email him at JamesonOlive@gmail.com.