The Florida Panthers’ off-season was fairly quiet – until it wasn’t.
They acquired Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, defender MacKenzie Weegar, center prospect Cole Schwindt and a 2025 first-round pick.
In Schwindt's case, this pulled one of the Panthers’ best center prospects and a first-round pick out of the team's already underwhelming prospect pool.
The Panthers are in win-now mode and acquiring and extending one of the game's most impactful wingers - both offensively and defensively - was a move to help do that.
With that said, they certainly have some talented players coming up and a few notable young players on the roster already. Spencer Knight is the goaltender of the future and the 21-year-old has already had stretches of very strong play at the NHL level. The tandem of Knight and Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the most talented in the NHL, even if the latter can be just as enigmatic as a young netminder at times.
They boast arguably the best young two-way center in hockey in Anton Lundell. In many years, Lundell’s 18 goals and 44 points along with his 200-foot game on a contending team would have been enough to finish as a Calder Trophy finalist, but a strong rookie class held him just outside of the final three. Lundell also received recognition in Selke Trophy voting as well which illustrates just how respected his defensive game is already.
The pipeline isn’t barren after those two, either. They boast some very highly skilled offensive wingers such as Gregori Denisenko, Matthew Samoskevich, and Aleksi Heponiemi. Justin Sourdif and Liam Arnsby provide the team some future middle-six options. With a loaded forward core, the Panthers’ will be patient and make all of these players force their way into the lineup when they’re ready.
Michael Benning and Evan Nause head up their defensive pipeline. Benning is an offensive blueliner plying his trade at the University of Denver where he helped the team win an NCAA Championship, putting up 38 points in 41 games. Nause is a defensive blueliner that uses his mobility to retrieve the puck and quickly move it up ice on the breakout. His offensive game is fairly limited but he plays a modern defensive and transition game that should lend itself to a stable NHL role.
Although Knight is the star pupil among their young netminders, they also boast a few notable prospects such as fellow NTDP alumni Tyler Muszelik, who they selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Matt Guzda is a monster, standing 6-foot-5. The 21-year-old netminder will make the jump to the AHL this year if all goes well after he put up solid numbers for two different OHL teams this past season.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 3 (93 Overall) - Marek Alscher, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Round 4 (125 Overall) - Ludvig Jansson, D, Sodertalje SK Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 5 (157 Overall) - Sandis Vilmanis, L, Lulea HF Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 6 (186 Overall) - Josh Davies, L, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Round 6 (189 Overall) - Tyler Muszelik, G, U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
Round 7 (214 Overall) - Liam Arnsby, C, North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Round 7 (221 Overall) - Jack Devine, R, University of Denver (NCAA)
The Panthers made a ton of swings in the mid-late rounds of the draft, with our of their seven picks coming in the sixth and seventh rounds. Defender Marek Alcher was their first pick, coming in at 93rd overall. Capable of making some interesting plays in transition, the Winterhawks defender is an interesting ball of clay to develop with time.
Fifth-round pick, winger Sandis Vilmanis, is a skilled puck handler who can let go of his wrist shot from a variety of shooting positions. Josh Davies is a physical winger who hunts opposing defenders on the forecheck and backchecks with vigor on every shift. His offensive upside isn’t all that high but he looks like a menace of a bottom-six player.
Liam Arnsby and Jack Devine are really solid values in the seventh round. Both play a really solid two-way game and have some safe and projectable offensive tools. Arnsby plays a bit more of a physical game while Devine is a more skilled playmaker.
The Panthers have done a good job of building out their depth on the wings, particularly on the right side. Heponiemi is incredibly skilled and has been highly productive in Finland and Sweden playing against men but it wasn’t until last year that he seemed to catch on at the AHL level. The 23-year-old will look to work his way onto the NHL roster for a few more games this year now that he seems to be adjusting to the North American game a bit better.
Samoskevich had himself a solid freshman season at the University of Michigan. His impressive puck skills and playmaking ability have allowed him to be an instant contributor at the NCAA level. With a bit more maturation in his game over the next year or two, Samoskevich could very well work his way into an NHL top-six. Justin Sourdif and Serron Noel will look to continue their development in the AHL this year as well, giving the Panthers a couple of players with a bit more edge should they need that in the lineup over the next couple of years.
The Panthers doing everything in their power to be a contender means that their prospect pool unsurprisingly has a couple of holes in it. They are quite barren at right-shot defense but it’s the middle that should be addressed next. Schwindt was sent out of town in the Tkachuk trade, which left Liam Arnsby and Elliot Ekmark as their top center prospects. They're decent prospects in their own right, but not real game-changers. They don’t really have a top-six center of the future in the group, and although you need players to develop into depth options, it shouldn’t be the best players at the position doing so.
Next Man Up: LD Matt Kiersted
The former University of North Dakota defender made the jump to the pro game after his NCAA season came to an end in 2020-21. Kiersted is a smooth-skating transitional defender who has the mobility and passing ability to run the breakout from the back end. He has the tools to play a role in the offensive game but he has to be put in positions to succeed for that to really show itself. The Panthers have an opportunity for Keirstad to join the lineup regularly, but it will just be about showcasing his defensive game consistently in camp and preseason. If he can do that, he should be able to secure a job on the NHL roster.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Grigori Denisenko, Sandis Vilamnis
C: Liam Arnsby, Elliot Ekmark
RW: Aleksi Heponiemi, Matthew Samoskevich, Justin Sourdif, Serron Noel
LD: Evan Nause, Max Kierstad, Vladislav Lukashevich, Nathan Staios
RD: Michael Benning
G: Kirill Gerasimyuk, Tyler Muszelik, Mack Guzda
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!