It may have gotten lost in the frenzy of free agency, but the Panthers held their annual Development Camp from June 26 through June 30, with the camp coming to an end with an early morning scrimmage. The scrimmage is often a good indicator to see where players are in their development. You can only tell so much about a player through practices and drills. But, the scrimmage shows every player’s true colors in terms of readiness and development. While almost all of these players will be heading off to college, junior, or the AHL, there were certainly some players to keep an eye on moving forward as we look ahead to rookie camp, training camp, and the approaching season.
[Blue] Cole Schwindt (Owen Tippet), [Red] Karch Bachman (Serron Noel, Dylan MacPherson), [Red] Karch Bachman (2) (Dylan MacPherson), [Blue] Tyler Inamoto (unassisted), [Red] Nathan Dunkley (John Ludvig)
[Blue] Owen Tippett, [Blue] Vladislav Kolyachanok, [Red] Owen Lindmark, [Blue] Cole Schwindt
Red: 3 (Shootout Score: 1)
Blue: 2 (Shootout Score: 3)
Owen Tippett, RW: Tippett was expected to be the best player at development camp and he didn’t disappoint. He assisted Cole Schwindt for the opening goal in under one minute, he flashed much-improved two-way play, smooth and fast skating, and fantastic hands. He has to improve his pace because he’ll often tire himself out early in a shift, but he is a constant threat when on the ice. His ridiculously quick release and nifty hands were on full display. He didn’t completely take over the game as some hoped he would, but he proved that he will be very much in contention for a roster spot this season with the Panthers. He’ll be on the top line in Springfield at the very least.
Serron Noel, RW: Noel is another player who should get a long look in training camp, although he is expected to play at least one more full season in Oshawa of the OHL. He should contend for a spot playing for Team Canada in the World Juniors this year as well. He was a powerhouse on the ice in the scrimmage, also collecting an assist. He has improved his skating and balance quite a bit since last year. He drives play up the boards, wins board battles, and is a huge presence in front of the net. He moves a lot like Nick Bjugstad but he is far more aggressive and physical. He projects to be a big middle-six player in the NHL. He resembles Tom Wilson and Wayne Simmonds in style. His improved use of his size, and quicker feet stood out in the scrimmage.
Karch Bachman, LW: Bachman was the biggest surprise of the scrimmage for me. He’s been in the system since 2015 and is expected to finish his final season at Miami (Ohio) this year. He’s a grinder but he showed some skill in the scrimmage tallying a pair of big goals for his team. Both goals were right in front of the net as he plays much bigger than his size. He’s tenacious and relentless on the forecheck. He reminds me of Jayce Hawryluk in some ways. His ticket to the AHL and maybe the Panthers one day, will be his speed. The guy can absolutely fly.
Brady Keeper, D: Brady Keeper was one of the great stories for the Panthers last year and he showed some real improvement in camp. He will compete in a crowded field for the 7th defenseman spot on the Panthers this year so preseason will be vital for him. He showed smooth feet, aggressive checking, sharp first passes, and a steady presence. He’s also not afraid to jump into the rush when the opportunity presents itself. He played like a seasoned veteran. The biggest takeaway is that he doesn’t make many mistakes.
Tyler Inamoto, D: Inamoto brings a whole lot of nastiness to the ice. He plays with anger and physicality. He threw some massive checks, cuts off the cycle along the boards, and clears the crease with no remorse. We knew that and expected it. What I didn’t expect to see was Inamoto jumping up into the offense, swiftly carrying the puck out of his own zone, making crisp passes, and even scoring a goal off the rush with a quick snapper of a wrist shot. Inamoto impressed offensively which caught me by surprise.
Dylan MacPherson, D: He tallied two assists and showed great control of the blue line in the offensive zone. He also plays a reliable game on the defensive end of the ice. More of MacPherson later.
Ryan Bednard, G: Bednard was the best goalie in the game without a doubt. He has great size at 6’5 but he has certainly improved his mobility. He was a brick wall in the scrimmage and I fully expect that he will separate himself as the starting goalie for Springfield this year. He may even challenge Sam Montembeault for the backup job in training camp. Expect to see him called up should there be an injury this year at any point. Bednard just needs to further improve his agility and his ability to handle the puck and pass with his stick.
Spencer Knight, G: Spencer Knight is the goalie of the future and he showed why in his first development camp scrimmage. He stopped eight high-danger chances while showing off some impressive speed, flexibility, agility, and stick handling ability. Expect him to have a huge freshman season at Boston College. He has all the tools, but he could use some extra weight on his frame.
Who needs to improve
Logan Hutsko, C: Hutsko struggled to stay on his feet and often found himself getting pushed around by the bigger players on the ice. He looked uncomfortable early on but settled in as the game went forward. He wasn’t able to generate much in the way of offense and his lack of size may have contributed to that. Some more time at Boston College should have him ready for the next step.
Ben Finkelstein, D: Another Boston College player, Ben Finkelstein was a player I was really looking forward to seeing. He has drawn some comparisons to Torrey Krug in the past after he tore up the USHL. I didn’t see much offense from him in the scrimmage though and he’s too small to make much of a physical impact. If he wants to make it at the next level, he’ll have to make an impression with his offense. He didn’t this year.
Vladislav Kolyachanok, D: It’s almost unfair to put him here since this was his first camp, but he just simply needs to get stronger and I believe he will do so. He could develop into an elite skater and he has impressive offensive skill-set as a defenseman. But, he has to add some more weight and strength to his body in order to hold up as a two-way defenseman. He’ll need it in order to be more physical than he was in the scrimmage.
Points of Emphasis
Attendance: I’m not usually the one to read into attendance, especially at an event like a 9 a.m. development camp scrimmage. But, this year the turnout was so outstanding that I had to mention it. There was a line all the way out the front door of the Panthers Ice Den when I arrived despite the fact that it was over 90 degrees and humid outside and there weren’t nearly enough seats to hold everyone. The majority of the crowd had to stand. The energy was fantastic and the crowd was very involved. There were even a couple rats thrown on the ice when all was said and done. It’s encouraging to see the excitement for this coming season from a fan base that takes a lot of heat from the outside.
Pace and Physicality: I’m not sure if the new coaching staff and culture has anything to do with it or not, but this scrimmage was one of the most intense and competitive ones I can recall seeing. There were heavy hits thrown all over the ice, net front battles, post-whistle scraps, and serious speed and physicality throughout the whole game. For the first time in a while, it felt like each guy was playing with a real sense of urgency and was truly competing for a job regardless of draft position.
Who Earned A Contract
Speaking of “playing for a job,” some players actually earned a job with their good performances in development camp. Here are the players who are now a part of the Florida Panther/Springfield Thunderbird organization.
Jake Massie, D: 2-year Two-way Entry Level Contract (Florida)
Liam Pecararo, LW: 1-year AHL Contract (Springfield)
Dylan MacPherson, D: 1-year AHL Contract (Springfield)