Going into the 2019 draft, the Florida Panthers prospects on the defensive side of the game looked very thin. Other than Max Gildon, Brady Keeper and Riley Stillman, the Panthers had no real defenders on the back end. However, Dale Tallon has fixed that, as he has found a new crop of blueliners in the system, that have a bright future.
After a quiet debut in 2018-19, nothing special was seen by many eyes in the case of Riley Stillman. However, Stillman has proved the doubters wrong. The young defenseman has earned himself a spot in the starting lineup and has been munching up minutes under Joel Quenneville’s system. Despite going goalless in his current 35 game campaign, Stillman has been a reliable presence on both sides of the ice. Stillman has flourished under Joel Quenneville and I believe that with more work, he can be a centerpiece of the blueline in the future. I can see him potentially pairing up with Aaron Ekblad. Stillman’s game is similar to Ekblad, but he is much faster. This is similar to Mike Matheson, but Stillman’s defensive game is far superior to Matheson’s. Stillman has been the biggest success of the Tom Rowe draft class so far.
Another prospect from 2016 that’s been in the system, Ben Finklestein has always flown under the radar. The Defender played at Boston College with fellow prospects Logan Hutsko and Spencer Knight. While Panther fans focus on Knight’s heroics and Hutsko’s offensive feats, Finklestein was a reliable presence on the backend. However, it is unknown what Dale Tallon thinks of the defender. Finklestein is due for a contract by August. Finkelstein has an impressive pedigree with a USHL Defenseman of the Year award under his belt, so it would be a massive failure by Dale Tallon if he fails to get this 7th round potential steal under contract. However, one notable weakness for “Fink” is that he is undersized at 5’9.
Recently signed under contract, the Texan took the University of New Hampshire by storm this year scoring 29 points in his 34 game Junior campaign. The left shot defenseman stands at 6’3, 205 lbs. An agile skater, Gildon is notable for quarterbacking the powerplay, in which he puts up his best numbers. A very intelligent player, Gildon is good at disrupting rushes in the defensive zone. A strong, physical player, Gildon desperately fills a need for the Panthers blueline.
The hometown kid, Chase Priskie was a notable piece in the Vincent Trocheck trade. Born and raised in Pembroke Pines, Priskie grew up a Panther fan. At age 24, Priskie took a while to develop, but he has impressed in his short stint in Springfield. A right handed defender, Priskie was a previous finalist for the Hobey Baker Award after putting up 39 points in 36 games at Quinnipac in his senior season.
An off the board pick in the 2019 draft, the 3rd rounder has taken the WHL by storm this season. Great at blocking shots, Ludvig is a phenomenal penalty killer. Ludvig has seen an offensive renaissance this season, putting up 62 points in 60 games, following his draft year where he put up 18 points in 58 games. Ludvig’s +/- is ridiculous, with a career +/- in the WHL of +95. A physical player, Ludvig’s background includes boxing. Ludvig is not afraid to drop the gloves, but his willingness to over the years has decreased as he was needed on the ice. A prototypical old-school defender, Ludvig’s new offensive storm has made him one of the most intriguing prospects in the system.
With a name that will end the dreams of kids competing in the spelling bee, the Belarusian defender was a 2nd round pick by the Panthers in 2019. Impressing Dale Tallon enough to earn a contract, he returned to Flint of the OHL. A left handed defender, “Koly” as I’ll call him, as it’s too much of a chore to spell his last name is a strong two-way defender with great speed, balance and agility. He is able to start rushes with his speed. although his shot needs improvement. A physical presence in the defensive zone, despite being a lefty shot, his high hockey IQ has seen success at both left and right defense. A disciplined player and strong presence in front of the net, “Koly” helps solidify some of the weaknesses most glaring in the Panthers NHL defense.
A Dale Tallon project, Brady Keeper’s future remains uncertain with the Panthers. One reason is the horrible development process he has gone through. Signed late in the 2018-19 season, Keeper appeared in an NHL game and burned a year of his two year ELC, similar to Henrik Borgstrom. Spending the whole year in Springfield, Keeper’s play has evolved over the year, becoming a force in the Thunderbirds lineup. One notable stat to examine is that Keeper had 108 PIM in 61 games this year. I am not sure if he will stay with the team, and will most likely hit free agency, but the first member of the Cross Lake nation to play a game in the NHL, Keeper is an inspirational story to his community.
The new kid on the block, Dale Tallon recently signed the Bowling Green defender to an ELC. The undrafted lefty 25 year old put up 35 points in 38 games in his final season at Bowling Green. A power play QB, Rauhauser’s 1 year contract makes it unlikely we will see him in the NHL next year, but this is his last chance, so expect him to run with it.