Only 32 days remain until opening night and the Florida Panthers are currently running their prospect camp. I thought it would be fun to look at the top 10 prospects in the Florida Panthers system. In order to qualify, a player must have less than 10 games of NHL experience.
The Panthers have a super deep prospect pool and with such a talented NHL roster, the competition to make it to the big leagues is fiercer than it has ever been. It doesn’t feel right leaving these guys off the list.
Justin Sourdif (RW, Canada, 2020 3rd Round Pick)- In only 23 WHL games last season due to a COVID-shortened season, the 5’11 3rd rounder put up 34 points in 23 games. Sourdif is a powerful player who uses his size to get into shooting lanes, and has a tremendous shot. Sourdif will return to the WHL this season as a double over-ager and is expected to have a great season. It won’t be long before Bill Zito calls him with a contract offer. I see Sourdif making his NHL debut in the 2023-24 season, but he could be trade bait. Bill Zito has not been hesitant to trade his 2020 draft picks, turning Emil Heineman into Sam Bennett and Devon Levi into Sam Reinhart. Sourdif seems like a prime trade candidate if the Panthers wish to upgrade their roster, but if he stays with the team, he could be a good bottom six forward for the mid-2020s Florida Panthers squad.
Kirill Gerasimyuk (G, Russia, 2021 5th Round Pick)- After trading Devon Levi, Bill Zito let Roberto Luongo and his goalie department pick another goalie in the 2021 draft. Luongo’s team selected Russian netminder Kirill Gerasimyuk, who according to scouting reports, has a great glove and good rebound control, something Sergei Bobrovsky struggles with. Gerasimyuk was drafted at age 17 after putting up a .931 save percentage for SKA-Varyagi of the MHL (Russian junior league, third highest league) in 27 games. He even played in 5 games at age 17 in the second-level of Russian hockey the VHL for SKA-Neva. Gerasimyuk is a prospect in the SKA system and will likely play a couple of years for the KHL club. His time could come soon as both of SKA St Petersburg’s goalies Yaroslav Askarov (top goalie prospect for Nashville) and Alex Samonov (one of the top KHL goalies, who may sign an NHL contract soon, only aged 26) I can see coming over to North America shortly. Gerasimyuk will likely end up as Spencer Knight’s backup in the long term.
Aleksi Heponiemi (F, Finland, 2017 2nd Round Pick)- Heponiemi scored one of the best first career goals in Panthers franchise history, with an overtime winner in his first career game. Heponiemi had a goal and an assist in 9 NHL games last year. He will challenge for a full time role at training camp and I can see him getting it, but he has a lot of competition.
Without further ado, let’s get started
#10 Ty Smilanic (C, United States, 2020 3rd Round Pick)
2020-21 Stats: Quinnipac University (NCAA) 29 GP, 14 G, 7 A, 21 PTS
The Florida Panthers nabbed Ty Smilanic in the 3rd round of the 2020 NHL draft, and he has been good so far. The scouting report I read says that Smilanic is a great defensive-center who uses his size to win puck battles. His offensive ability has room for improvement, but he has the skills to be a defensive NHL center. Realistically, I see him as someone like a Noel Acciari type-player, a defensive center that can kill penalties and play valuable minutes anywhere in the lineup, but mostly being relied on as a 4th line center. He will return to Quinnipac this year, and I can see him earning an NHL contract either at the end of this season or the next. Most likely, I think he makes his NHL debut in 2024-25 and I think he’ll stick with the club once he gets his opportunity. Like Sourdif, I could see Zito trading him for an upgrade if Zito feels the NHL team needs help, but I believe Zito is more likely to trade Sourdif than Smilanic, because I believe Smilanic is more of a prototypical-Zito style player.
#9 Evan Nause (D, Canada, 2021 2nd Round Pick)
2020-21 Stats: Quebec (QMJHL) 32 GP, 4 G, 18 A, 22 PTS
Bill Zito selected the 6’2 left handed defender in the 2nd round of the 2021 draft. Nause’s scouting report has him as a prototypical defensive defender, who uses his skilled skating ability to help control the breakout, breakup passes and puck retrieval. He was one of my favorite prospects in this draft and I was ecstatic Zito picked him. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see Nause until early November, as he is missing the start of the QMJHL season with a shoulder injury. Nause likely earns an NHL contract sometime in the calendar year of 2022 and will play in the Q for this season and next. He likely makes his AHL debut in 2023-24, with his NHL debut the year after. He likely becomes a full time NHLer in 202526 and looks like a solid second/third pair option for the Panthers of the late 20s and early 30s, if Sunrise is still above water by then (climate change is no joke folks).
#8 Logan Hutsko (RW, United States, 2018 3rd Round Pick)
2020-21 Stats: Boston College (NCAA) 11 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 PTS
When Logan Hutsko makes his inevitable NHL debut it will be a headliner story throughout the NHL. Hutsko isn’t the most talented prospect, but he has one of the most inspiring stories you will read. The Tampa-born product suffered a neck injury that nearly paralyzed him at age 16. He had a hard recovery and when he came back, he suffered an MCL injury. Nonetheless, Hutsko persevered and made the Boston College hockey team. He put up 31 points in 37 games as a freshman and the Panthers took a chance on him in the third round. An ankle injury prematurely ended his senior season, but he would immediately sign with the Panthers. Hutsko will play in Charlotte this year and I see him playing there the whole season. He likely makes his NHL debut in 2022-23 and becomes a full time player in 2023-24. I see him as the heir apparent to Frank Vatrano. He’s more of a playmaker, different from Vatrano who is a sniper.
#7 John Ludvig (D, Canada, 2019 3rd Round Pick)
2020-21 Stats: Syracuse (AHL) 13 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS
Originally drafted as a defensive defender, Ludvig exploded offensively in 2019-20, putting up 62 points in 60 games from the blueline. Ludvig seems to be an extremely solid two way defenseman and in limited action in Syracuse last year, due to the Florida-Tampa AHL split, he put up 8 points in 13 games, which is pretty solid. Ludvig will play his first full AHL season this year, and I see him as a top pairing guy for Geordie Kinnear (and if Kinnear doesn’t do that, Zito should fire him). I can see him making his NHL debut at some point this season along with Max Gildon, and the duo will likely push for full time roles in the NHL next year.
#6 Max Gildon (D, United States, 2017 3rd Round Pick)
2020-21 Stats: Bakersfield (AHL) 32 GP, 2 G, 17 A, 19 PTS
With Charlotte opting out of the 2020-21 season, the Panthers smartly loaned Gildon to Edmonton’s minor league team in Bakersfield. Drafted in 2017, Gildon is a skilled offensive defenseman who can play the D-zone with his big body. He made the AHL All Rookie Team. Gildon will be a full time NHLer by the conclusion of the 2022-23 season with his debut coming this year. I think he will make a significant push at training camp for the opening night roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the opening night roster. The Panthers are weak on the left side of the blueline with Gustav Forsling being the only real true lefty that can play top 4 minutes. Right-handed shot Mackenzie Weegar has played on the left side of the blueline on the top pair, but Markus Nutivaara is the only other lefty (other than Forsling) that is a certain shot for opening night. Nutivaara is often injured and this will likely lead to a three-way competition between Gildon, Ludvig and Matt Kiersted for a spot on the roster. I think it goes to Kiersted, but Gildon will not be an easy opponent.
#5 Mackie Samoskevich (C, United States, 2021 1st Round Pick)
2020-21 Stats: Chicago (USHL) 36 GP, 13 G, 24 A, 37 PTS
Another inspiring story, Samoskevich is from Newtown, Connecticut. At age 9, Samoskevich’s hometown experienced a terrible tragedy as twenty-six people died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Although Samoskevich did not attend Sandy Hook Elementary that year, he has spent his whole hockey career honoring those that died, as he wears number 26. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to wear that number at the University of Michigan, but it should be available for him once he makes the NHL. Mackie is a talented offensive player with a great hockey IQ. Enamored with him, Bill Zito made no secret about his joy that the American product was available when the Panthers went on the clock. He will likely play a couple of seasons for a stacked University of Michigan team and he will likely end up playing on the wing once he makes the NHL, which should happen in 2024-25.
#4 Matt Kiersted (D, United States, Collegiate Free Agent)
2020-21 Stats: Florida (NHL) 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS and University of North Dakota (NCAA) 29 GP, 3 G, 19 A, 22 PTS
One of the most hyped college free agents in the 2020-21 season, Kiersted signed with the Panthers and immediately played in the NHL. He played 7 games, and did alright, but he clearly needed some seasoning. Kiersted kept fresh over the summer playing in Da Beauty League and is attending development camp. He will make a push for the opening night roster and will likely see significant NHL action this season, but I would not be surprised if the Panthers want him to play a couple of months in the minors first.
The Big Three
The Panthers top three prospects are so good, each will get their own article which I will try to get out this week.