While the Florida Panthers are off to a slow start this season, several of their top prospects have been playing well with the Springfield Thunderbirds, the team’s American Hockey affiliate.
Based on rankings by The Hockey News, five of the Panthers’ top 10 prospects are at Springfield — centers Henrik Borgstrom and Jonathan Ang, goalie Sam Montembeault and wingers Dryden Hunt and Jayce Hawryluk.
This week, the Herald spoke to Springfield’s third-year head coach Geordie Kinnear, who provided updates on the aforementioned players:
▪ Borgstrom, Florida’s No. 1 prospect, is living up to the hype so far in his rookie pro season at Springfield, posting two goals and four assists in his first three games.
A 21-year-old from Finland, Borgstrom got a four-game NHL trial at the end of last season, scoring one goal. He played two years of college hockey at Denver, showing offensive skill. The next step for the 6-3, 190-pounder is to add physical strength and mental toughness.
“He has offensive gifts,” Kinnear said. “But what impresses me most is that he’s committed to becoming a 200-foot player — reloading and tracking back [on defense]. He wants to be that guy, and he has improved his play without the puck.”
▪ Montembeault, who turns 22 on Oct. 30, is Florida’s sixth-ranked prospect. He was Florida’s third-round pick in 2015, and he showed athletic ability last season in his first pro year, posting a 13-23-3 record, a 3.25 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage with Springfield.
So far this season, he has shown major improvement with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage.
“He had a great summer, working on his physical strength,” Kinnear said of the 6-3 190-pounder. “He has become more assertive, showing improved mental focus.”
▪ Hunt, Florida’s seventh-ranked prospect, played 11 games for the Panthers last season, compiling just one assist in his first crack at the NHL.
After a prolific junior career, Hunt turns 23 next month and is probably one year away from getting a bigger opportunity with the Panthers. In the meantime, the Panthers will monitor his work ethic and attention to detail.
“He’s a heavy player who finishes his checks,” Kinnear said of the 6-0, 195-pounder. “He’s a determined offensive player who wants to get to the blue paint in front of the net. He wears people down.”
▪ Hawryluk, Florida’s ninth-ranked prospect, is a 5-10, 190-pounder who was the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2014. He’s now in his third year at Springfield and is playing on the same line with Borgsrom.
“It hasn’t been easy for ‘Howie’ his first two years here,” Kinnear said of Hawryluk, who turns 23 on New Year’s Day. “But it takes some people a different amount of time to mature, and he has shown a lot of growth in the past month in terms of his 200-foot game and being ready every day. I’m very excited about Howie.”
▪ Ang, Florida’s 10th-ranked prospect, is probably two years away from the Panthers. But the 5-11, 165-pound Ontario native has a major advantage to his game.
“He has NHL speed,” Kinnear said of Ang, a 20-year-old and the Panthers’ fourth-round pick in 2016. “He’s coming from a successful junior career [25 goals, 70 points in 65 games last season], but he’s raw. Like any young player, he needs detail. But he’s hard worker – a student of the game.”