Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One To Watch: Florida Panthers

Another club with a lot of prospect depth is Florida who has chosen to add veterans to the roster meaning much of their youth will continue to develop in the minors. Recent additions of Tim Thomas, Scott Gomez, Brad Boyes, Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert mean the likes of Jacob Markstrom, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden and Alex Petrovic won't be as much of a factor this year as expected just a month ago.

Tough break for those young players but down the road they may be the biggest beneficiaries of those signings.

2012 Choice: Rocco Grimaldi - Injured seriously and early in his freshman season, Grimaldi was given a do over and made good on it last year with North Dakota. His 36 points in 40 games was bested only by a pair of seniors so Grimaldi's year has to be considered a major one offensively. He was part of USA's gold medal at the 2013 WJC in Russia going from scape goat to hero over the course of the 10-day event. Grimaldi is poised to have a massive year as a sophomore at North Dakota.  

My 2013-14 selection as One To Watch for Florida comes after the jump. 

Sam Brittain (G)
Denver Pioneers
6'1, 215 lbs
Drafted 92nd overall in 2010

Photo: Denver Athletics
Speaking of a player heading into a pivotal season in his career, there is no debate that this is a crucial year for goaltender Sam Brittain. The Calgary native's college career has been like a picture of the Rocky Mountains; peaks and valleys. 

Brittain's freshman year was impressive, so much so that he was on the radar for Hockey Canada. But a serious knee injury knocked him out of contention for the World Junior Championship and competition for the starting job didn't help his cause either. 

The last two seasons saw Brittain fighting, perhaps losing, a head to head battle with Juho Olkinuora for starts. The platoon system and the injuries limited Brittain to just 25 games over the last two seasons, 8 games less than he played as a freshman. 

This year the job is his to lose (again) as Olkinuora has turned pro. Brittain's main competition comes from local product Evan Cowley, a raw freshman who also happens to be a Panthers prospect. 

Photo: Denver Athletics
Brittain will be pushed to keep the starting job but that's a good thing. With conference realignment seeing Denver move to the new NCHC, there won't be many light nights. 

Can Brittain regain his freshman form having missed so much time over the last two years? Does a successful season end with a contract from the Panthers or a testing of the free agent market in August? 

Lots of reasons to for Florida fans to follow the progression of Brittain closely this year and that's why he's my selection of One To Watch for the Panthers in 2013-14.          

Up Next: Winnipeg Jets  

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