Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Red Tilson Trophy winner Michael Houser signs pro deal with FloridaHe was slated to attend the development camp of the Winnipeg Jets that opens today, but instead Michael Houser is going to be sticking around, at least for a little while longer, with the Florida Panthers organization.

Being undrafted wasn't anything new to the 19-year old winner of the OHL's Red Tilson Trophy as league MVP. The Wexford, PA native was fourth in goaltender save percentage, but played at least 20 games more than the three goaltenders besting him in that category. All year long he was a rock for the London Knights, his .928 save percentage a huge boon to the team in April and May as they won the OHL championship and came within a goal of the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan.

Houser was passed over, twice, in the OHL's priority selection partially due to a physical deformity—a club foot—that hasn't seemed to hinder the young netminder's ability to make saves. But even after his OHL success and a relatively weak 2012 draft class that led to more overage players than normal being selected, Houser's name was one of the notable left off the digital draft board at the end of seven rounds in Pittsburgh. He'd been undrafted twice prior before.

**UPDATE** — The London Knights on Monday morning indeed announced on their Twitter feed that Houser did indeed sign that pro deal:

From Pittsburgh, Michael went to Des Moines of the USHL, then three years with the London Knights in the OHL.

Each year in London, Michael expected to be drafted, but for two years running, his name was never called.

"I think the first year I was pretty frustrated with it but last year … I've been through it once and this year, again I've been through it twice now, so I know what to expect," he said. [CBS Pittsburgh]

He accepted a try-out offer with both the Florida Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets to their prospect camps after the third snub. Houser is a 1992-born player, so a return to junior would be as an overage player. Most players who end up playing pro hockey do so by their overage season. Finding the right fit, however, took some time.

But just hours before Jets prospect camp was due to begin, Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press took to his Twitter account (above) to announce that the Panthers, who were apparently impressed by Houser's performance in their own camp, will sign him to his first pro contract.

The Panthers, who also feature a young stud of a goaltender in Jakob Markstrom and are rumoured to be the destination for current NHL star Roberto Luongo, seem like an odd fit for young goaltenders. But they also gave Andrey Makarov of the Saskatoon Blades a shot. For whatever reason, Makarov was passed over in seven rounds as an 18-year old, no less, but the two were paired up on the same scrimmage team at Panthers prospect camp last week.

No word yet on whether Makarov will also join the team's regular training camp in September, labour peace permitting, but Makarov's junior hockey options are larger than Houser's. At a younger age, there's less urgency.

For Houser and the Knights, it's a difficult split. The Knights were once rumoured to be the team courting Oscar Dansk in the import draft, but he was snatched up by the Erie Otters. London ended up taking defenceman Nikita Zadorov rather than a goaltender, though you'd have to think that Mark Hunter has been planning on the departure of Houser for quite some time.

Whether they go the trade route or keep aboard one of their present backups remains to be seen. It's worth noting that rookie goaltender Jake Patterson stopped 91 of 98 shots in his seven appearances this season.

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