The Florida Panthers have a great pool of young talent that are currently cutting their teeth in lower divisions. Many of the Cats' prospect have several years before they'll see NHL ice but there are a few players from the San Antonio Rampage who will likely make guest appearances in Panthers sweaters this season.
Tyson Strachan is the most likely of the bunch to see a good amount of time in the NHL next season. Strachan is a big defenseman at 6-3 and 225 pounds. He played 15 games with the Cats last season. His numbers weren't incredible but then again, he was playing on the third line defense and received limited ice time. Strachan is the most obvious choice in the Panthers' system to replace someone if they get injured or their game suffers. Strachan is a veteran; he's been playing at the AHL and NHL level for the past six seasons including substantial stints with the St. Louis Blues.
Alex Petrovic is a young defenseman that the Cats seem to be quite hot on right now. He's young and there's a good chance that Strachan will get the call before Petrovic but I wouldn't be surprised if the Cats didn't give the young man a little ice time at the NHL level this year. Before the Rampage Petrovic refined his chops with the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL. In his last two seasons with the Red Deer Petrovic averaged 52 points per season. The NHL is definitely a much higher level of play but Petrovic has proven he can score points from the back end.
Michal Repik played 31 games with the Panthers in the 2010-11 season before being sent back down to the AHL for a little more fine tuning. The Cats drafted Repik in the second round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The reason that Repik may make an appearance next season is due to the Panthers' shallow depth at the right wing position. There's no way to tell what will happen once the season starts but if there is any long-term glitch at right wing, Repik would be the natural choice to come fill in the gaps.
Jacob Markstrom is a highly touted goaltending prospect that saw a few starts with the Cats last year. Markstrom's NHL record is currently an unimpressive 2-4-1 but it seems that he has all the tools to be a premier goaltender in the future. Markstrom is a monster between the pipes at 6-6 and 196 pounds. The Panthers noticed Markstrom when he played for Braynas IF Gavle win the Swedish premier league. In 2010 Markstrom ended his season in Braynas with a 2.01 goals against average. Not bad, the young man has the talent but that talent still needs to be refined before he's ready to be a premier goaltender in the NHL. Even if there are no injuries in the goaltending corps this year, expect to see the Cats call up Markstrom from time to time just to get some experience.
It's an exciting time to be a Panthers fan. Besides these few players there are many others who are currently playing in college, in juniors, or with the Rampage that have the tools to succeed at the NHL level. Fan will get to see a select few prospects play at the NHL level next year but there is plenty more young talent that will come along in the future.
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Kristian Eberwein is a freelance journalist from Orlando, Florida. He was an English major at the University of Central Florida and has been a part of the Florida hockey community for the past twenty years. Follow him on Twitter @KrisEberwein