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Welcome to Scott Wheeler’s 2023 rankings of every NHL organization’s prospects. You can find the complete ranking and more information on the criteria here, as we count down daily from No. 32 to No. 1. The series, which includes in-depth evaluations and commentary from sources on nearly 500 prospects, runs from Jan. 9 to Feb. 8.

The Panthers’ pool runs deeper at the top in B and B-plus prospects than half a dozen teams who appeared in this year’s countdown behind them, but they lack a true top prospect and that depth tails off steeply once it hits double digits on this list.

That’s to be expected after they traded both of their top two picks in last year’s draft, graduated Spencer Knight and Anton Lundell (who were star prospects), and dealt some of the rest of their pool’s depth when they moved Emil Heineman, Devon Levi and Ty Smilanic.

Considering all of that, they’ve actually drafted fairly well given their standing here.

2022 prospect pool rank: No. 23 (change: -3)

1. Mackie Samoskevich, RW, 20 (University of Michigan)

After a good but not great performance at the summer world juniors (he was owed more than his three assists in five games), Samoskevich has taken a step forward as a sophomore with the Wolverines this season, where he is the team’s non-Adam Fantilli leader in goals and points. Samoskevich is a gifted, plus-level skating winger whose hands, speed (though I think his skating isn’t quite as strong as I gave it credit for in his draft year), and edges (in particular) help him attack on angles and put defenders on their heels.

There’s an intuition to his game that allows him to see plays through layers, hang onto pucks, and finesse pucks in and out of space with a dash or a pass. I love the way he moves inside the offensive zone and the high tempo he plays with. And while he’s not a big player, he’s an athletic one whose decent strength through the base of his stride allows him to keep sequences alive — and who has upped his competitiveness in the last year or so. I’ve been particularly impressed this year by the better consistency with which he has attacked underneath to the inside. He plays with jump, he’s hard to get a handle on with the way he cuts back against the grain on his outside edges, he can make plays off of his backhand as deftly as his forehand, and while I think there are times when he tries to do too much and over handles the puck, I’m a fan on the whole. He projects as a middle-six, PP2 winger.

2. Justin Sourdif, RW, 20 (Charlotte Checkers)

I’ve been a huge fan of Sourdif’s since his rookie season in the WHL and though his rookie season in the AHL hasn’t gone as smoothly as his NHL development camp and training camp did this summer/fall, I still like him to become a competitive and decently-skilled third-line NHL winger who can play on both special teams. He’s got some quirks to his game (highlighted by an oddly long stick for a 5-foot-11 player, which requires that he carries the puck way out in front of his body) but there’s just so much to like. He’s fast (with a bit of a gallop to his stride), he works his tail off, he protects the puck extremely well for his size, he can penalty kill, he’s got a great catch-and-release (which is particularly impressive given the challenges that long stick should pose), and he’s a smooth handler across his body (again, impressive because of the stick) whose feet and hands move out of sync to pull pucks across defenders in control.

I love his approach too. He wants the middle land, he’s comfortable inviting defenders in so that he can shield off of them, and he’s feisty. As he continues to add muscle, I think he’ll figure things out to become a call-up worthy AHLer. Coaches love him.

3. Grigori Denisenko, RW/LW, 22 (Charlotte Checkers)

Longtime readers will know that I’ve always been a little lower on Denisenko — even during the peak of the feverishness about his play internationally — than the consensus. Now, the clock is ticking too (this will be his last year on this list whether he graduates to the NHL or not due to his age). That doesn’t mean he’s not going to make the jump though, either. He’s a good AHL player on a low-scoring AHL team, and he plays with enough skill and intensity to warrant continued belief that he’s close.

With the puck, Denisenko’s hands can flash, he’s quick on his edges, and his playmaking can occasionally dazzle. He’s also a feisty, engaged player whose competitiveness is not an issue (though I do think he can occasionally chase the play a little too much trying to involve himself). How noticeable he is on the ice can contradict how effective he is, though, and I’m not sure his impressive all-around skill is complemented by his understanding of how to use it. But he’s an entertaining, active winger who still has a better-than-fair chance at translating as a complementary contributor.

I’ve seen some progress in his processing and problem-solving, which is something I felt held him back early on in his career when he was too reliant on trying to just will plays into existence with his skill and effort level. He’s starting to see more than just the clear play that’s available, and that should help him.

4. Michael Benning, RHD, 21 (University of Denver)

There might not be a player in the Panthers pool I’ve stuck my neck out for more than Benning, who was absolutely tremendous in the Frozen Four in Boston in April (creating four goals on plays he made while defending admirably off of it). He just continues to produce at the top of his age group and position, for a second straight year at the college level. Benning, who is this year listed at 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, plays an effortless flow game where pucks quickly travel through him on breakouts and transitions.

That game allows him to keep pace high without interruptions (the old coaching adage about the puck moving faster than the feet rings true with Benning) or hiccups. Then, inside the offensive zone he’s a natural quarterback who plays with rare calm and comfort, looking completely unbothered as he catches pucks, shields them, fakes and waits opposing players, or sidesteps across the line to find and hit lanes as both a playmaking threat and a shooting one.

He’s a classic play director who leads rushes, manages the puck, and creates with crafty intuition more than dynamic skill, routinely escaping pressure or stepping past it to make plays. And while he’s on the smaller side, his four-way mobility, anticipation, and athleticism help him defend at a high enough level to complement his play with the puck and control the college game at an early age. The NHL level is a different animal when you’re that size as a defender but he’s on the right track to give himself a real shot.

5. Evan Nause, LHD, 19 (Quebec Remparts)

I had Nause ranked 72nd when the Panthers drafted him 56th, so I was a touch lower on him than they (and many others I spoke to about him in advance of the draft) were. Then last season it took him some time to settle into his expanded role with the Remparts. But he has impressed me this year, both in Quebec and at Team Canada’s selection camp for the world juniors in Moncton, where I thought he was one of the better defensemen in the two games against USports before he was ultimately cut.

Nause is an athletic, pro-framed defenseman with impressive balance, strong control of his forward and backward pushes, and an ability to quickly read what’s in front of him (which allows him to consistently hit teammates in stride with little bump plays or headmans). He’s also mobile moving across the line, aggressively crossing over or opening up to create lanes or pull opposing players away from his linemates.

I like his reads defensively, where he does a good job stepping up into gaps to break up plays in the neutral zone, as well. He has become cooler and calmer under pressure in his own zone, sidestepping the forecheck to break pucks out more than once. He has become more active in joining the rush or sliding off the line. I think there are times when he beats the first layer and he can struggle to beat the second one if there isn’t an immediate play available. I also think he can get caught puck-watching at times. And though he’s comfortable with the puck on his stick (particularly out wide to his body going side to side), he seems to bobble it a fair share when pucks end up in his feet. We’ll see. But he has made progress on all of those fronts and a little more polish could turn him into a potential two-way depth defenseman at the next level.

6. Kasper Puutio, RHD, 20 (KalPa)

In his third season at the Liiga level, Puutio is now averaging about 15 minutes a night for an improved KalPa that he remains the youngest defenseman on. He has always been a tricky player to map out given the combination of how fast he has advanced up levels, how often he has switched teams, his position, and his June birthday. He has tended to look like a top player internationally. That was particularly true at this summer’s world juniors in Edmonton, where he led the Finns to a silver medal with his play defensively, his activity in transition and off the point, his playmaking inside the offensive zone at five-on-five and on the power play, and his ability to see and identify his options early.

But it’s hard to evaluate young defensemen in pro leagues and he has played three huge years of his development in Liiga now (after playing at Finland’s top U20 junior level at 16, which also made evaluating him challenging). I’d like to see him play with a little more ambition against men, like he does against his peers, because there’s actually some quiet skill to his game. He can make the available play, play patiently defensively, keep stick on puck with his smooth skating stride, etc. But I’ve liked him most when he’s more active without the puck and confident with it, taking charge a little instead of deferring. I think there may be a depth player there long term but it’s hard to be sure right now.

7. Mack Guzda, G, 21 (Charlotte Checkers)

Guzda, after generating a lot of free agent interest for his size (6-foot-5 and strongly-built) and play in Barrie and Owen Sound last year, has performed well as one of the better rookie goaltenders in the AHL this season. He’s boxy, he fills a lot of the net, he’s athletic (often a concern for goalies his size) when he needs to stretch out and go post-to-post, and he’s an intelligent kid and goaltender who reads plays well, tracks pucks through traffic effectively, and has studied the position to refine his game technically. His feet aren’t the quickest in shuffles or down to cover his five-hole, but I like him as a No. 3 who can fill in when injuries happen behind Spencer Knight Sergei Bobrovsky long term.

8. Jack Devine, RW, 19 (University of Denver)

Devine is a player who, in hindsight, I had ranked a little too highly ahead of the draft. He was slotted as a second-rounder on my board, was drafted in the seventh, and has probably played somewhere in between but closer to where he was picked than where I ranked him all told. He parlayed a 2003 birthday into an early move to college out of the U.S. NTDP, so he’s already a sophomore at Denver, where he has taken modest steps forward this season. His skill level doesn’t pop like some of USA Hockey’s other 2003s and 2004s, but he’s a better player than his numbers (which have been influenced by injuries and the Pioneers’ depth). He uses a tenacious playmaking style to drive play, keep sequences alive, and help out in the little battles and areas of the ice that tilt it in the right direction. I’ve also seen his skill really flash in possession, hanging onto pucks and playing between checks to blend effort with above-average talent (though not yet super consistently at the college level). He’s not going to be a star but I expect him to become a very productive NCAA player and eventually potentially make a case to become a contributing, complementary NHL forward. When he starts to hang onto pucks and looks to attack people as a passer or carrier with more confidence, he’s going to be good. The feel for the game and talent is there.

9. Ludvig Jansson, RHD, 19 (Sodertalje SK)

Jansson is fresh off being named to the media All-Star team for the 2023 world juniors (he wasn’t one of the two defensemen on my ballot but he was strongly considered) after leading the tournament in points and goals by defensemen, and Sweden in points by all players. He projects as a depth defenseman at the next level. He’s a good skater, he’s decisive with and without the puck, playing quick and firm, his shot, which he does a good job shaping through coverage, has developed some power, and he defends calmly and efficiently without being a standout in that regard. There are concerns that he might not be quite proficient enough at either end to progress as far as the NHL, but there are increasingly a lot of third-pairing defensemen in the league who just play smooth two-way games and I won’t be surprised if Jansson gets there in time. I expect they’ll sign him and give him an opportunity to come over and climb the ranks in the AHL.

10. Serron Noel, RW, 22 (Charlotte Checkers)

I’ve asked around about Serron Noel’s absence from the Panthers organization this year, and I haven’t been able to pin it down. Either way, he’s now 22 and, despite some good moments within the organization (led by a strong 2021 training camp), this is the last year of his entry-level contract. Even before all of this, Noel was a confounding but fascinating prospect as a 6-foot-5 forward who can really wheel, regularly flashes, but has always struggled with the consistency of the rest of his game. He’s got high-end speed and soft hands in tight to his body, both of which are extremely rare for a forward his size. He makes a lot of plays in his feet and he’s a threat to turn and burn a defender out wide. He’s also got a hard wrist shot (when he can get it off). He’s a lot to handle on the wall and even more difficult to stop when he attacks aggressively to the inside of the ice, though everyone has wanted to see him look to take over a little more than he has over the years and that has never really come. Ultimately, his progression has been slowed by a variety of factors, including a timid approach, a back injury, and now this lost year. I think there are the makings of an effective bottom-six NHLer who gives a lineup a different dimension. But he has always been a player who looks like an NHLer one game and not the next — too often outshone by players with lesser tools. And he’s running out of time to put the pieces together.

11. John Ludvig, LHD, 22 (Charlotte Checkers)

The story of Ludvig’s professional career has, unfortunately, been a story of injuries for three consecutive seasons now. It’s a shame, because when he got signed and made the jump from the WHL, he was one of junior hockey’s most productive primary points producers and showed real promise as a 6-foot-1, 200-pound third-round pick who bloomed late. When healthy, Ludvig’s a powerful, athletic defender who plays a physical, lean-on-you game built upon winning battles and rubbing players out in transition defensively, and using consistent decision-making and a hard shot to manage the game and finish plays offensively. Over time, he has also developed some needed polish and smoothness to his game. He was projecting as a third-pairing depth defenseman. Now he’s 22 and it’s hard to say whether he’ll get re-signed or advance past the AHL.

12. Kirill Gerasimyuk, G, 19 (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg)

One of the top goaltenders in the MHL for the last three seasons, Gerasimyuk, who wasn’t even one of the 13 international goalies ranked by NHL Central Scouting in 2021, is actually one of the only goalies outside of the big two in the 2021 draft class (Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa) that I would have selected. Despite a late-August birthday, Gerasimyuk had posted impressive age-adjusted results for a 17-year-old in both the MHL and VHL, regularly keeping his team in games. That strong play has continued since as well, and he now looks like he’s at a level that warrants graduating to the pro ranks full-time. Gerasimyuk’s a mid-sized goalie who plays a controlled game that relies on good tracking and anticipation to get to pucks early, and good hands that help him catch and block high-danger scoring chances. I like the poise he plays with in the net and had Russia participated in the world juniors this year, I think he would have been in the mix to be one of their three goalies. He’s on a long-term trajectory though still, so don’t be expecting him anytime soon.

13. Jakub Kos, LW, 19 (Ilves/Koovee)

Kos is a 6-foot-3 forward with good straight-line speed who protects the puck well along the wall one-on-one with defenders because of his length, and has looked like he belonged on two strong Czech national teams at back-to-back world juniors. But while his play has risen to dominant in the Finnish junior ranks, and effective in its second-tier Mestis, he’s still waiting for his first real look in Liiga. And given that he’ll turn 20 in May, that puts him a little later on the trajectory from Liiga depth forward to Liiga top-six forward that is required before you can typically come give it a go in the AHL. Most players who make it over here are just a little further along at this age. He’s also neither a checker nor a skilled guy (nor a shooter), so I wonder what he might look like over here beyond complementary AHL winger with some length.

14. Sandis Vilmanis, LW, 18 (Sarnia Sting)

Vilmanis is a gritty, hard-working, above-average skating winger who goes to the net, plays physical, doesn’t shy away from going at defenders, and involves himself shift to shift. Unfortunately, he’s also just not quite talented enough to convert or be a playmaker off of his up-tempo game as much as you’d hope — at least not yet. He’s a good player on a top team in Sarnia, and was a good player on a surprisingly-competitive Latvian team at the last few world juniors, but he was never the first or even second or third most talented player on either of those teams. The Panthers are likely counting on him to bloom late after not coming up in Latvia’s minor hockey system until he was 15.

15. Zach Uens, LHD, 21 (Charlotte Checkers)

Defensemen who play unremarkable, simple games are the hardest to project because some work out and some don’t and identifying the gray area with them is harder than it is with forwards. I think what we’ve learned about Uens in his introduction to the AHL is that he may just not be any more than a fine defender whose game with the puck is vanilla and doesn’t project into the NHL. Could I see him playing a few games here or there as a no-fuss 10 to 12 minute guy who gets an opportunity for his hard work? Sure. But he has very little by way of a track record of producing and his production and his game to the eye is, at times, effective with a pro build and mobility, but at others a little sloppy/discombobulated.

The Tiers

Each of my prospect pool rankings will be broken down into team-specific tiers in order to give you a better sense of the talent proximity from one player to the next (a gap which is sometimes minute and in other cases quite pronounced).

The Panthers’ breaks down into the following tiers: 1-4, 5-12, 13-15. I also considered mean WHL forward Josh Davies for this list, but I just don’t see how he makes it as more than a fourth-liner who gets a cup of coffee.












Mackie Samoskevich



U. of Michigan


Justin Sourdif





Grigori Denisenko





Michael Benning





Evan Nause





Kasper Puutio





Mack Guzda





Jack Devine





Ludvig Jansson





Serron Noel





John Ludvig





Kirill Gerasimyuk





Jakub Kos





Sandis Vilmanis





Zach Uens




(Photo of Mackie Samoskevich : Andy Devlin / Getty Images)



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