Something, Something, Complete…

Cat’s Whiskers TV presenter Jono Bullard examines the completed Panthers roster.

With less than six weeks until Panthers opening Champions Hockey League game against Finnish side Lukko Rauma, the roster has been completed with the signing of Canadian defenceman Mike Berube.

With the squad now known for the 2014/15 season, debate has raged amongst Panthers fans on The Cage and throughout Social Media, asking the question is it good enough? Opinions have been varied ranging from a great squad to ‘a possible car crash of a roster’ as one poster on The Cage put it! I’ll admit I have a slight concern about the lack of a recognised tough guy (more later), but overall I think Corey Neilson has signed a balanced squad which is looking especially strong in defence. The full roster can be viewed at Elite Prospects.

The defence has been improved enormously I feel. Berube looks to be a stella signing, captaining the Allen Americans to the Central Hockey League’s President’s Cup this season. He also comes with excellent overall plus/minus figures from his previous stints in the CHL, AHL & ECHL. The signings of  Bryan Schmidt, Cody Wild & Steve Ward add some real quality to the blueline. With Steve Lee returning, Evan Mosey & Sam Oakford adding depth and Tom Norton on a two-way contract, I expect Craig Kowalski will be delighted with the calibre of defence in front of him. The old saying goes that defence wins Championships, on paper I think our defence looks excellent and should be a dominate force within the Elite League.

Going forward we look good once again. In David Clarke, Robert Lachowicz, Robert Farmer & Jonathan Boxill we have some of the best British players in the country and should provide at least 75 goals between them. We know what we’re getting with Brandon Benedict a workhouse who will give everything every shift, will he be paired with Bruce Graham once again? Graham scored over 40 goals in his last spell with the Panthers and I’d hope he can produce similar figures this time around.
Perhaps the surprise signing of the summer was Chris Higgins joining from last season’s Championship winning Belfast Giants. The angry reaction of some of the Giants fan base showed how disappointed they were with his departure. Hopefully he’ll bring the form & skill he showed at the Giants to the Panthers and should be an excellent provider for snipers like Graham & Clarke.
A surprise returnee was Greg Jacina. While I felt he didn’t show his best form last season he now has a chance to repay the faith that Neilson has shown in him. The forward lines are rounded off by Chris Lawrence who has plenty of ECHL & AHL experience and Maxime Parent who joins after alternating between Florida in the ECHL & Syrecuse in the AHL last season. From his previous clubs I expect Lawrence to be amongst the points while Parent appears to be a defensive centre.
While the forward lines perhaps don’t look as potent as they have in previous seasons, it appears to have been sacrificed for a better defensive unit which is is more than fine by me.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic about this squad is the average age which is just 27. I’m expecting a fast, hungry team and one which I hope will have the stamina to last the league campaign as well as the Champions League.

So in conclusion I think we look excellent for the new season with a balanced, quality squad with a lot of depth, especially in defence. However I don’t expect Berube to be the final recruit. I have no inside knowledge and I’m certainly not in the know, I just have a gut feeling that we’ll have another couple of imports due to our involvement in the Champions League. Whether they will be signed just for the CHL or will be used in a squad rotation remains to be seen (if it happens at all), but to compete on numbers I would expect us to ice four lines for CHL games. Due to the competition we’re facing I’d expect an enforcer to be surplus to requirements for the CHL, however I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we did sign someone who can drop the gloves for our Elite League campaign. Like I said I doubt this roster is finished just yet, which makes the next few weeks very interesting indeed.

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