And So We Begin…

Jono Bullard runs the rule over the first six names on the Nottingham Panthers roster for season 2015/16

The domestic season only ended on Sunday but already Elite League teams have been announcing the start of their rosters for the 2015/16 Elite League season. Some Panthers fans were openly expressing concern over social media regarding the silence from the club regarding any player movement, however that silence was broken yesterday afternoon as the first six names for next season’s squad were announced. David Clarke, Steve Lee & Robert Farmer return as part of multi-year deals; Sam Oakford returns for another season; Ollie Betteridge comes to Panthers full-time after being on a two-way contract with Swindon Wildcats of the EPL and Bryan Schmidt is the first confirmed import signing to complete a course at Loughborough University.

Despite the position of coach Corey Neilson still being unclear at this time team building for next season has got off to a very solid start, especially the British contingent. To look at each player individually:

David Clarke An injury hit season for the captain but despite only playing 24 games was one of only 3 Panthers players to tally a 1+ point a game average, Guillaume Doucet & Chris Lawrence being the others. Even at 34 years-old Clarke is still one of the most feared goal scorers in the Elite League. For me an absolute must have player, no other British forward is as lethal in front of the net. Hopefully he can have an injury free season which will no doubt see him back at the top of the goal-scoring charts.

Steve Lee Another player whose season was blighted by injuries but also another must have player for me as well. It’s easy to forget that Lee is still only 24 and this will be his seventh season at the Panthers. Now vastly experienced on the blue-line he more than capable of playing 2nd line defence, especially in an expected four line system.

Robert Farmer I didn’t realise he was on a multi-year contract but I’m glad he is. Farmer was our MVP last year in my opinion and would no doubt have been at the top of most clubs shopping list. While he may be widely mocked by the fans of other sides I’d bet there’s not many who wouldn’t want Farmer suiting up for their teams. For me he is the epitome of a team player, willing to get stuck in, gives 100% every shift and has the skill to create something out of nothing. Another absolute must re-signing for me.

Bryan Schmidt To say that Schmidt’s return has not gone down very well with the Panthers fan base would be a massive understatement! Both him and Mike Berube were heavily criticised, especially in the latter half of the season, so Schmidt’s return has come as a surprise even though it is part of an ongoing course with Loughborough University. For me though the problems of the season just past were not in defence but up front so I feel that some of the criticism handed out to Schmidt has been a little harsh.
As a defensive defenceman I thought Schmidt played his role well, often keeping opposition attackers to the outside and restricting their chances on net. However he was beaten for speed very easily at times which will be a concern going into next season, but if we are to have a four-line defence I don’t envisage this being a big problem.

Sam Oakford Oakford is rightly rewarded for a solid first season at Elite League level. Injuries, especially those to Steve Lee, saw him get increased ice-time where he didn’t let himself or the team down. He is by no means the finished article but has shown enough promise to deserve at least another season.

Oliver Betteridge Betteridge joins the Panthers roster full-time after two years on a two-way contract with the EPL’s Swindon Wildcats. The 19 year-old has shown plenty of promise in his appearances for Panthers so far and will no doubt form part of the mooted fourth forward line for next season. It would have been nice to see him link up with Clan bound Jordan Cownie once again but Lewis Hook is still available.

As I said at the start a solid start to recruitment for next season, but I would like to see the position of coach confirmed before we announce any more, whether that be Corey Neilson or a new man at the helm. Interesting times ahead no doubt.


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