Best of British

Jono Bullard explains why he thinks Nottingham Panthers have the best British contingent in the Elite League.

It’s been a week since Robert Lachowicz was confirmed as returning to the Nottingham Panthers for the 2015/16 Elite League season, making a total of nine British players in the squad for the coming campaign. On rosters announced so far, only Coventry Blaze can match that number of Brits in their squad (of which 4 of those are on two-way deals with Milton Keynes Lightning of the EPIHL) and while quality British players are on rosters throughout the EIHL, I firmly believe that there isn’t a team that can compete with the quality of British players in this Panthers squad, who are netminder Dan Green; Defencemen Steve Lee, Sam Oakford & Paul Swindlehurst; Forwards Oliver Betteridge, David Clarke, Robert Farmer, Robert Lachowicz & Matthew Myers.

Starting with the forwards, with the exception of Betteridge who will start his first season as a full-time pro, the rest consistently put up numbers comparable with most imports season after season. The table below shows how all Elite League teams British forward units compare on their 2015/16 rosters so far (2014/15 EIHL stats used from Elite Prospects)
Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 22.23.55

Manchester Storm find themselves at the top, however the figures are unrealistic considering they only have one British forward signed so far (Matthew Davies, formerly of Hull Stingrays). Of the teams with multiple British forwards Panthers lead the way with their group scoring 0.75 points per game between them in the EIHL last season. Many think that the Giants have the best set of British forwards in the league and while their roster does possess some serious firepower with Shields & Peacock, I feel that Panthers British contingent is better overall, and the statistics above will back my theory.

Also with six imports left to sign, likely to all be forwards, coach Corey Neilson should have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Of course, this is not without it’s problems. He will have to keep everyone happy with ice-time, especially on special teams, and this will have to be carefully managed in a four-line set-up. Also you have to wonder how much budget is left for the remaining import forwards, however until we see who has been signed that is impossible to answer. Nevertheless, with the British players Neilson has some serious forward depth available to him that no other Elite league team will be able to match with the exception of Braehead, but again as shown above the Panthers British contingent comfortably outscore their Clan counterparts.

In defence Panthers also have British depth with GB international Paul Swindlehurst joining Steve Lee & Sam Oakford. Panthers have at least four import defensemen signed (five if Evan Mosey plays in defence) which will allow Neilson to play four defensive lines if he wishes. David Simms tweeted the other day that he believes our decision not to go with six import D men will cost us. I disagree, out of all the EIHL teams only Cardiff can match Panthers with British defenceman (the excellent Mark Richardson & Josh Batch). Both Lee & Swindlehurst are tried & trusted at this level and will compliment our import defensive line-up and while Oakford is still learning he showed last season that he can positively contribute to the team.

Of course, both Belfast & Cardiff will have British starting net minders in Stephen Murphy & Ben Bowns. The ability for both teams to ice 13 import skaters cannot be underestimated and I expect both to have strong seasons this coming year. However when it comes to an overall package of British players I strongly believe that Panthers cannot be matched in the quality of native players available to them. As I said earlier, Coach Neilson could have a job in managing ice-time and players expectations but he will have several options available to him, plus added depth if Panthers suffer injury problems similar to the past two seasons.

If you think I’m wrong I’m always up for healthy debate. Leave a comment below or I can be found on Twitter @JonoBullard

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