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The Florida Panthers have been undergoing a youth movement over the past few years and the time has come for that young core to lead the team into the playoffs.
Perhaps the last piece of the puzzle is now under contract.
The Panthers announced on Wednesday that they had signed 2015 first-round pick Lawson Crouse to a three-year, entry-level contract.
General Manager Dale Tallon has said that he hopes Crouse is the final prospect needed to take the team over the top and create a perennial playoff team.
"We are very pleased to have signed Lawson to an entry-level contract," said Tallon. "Lawson is a strong, skilled and physically mature forward with good hands, who will provide us with a prominent forechecking presence each night. He was one of our best players in development camp and we are confident he can make an immediate impact on our roster, playing on one of our top lines."
Crouse was taken with the 11th overall pick in last month's NHL Draft which was held at the Panthers home arena in Sunrise.
Last season while playing for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, Crouse led the team in goals (29) and points (51) in 56 games played.
"Lawson's intense work ethic and his hockey sense became clearly evident at our prospects camp," said Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant. "His strength, size and high compete level allow him to contribute offensively and make plays at both ends of the ice. He will be given every opportunity to earn a top six forward position on our roster during training camp."
The 18-year-old stood out during the Panthers' 2015 Development Camp that ran from June 29th to July 2nd and has a legitimate chance of making the NHL roster if he looks good during training camp in September.
While many criticized his lack of scoring compared to other high draft picks, Tallon, Gallant and other members of the Panthers brass have been raving about him since the first time he touched the ice in a Florida sweater.
Saying things like he can be a top-6 forward on the NHL squad as soon as this season is a big deal.
Crouse is considered a power-forward, and guys who play that kind of game generally take a little longer to develop due to the difference in size and skill of players between minor hockey leagues and the pros.
Still, if Crouse can make that transition quickly than the sky is the limit for him in the upcoming season, especially if paired with guys like Nick Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri and Quinton Howden.
After signing his first NHL contract, Crouse joined the Hochman & Krantz show on 560 WQAM. You can listen to the interview by clicking below.
As for Howden, the Panthers also announced on Wednesday that he and John McFarland have signed one-year, two-way qualifying offers.
"We are very pleased to have re-signed Quinton and John," said Tallon. "Both Quinton and John are Panthers' draft picks who will continue to grow and develop within our organization."
Florida also announced that they have come to terms on a two-year, one-way deal with defenseman Alex Petrovic.
Petrovic split time between the NHL and AHL last season, playing 33 games with the Panthers and 41 games for the American League's San Antonio Rampage.
"We are very pleased to have re-signed Alex," said Tallon. "Alex is a strong, physical defenseman who possesses great size and strength. He took great strides last season, logging valuable minutes for the Panthers. He was one of the Rampage's top players and was named an American Hockey League All-Star. He is another building block for our team's future."
Signing Petrovic to a one-way deal means that the team expects him to be a full-time NHL player.
Indeed, the Panthers are getting younger in 2015.
Will handing the reigns over to the future of the franchise be what propels Florida into the playoffs?
We'll have to wait and find out, but the upcoming season should prove to be quite entertaining and fun.
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