San Antonio Rampage 2014-15 Primer:

(AHL Affiliate of the Florida Panthers)

The Rampage are looking for a bounce-back season after finishing with the 5th worst record in the AHL last year. The team boasts largely the same promising core of young players as last season, but those players are now a year stronger and a year wiser. With fewer roster spots going to veteran AHL’ers, talented rookies like Mackenzie Weegar and Rocco Grimaldi can look to shine and help drive this team back into the playoffs.

Grimaldi, drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, is an explosive forward who just wrapped up a successful, yet abbreviated career with the University of North Dakota. He survived in the NHL this preseason until the Panthers final cuts, so you know GM Dale Tallon thinks highly of him. He is one of an impressive depth of centers on the Rampage, who will all likely see call-ups to the Panthers this season if they catch the injury bug again. Vincent Trocheck has the most offensive upside, and with some defensive tuning, will surely improve on his strong rookie campaign. Drew Shore is a solid playmaker and penalty killer who always seems to be just outside the bubble for Florida. Quinton Howden is another forward with high athletic upside; unfortunately he was injured in the 1st game and will likely be out for a few weeks. Look for these middle of the ice playmakers to drive the Rampage this season, along with solid contributions from prospects like LW’s Connor Brickley and Garrett Wilson, and RW’s Bobby Butler, Logan Shaw and John McFarland.

Rampage 3-2 OT Win Over the OKC Barons – Highlights

Defense is where the Rampage would like to see the most improvement from last year. After dropping some veteran deadweight in the offseason, experienced NHL’ers Greg Zanon and Shane O’Brien will push the development of an extremely talented pool of players. The Florida Panthers have been waiting for Alex Petrovic to fully mature for a couple of years now and this season he needs to prove that he can play consistently. Mackenzie Weegar was an absolute steal for the organization, coming to Florida in the 7th round of 2013. Weegar had an impressive, under the radar juniors’ career and will look to translate that impact to the professional level this year. Look for solid defensive contributions by these players along with help from experienced prospects Steven Kampfer, Jonathan Racine and Blake Parlett.

On the surface, goaltending would seem to be a bit shaky for the Rampage this season. Games will likely be split between veteran NHL’er Dan Ellis and Panthers prospect Michael Houser. In reality though, the goaltending early on has been stellar as the Rampage find themselves having their best start to a season since 2009. Ellis has put in a solid effort, going 2-2-0. Ultimately though, Ellis is simply an insurance policy in case of injuries to the Panthers’ Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya. Houser on the other hand, has plenty of upside and is a more entertaining goaltender to watch. He is 3-0-0 in his 3 starts this season and has been rather impressive closing out games.

If Panthers and Rampage fans aren’t aware of Michael Houser’s story and perseverance, they should be. Michael was born with bilateral club feet and endured a mind-blowing 32 surgeries on his feet by the age of 12. Doctor’s did not even expect Houser to walk correctly, let alone play competitive sports. After being passed over in 3 consecutive NHL drafts, Houser proved his worth by being named OHL Goaltender of the Year and coming within 1 win of the Memorial Cup. Dale Tallon and the Panthers took notice and, after a strong camp, offered Houser an entry-level contract in July of 2012. Look for Houser to win the goaltending duel in San Antonio this year, and if you’re a fan, buy yourself a Michael Houser jersey!

Houser dominates a shootout in the OHL:

With the first month of the season winding down, The Rampage find themselves comfortably at 5-2-0 and sitting in first atop the West Division. With solid goaltending and averaging just over 3 goals per game, the team should be able to stay in most games this season. They just completed a back-to-back sweep of the Hamilton Bulldogs and the only trouble so far has been from the 2 losses to the Utica Comets and resurgent ex-Rampage goaltender Jacob Markstrom. There has been plenty of offense spread around the team but Bobby Butler (3 goals, 6 pts in 7 games), Garrett Wilson (3 goals, 4 pts in 7 games) and Vincent Trocheck (2 goals, 5 pts in 7 games) are currently leading the way.

The San Antonio Rampage and their fans have plenty to be excited about this season. Keep checking back for periodic updates on the team and other Florida Panthers prospects!