Despite outward appearances, not all tryouts end poorly in the NHL. Every once in a while, an impressive camp effort can be it all it takes for even the most obscure player, veteran or prospect, to prove that they are deserving of an NHL contract. Such is the case of Ed Wittchow, who today signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Florida Panther, per a team release. Financial terms have not been disclosed.
Wittchow, 24, was actually drafted by Florida back in 2011, a sixth-round selection out of the USHL. The Minnesota-native attended the University of Wisconsin for four years, becoming the captain of the team in his final year. However, the 6’3″ Wittchow is a stay-at-home type who managed to accrue only 17 total points in his time with the Badgers. While a reliable defensive player, he also didn’t turn heads with his checking ability or physicality in the college game either. Thus, upon graduating, the Panthers had lost interest in signing Wittchow to an entry-level deal. However, he stuck around the organization, singing an AHL contract with the Panthers’ affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, for the 2016-17 season. Again, Wittchow was not nothing if not unspectacular, scoring just four points and posting a -6 in 38 games with Springfield and skating in another 14 games with the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs. Nevertheless, Wittchow’s hard work and dedication – specifically referenced by Flordia GM Dale Tallon in today’s announcement – earned Wittchow an extension with the Thunderbirds and an invitation to camp. After getting another close look at their former prospect, it seems the Panthers again would like to be a part of Wittchow’s hockey future by giving him his first NHL contract.
The Panthers could use some extra defensive depth after their recent trade of solid veteran Jason Demers to the Arizona Coyotes, but expect Wittchow’s role in 2017-18 to be more of a backup to the backups. With just one season of pro hockey under his belt, the Badger blue liner likely needs quite a bit more seasoning before he is ready to challenge for NHL minutes. However, with Springfield teammate Ian McCoshen likely now slated for a starting role in Florida and the likes of Mackenzie Weegar and Josh Brown the next men up, Wittchow should be set to play a leading role on the Thunderbirds’ blue line this season, which can only help his chances of reaching the next level one day.