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How deep will the Panthers go this year?

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Photo credit:Photo Credit: USA TODAY/ Robert Mayer
Bennett Jull
3 months ago
Overview:
The Florida Panthers finished last season with 122 points. An incredible achievement that unfortunately did not translate to similar playoff success. The President’s trophy means far less than winning the Stanley Cup, but the Cats were certainly dominant in the regular season last year. A different roster with some major player alterations looks to have the Panthers declining this year, at least over 82 games.
Stats from last year:
Atlantic Standing: 1/8
Points: 122 (1st)
CF%: 56.36% (1st)
GF%: 57.52% (4th)
PP%: 24.4% (5th)
PK%: 79.5% (16th)
There is obviously an outlier here, the PK will be a point of emphasis. Everything else is obviously outstanding.
Internal Moves:
Paul Maurice takes over as bench boss this year. Florida lost a lot of players over the off season, and brought in many new faces to replace them. It will be interesting to see the dynamic of many new faces mixing with some old ones, all under a new coach. How quickly Maurice gets everyone up to speed will be a major part of their success this year.
Spencer Knight signed a 3 year, $13.5M dollar extension. How will Florida handle the crease this year? Is Knight ready to take a jump forward and demand more ice time from Sergei Bobrovsky? Bobrovksy’s form will have a lot to say about that.
Player Moves:
It was the talk of the hockey summer, by far the biggest trade in recent memory. The Panthers acquired Matthew Tkachuk and a 4th round pick for MacKenzie Weegar, Jonathan Huberdeau, Cole Schwindt and a 1st round pick.
It’s important to factor in that when this trade was made, Huberdeau and Weegar were on expiring contracts. Since then, the Flames have signed both to longterm deals, and Brad Treliving should be choosing where his will should be built around the Saddledome. What a masterful job he has done. Schwindt is an interesting prospect that will play in the AHL this year, and the first round pick is nice as well.
From the Cats perspective, they get a young bonafide superstar right in his prime. Tkachuk scored 42 goals last year, and will look to put up similar numbers this season. He will get ample power play opportunities, and should routinely lead the Panthers forwards in ice time.
Other moves were made beyond that blockbuster trade. The Panthers lost Claude Giroux, Noel Acciari, Mason Marchment, Joe Thornton and Maxim Mamin up front. They lost Ben Chiarot, Robert Hagg, Markus Nutivaara as well. All these outgoings are in addition to the aforementioned Huberdeau and Weegar.
The Panthers were active on the free agent front, and had to bring in many players to replace who they lost. Up front, they added Colin White, Gerry Mayhew, Chris Tierney, Nick Cousins, and Rudolfs Balcers. At the back they brought in Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, and Anthony Bitetto.
Balcers, White, and Nick Cousins should factor in regularly, while Marc Staal and late waiver addition Josh Mahura look set to help on the back end to start the year.
Keys:
Paul Maurice will need to rally the troops. He will be tasked with pulling the best out of his players, and trying to get them comfortable with new systems. Florida isn’t as deep this year, and will need maximum productivity from who they have.
There will be tons of pressure on Matthew Tkachuk. Florida fans are hoping he will be a direct replacement for Huberdeau’s production, but there are multiple elements to his game that the Panthers have craved. His grit, tenacity, and work ethic are admirable, and his ability to be a thorn in any opponents side is a great trait. If Tkachuk doesn’t perform, this trade will be a whopping disaster. I think he will do just fine, he will certainly be given every opportunity.
The top 6 will have to score, and score in bunches. Florida’s bottom 6 has some interesting elements to it, but goals certainly don’t appear to be one of them. Perhaps that leaves opportunities for members of the bottom 6 to break out this year.
On defence, the loss of Weegar is large. Marc Staal is a good veteran addition, and Mahura could be a neat bottom pairing find, but Weegar leaves a massive hole. The group as a whole will look to collectively improve, and perhaps get some help from their goaltending as well.
Bobrovsky and Knight. This will be an interesting tandem to watch. Knight could command more minutes this year, especially if Bobrovsky isn’t in his best form. Both goalies are incredibly capable, we shall see if Bobrovsky dominates the crease, or perhaps Knight makes a big push.
What Success Will Look Like:
Success will require some playoff success. I’m sure there are few in Sunrise that care about having the most points in the regular season. Their in-state rivals dominated them, and knocked them out with relative ease last year. Success this time around will be making a playoff run.
The top 6 will score, and success will revolve around their best players playing up to their capabilities. We have already touched on Tkachuk, will Barkov have another massive year? He is the unquestioned leader of this locker room, and with so many new faces, the Panthers will be leaning heavily on his leadership and production. Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart are other players in the top 6 that should continue to produce.
There is a spot that’s open for the taking. Anthony Duclair is injured for quite some time, and his spot needs to be filled. Could Rudolfs Balcers or Eetu Luostarinen step in admirably? Balcers has never scored 20 goals in the NHL, and Luostarinen is coming off his first full NHL season. There is an opportunity here for the taking.
Anton Lundell had a very solid rookie campaign, and looks set to start on the middle of the 3rd line. He will be looking for a strong sophomore season, and if he produces, he could command increased ice time or more power play looks. He is my candidate to breakout for the Panthers this year. His line mates look to be the newly acquired Colin White, and one of the aforementioned Balcers/Luostarinen. White will be embracing a fresh start, and look to revive his career. The 25 year old has not lived up to expectations since being taken in the first round by Ottawa back in 2015.
Ever energetic Ryan Lomberg will provide a spark on the 4th line alongside the wily veteran Patric Hornqvist. Both are perpetually annoying to their opponents. Nick Cousins looks set to play between them, rounding out the 4th line. He will be looking to prove he is worthy of staying once Duclair returns, while fending off any AHL call ups in the meantime.
Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling form the 1st d-pairing. Ekblad will be hoping for perfect health, he had a nasty injury that caused him to miss the tail end of the regular season last year. Forsling provides a steady partner, and this tandem should be rock solid all year.
Brandon Montour will be on the 2nd pairing, and it will be neat to see who his partner ends up being for the majority of the season. It appears that Marc Staal will start. Staal is the definition of a veteran in this league, and will look to add a calming presence on the back end and in the dressing room. He has played over a thousand games in the NHL, and will help a penalty kill that struggled last season.
The bottom pair to start will be Radko Gudas and Josh Mahura. We all know Gudas’s game, he’s as physical as they come. Mahura will look to fit in, and prove he belongs in the NHL. It’s a great opportunity for him on a strong Cats team.
We talked about the goaltending, but success for the Panthers will require them to be better than average, something each netminder is capable of.
Projection:
3rd place in the Atlantic, 103 points.
They make the playoffs, but will have a tough go making some noise. They are undoubtedly weaker this year, and I personally have them just outside the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
Possible lineup:
Verhaeghe – Barkov – Reinhart
Balcers – Bennett – Tkachuk
White – Lundell – Luostarinen
Lomberg – Cousins – Hornqvist
*Duclair hurt
Ekblad – Forsling
Montour – Staal
Gudas – Mahura
Bobrovsky – Knight

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