|Dave Bolland – C||Tom Gilbert – D|
|Jussi Jokinen – LW||Scott Clemmensen – G|
|Willie Mitchell – D||Jesse Winchester – C|
|Derek MacKenzie – C|
|Al Montoya – G|
|Shawn Thornton – RW|
The anticipation for the start of the 2014-15 season should be at an all-time high in Sunrise, Florida. Roberto Luongo is back in town for his first full season as a Panther since 2005-06 and they added multiple pieces through Free Agency and had the first overall draft pick, that they used to select Aaron Ekblad, a kid who is expected a franchise defenseman.
In 2013-14 the Panthers finished with 66 points (29-45-8), second worst in the NHL to the Buffalo Sabres. Despite the rough season, it did not deter the Panthers management from making a splash when they traded for Luongo last year. Bobby Lu was a Panther from 2000 to 2006 before heading to Vancouver for seven and a half seasons. He returns to the Sunshine State with a career 2.51 GAA and .919 SV%. In 14 starts after coming over from the Canucks, Luongo went 6-7-1 with a 2.46 GAA and .924 SV%. On paper it looks like they should be a better team than last season, which will help Luongo’s fantasy value, but heading into drafts, he is a fringe top-15 netminder.
The majority of their offseason additions were forwards. They brought in four players all over the age of 28, which will bring some experience to a talented, young group of forwards. The biggest signing they made was bringing centre Dave Bolland in on a five-year contract worth $27.5 million. Bolland has Stanley Cup experience, but is coming off of an awful Achilles injury that cost him 59 games in Toronto last year. With Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad expected to man the first two lines, it looks like Bolland and his $5.5 million dollar cap-hit will plug in on the third line. After two years in Pittsburgh, Jussi Jokinen fled for more money and warmer weather this offseason. He had 57 points (21G / 36A) playing with Evgeni Malkin last season, the Panthers are hoping he can find chemistry with one of the aforementioned Barkov or Bjugstad.
By the time the season starts, Barkov and Bjugstad will be 19 and 22 respectively. The 2013 second overall pick, Barkov had his rookie season cut short by a knee injury, but will be 100 per cent for training camp. The 6-foot-3 teenager had 24 points (8G / 16A) in 54 games and showed flashes of brilliance. He will be a late-round pick in re-draft leagues, but is an excellent keeper option. The most important forward in this lineup is Jonathan Huberdeau. After winning the 2012-13 Calder Trophy, Huberdeau slumped hard in his sophomore campaign. He is a tremendously talented and creative player and should have no problem bouncing back in 2014-15.
When you take a look at the Panthers’ blueline, Brian Campbell is the first name you see. He is just two years removed from a career-high 49 assist, 53 point season with the Panthers. In three seasons with Florida, he has never missed a game and has averaged 45.25 points per 82 games. He won’t be the best fantasy defenseman by any stretch of the imagination, but he is as safe of a pick as there is–just be ready to take a hit in the plus/minus department. Next you have to look at Dmitri Kulikov who has under-performed through his first five seasons, but he will only be 24-years-old in October, so there is still time for his game to grow. Let him prove it to you before adding him to your fantasy team. Earlier I mentioned their first overall pick Ekblad, he should make the big club out of camp and have an immediate impact. The 6-foot-3, 216 lbs. blueliner had 23 goals and 30 assists (53 points) in 58 games with the Barrie Colts last year. He was not the first overall pick for nothing. He has it all. A big body, poise with the biscuit and exceptional vision. He might not be a fantasy starter, but will be an excellent keeper option with loads of upside.
Look to the Draft (Ranking Panthers’ Fantasy Players)
- Roberto Luongo – G
- Jonathan Huberdeau – C/LW
- Brian Campbell – D
- Jussi Jokinen – LW
- Aleksander Barkov – C
- Aaron Ekblad – D
- Nick Bjugstad – C
- Brad Boyes – RW
Click HERE for the Panthers’ potential line combinations heading into the 2014-15 season.
Season prediction: The Panthers finish sixth in the Atlantic Division and miss the playoffs for the third straight year and 13th time in the last 14 seasons.
Other Season Previews: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames,Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars,Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers,