The Florida Panthers ended the 2017-18 season with a 44-30-8 record, finishing just a single point shy of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They finished the year strong, winning their last five games, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 12-16-5 record to open the season.
Their top-six group of forwards was as strong as any in the league last year, but their depth failed to match up against the powerhouses of the Atlantic Division. Thanks to an extra year of seasoning for their young players and one key off-season acquisition, the Panthers seem poised to make the playoffs in 2018-19 for just the sixth time in franchise history.
➕ Mike Hoffman (Trade)
➕ Troy Brouwer (Free Agency)
➕ Michael Hutchinson (Free Agency)
Head Coach Bob Boughner leaned heavily on his top-six last season and you can expect more of the same in 2018-19. Florida had four forwards with an ATOI of 18:30 or higher last season, more than any other team in the league. Aleksander Barkov is one of the best two-way forwards in the game and will continue to be heavily-utilized in all situations. Expect Evgenii Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad to continue to play on Barkov’s wings; the three of them played just shy of 400 minutes together at 5v5 last season and produced an absurd 37 scoring chances per 60. They are capable of going toe-to-toe against the best lines in hockey on any given night.
The addition of Mike Hoffman adds another dynamic forward to an already formidable group. Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trochek erupted for career years in 2017-18, registering 69 and 75 points, respectively. Hoffman is projected to start the season alongside this extremely productive duo. The addition of a legitimate 30-goal, 300-shot guy is enough to give the Panthers the No. 2-ranked second line in the league, according to Corsica Hockey Player Ratings.
The bottom-six is where things get a little murky for the Panthers’ forward corps. The likes of Henrik Borgstrom, Denis Malgin, and Frank Vatrano can handle playing 13 sheltered minutes a night but would have a hard time taking on a larger role should the Panthers’ top-six suffer an injury or two. The addition of a quality third or fourth centreman would have gone a long way towards easing those concerns, but as it stands the offensively-inept Derek Mackenzie is set to start another season on Florida’s roster. The 16-year vet has just 125 points in 610 career NHL games, surpassing 20 points in a season only once.
Not unlike their group of forwards, the Panthers’ blueline is top-heavy. Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad headline the group; two potent offensive-defenseman capable of suiting up on the top-pair of any team in the league. They each played over 23 minutes a night last season and should continue to shoulder the lion’s share of the work in 2018-19. The pair played over 1300 minutes together at 5v5 last season and should be attached at the hip again this year.
Michael Matheson seems to be the only Panthers’ defenseman in their bottom four that’s capable of handling a larger role. The 24-year-old former first-round pick racked up 10 goals on 167 shots in 2017-18, playing just over 21 minutes a night. Florida management would have done well to get him a more competent partner to play with in the off-season. It’s become a recurring theme on this team, but the blueline would have a difficult time playing through an injury to one of their top three guys.
Finally, some depth. In Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, Florida possesses one of the strongest goaltending tandems in the NHL. Luongo has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since returning to the Panthers, posting a .921 SV% since the start of the 2014-15 season. Durability has become an ongoing concern for the aging netminder, as injuries have limited him to just 72 starts over the last two seasons. He’s excellent when he’s healthy, but when he’s not Reimer is completely capable of holding down the fort. The 30-year-old has a .915 career SV% and won 22 of his 42 starts for the Panthers last season. He should see around 30 starts even if Luongo is healthy, making him an ideal handcuff in fantasy leagues.
|Aleksander Barkov (30)||Aleksander Barkov (47)||Aleksander Barkov (77)||Mike Hoffman (10)|
|Vincent Trocheck (29)||Keith Yandle (44)||Vincent Trocheck (68)||Vincent Trocheck (10)|
|Evgenii Dadonov (27)||J. Huberdeau (42)||J. Huberdeau (65)||Aleksander Barkov (7)|
Panthers in the DFO Top 300
- 24. Aleksander Barkov — C9
- 71. Vincent Trocheck — C21
- 72. Jonathan Huberdeau — LW14
- 81. Keith Yandle — D17
- 102. Mike Hoffman — LW18
- 112. Evgenii Dadonov — RW19
- 128. Aaron Ekblad — D30
- 130. Roberto Luongo — G21
- 191. James Reimer — G32
- 199. Nick Bjugstad — RW40
- 296. Michael Matheson — D78
Predicted Atlantic Standings
The Panthers have the talent to compete with any team in the league. Unfortunately for them, three of the top six teams in the league last year are in their division. Despite their wealth of skill, a serious lack of depth makes securing one of the three divisional playoff spots a longshot. We like their chances of grabbing one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots, but they’ll have some steep competition in the Metropolitan Division. Taking advantage of their games against the bottom four teams in the Atlantic will be a key factor in getting the Panthers back to the playoffs.
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