The Florida Panthers were an offensive force in the 2018-19 season, but there isn’t any room for error in today’s Atlantic Division. The incredible production of Florida’s young offensive core was spoiled by questionable goaltending and sub-par defensive play. Florida finished the season ninth in goals for but surrendered the fourth-most goals in the NHL at 3.33 per game.
Florida returns this season with their core intact and a revamped coaching staff. With all due respect to Sergei Bobrovsky, hiring Joel Quenneville could end up being the key acquisition off Florida’s off-season. Quenneville’s championship Blackhawks were the perfect example of fusing raw, offensive skill with sound, structured defensive play. He could be the key to unlocking the true potential of this Panthers team.
Bobrovsky wasn’t the only notable free-agent signing Florida made this summer. Veteran blue-liner Anton Stralman was signed to a three-year deal, while forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly were brought in on three and four-year deals, respectively. Florida did a nice job of addressing a major need in goal while also polishing the edges of its roster.
Florida Panthers, Sergei Bobrovsky, Anton Stralman, Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, Frank Vatrano, Henrik Borgstrom, Owen Tippett, Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, Roberto Luongo, Samuel Montembeault
Vincent Trocheck will go a long way towards pushing Florida into the post-season. Regardless of who’s lined up on his wings, the second line is going to be productive if Trocheck can stay healthy. He should provide a steady source of complementary production for the Aleksander Barkov line, and the Panthers should be able to get more out of their bottom-six this year, too. The continued development of players like Frank Vatrano and Henrik Borgstrom coincides nicely with the additions of Connolly and Acciari.
Aleksander Barkov (C)
- — Barkov catapulted himself into first-round pick consideration with last year’s 35-goal, 61-assist performance. Both his SH% and on-ice SH% were a little high last season, suggesting some regression is coming for Barkov. And after finishing with an ATOI above 22:00 for each of the last two seasons, Barkov’s usage could be due for a slight decrease under Quenneville, who tends to opt for a more balanced deployment of his top-nine forwards. The peripherals are a little too concerning for me to make Barkov a first-round pick, but he should still be considered a lock for point-per-game production.
Jonathan Huberdeau (LW)
- — Huberdeau’s reasonable SH% and on-ice SH% from last season suggest he’s certainly capable of replicating the 58 points he scored at even strength in 2018-19. His power-play production is likely to take a hit, however, after the 26-year-old tallied 11 goals and 23 helpers on the man-advantage last season. While the goal-scoring leaves a little to be desired, potential point-per-game production at a premium position like LW is enough to warrant a late-second/early-third round selection for Huberdeau.
Evgeni Dadonov (LW/RW)
- — Dadonov should continue to be the biggest beneficiary of Barkov’s dominance in 2019-20. Of course, it’s always risky to invest in a player whose value and production are so closely tied to their line-mates, and that risk is only amplified under a new head coach. Still, Dadonov and Barkov’s track record together speaks for itself, and Dadonov could do a lot worse than having Trocheck to play with should he get moved off the top line. He should have no problem turning in another 25-goal, 65-point season.
Mike Hoffman (LW/RW)
- — Hoffman’s shot volume gives him a very sturdy floor, but last year’s breakout campaign was driven largely by the 17 goals and 18 assists he added on the man advantage, a feat that will be tough to repeat in 2019-20. He is a valuable fantasy piece, but the upside simply isn’t there at this point in his career. Draft him with the expectation of getting 25 goals and 60 points and you won’t be disappointed.
Vincent Trocheck (C)
- — Trocheck is one of the more obvious bounce-back candidates in the league this season. His 2018-19 campaign was derailed by a broken ankle that forced him to miss 27 games. Staying healthy and re-establishing himself on Florida’s first power-play unit will be the key for Trocheck returning to the 31-goal, 44-assist season he had two years ago.
Owen Tippett (RW)
- — Though he’s still not a lock to make the opening night roster, Tippett offers a lot of upside at a relatively thin RW position. There is an apparent opening in Florida’s top-six, and we’ve seen this Panthers’ offense easily support two full lines worth of fantasy-relevant players. Not a player I’m burning a draft pick on in standard leagues, but certainly one worth-monitoring in the early stages of the season.
Brett Connolly (RW)
- — Connolly should fill a similar role to the one he played in Washington for the last three seasons. His per 60 production suggests he could be a real point-producer if he ever saw the opportunity, but I’m not sure he’ll see it on this roster. Given he registered 22 goals and 24 assists despite playing just 13:20 a game last season, there is some definite upside here if he can sneak into Florida’s top-six.
Frank Vatrano (LW/RW)
- — Vatrano seems like a decent breakout candidate before you factor in the additions of Connolly, Acciari, and possibly Tippett. He scored 24 times on 208 shots last season despite playing less than 15 minutes a night. Unfortunately for Vatrano, Florida’s top-six became even more exclusive in the off-season. It’s hard to imagine Vatrano offering much value in Standard leagues without save for an injury or two ahead of him on the depth chart.
While they can struggle in their own end at times, Florida’s high-risk, high-reward style of defense does fit well with their high-octane group of forwards. Stralman and Quenneville should provide some much-needed stability on the backend, and the addition of Bobrovsky in goal should give Yandle and Ekblad some leniency to do what they do best. The defensemen don’t need to be the strength of this team, they just need to avoid being its downfall.
Keith Yandle (D)
- — Yandle was able to set a new career-high in points (62) last season at age 32, thanks in large part again to Florida’s power-play success. The 13-year vet notched a whopping 39 points on the man advantage last season. A return to 60 points is unlikely, but he still has a clear leg up on Ekblad as Florida’s preferred power-play specialist. You might as well mark him down now for another 45 assists.
Aaron Ekblad (D)
- — Ekblad’s shot volume and consistent goal-scoring have helped him remain fantasy-relevant despite never being featured as his team’s primary power-play defenseman. The point totals will remain underwhelming so long as he’s stuck behind Yandle for power-play time, but five-straight seasons of double-digit goal-scoring is nothing to scoff at for a defenseman.
Even when he was playing well, Roberto Luongo’s age and durability caused a lot of uncertainty in the Panthers’ goal over the last few seasons. Bobrovsky should be a calming presence on this roster and can be counted on to effectively handle a full starter’s workload. Florida opted to re-sign goalie Sam Montembeault to a one-year contract in July, making him Bobrovsky’s default backup to start the season.
Sergei Bobrovsky (G)
- — Even as he moves into his age-31 season, Bobrovsky’s consistency and durability make him one of the safer picks you can make in goal. He started at least 62 games in each of his last three seasons with Columbus, posting a .922 SV% and a 2.35 GAA over that span. Bob’s usage alone makes him a 40-win threat, with Florida’s defensive struggles being the only real threat to his production.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|A. Barkov (32)||A. Barkov (55)||A. Barkov (87)||M. Hoffman (12)||J. Huberdeau (27)|
|M. Hoffman (29)||J. Huberdeau (55)||J. Huberdeau (83)||J. Huberdeau (9)||M. Hoffman (24)|
|J. Huberdeau (28)||K. Yandle (44)||E. Dadonov (67)||A. Barkov (8)||A. Barkov (24)|
Panthers in the DFO Top 300
- 16 — Aleksander Barkov (C)
- 26 — Sergei Bobrovsky (G)
- 27 — Jonathan Huberdeau (LW)
- 76 — Evgeni Dadonov (LW/RW)
- 91 — Mike Hoffman (LW/RW)
- 116 — Vincent Trocheck (C)
- 127 — Keith Yandle (D)
- 152 — Aaron Ekblad (D)
- 219 — Owen Tippett (RW)
- 262 — Brett Connolly (RW)
- 277 — Frank Vatrano (LW/RW)
|3||BOSTON BRUINS||45-28-9||99 PTS|
|4||FLORIDA PANTHERS||44-29-9||97 PTS|
|6||BUFFALO SABRES||39-36-7||85 PTS|
|7||DETROIT RED WINGS||33-40-9||75 PTS|
On paper, there is no reason why this Panthers’ team shouldn’t make the playoffs. Their elite offensive core is now complemented by a franchise goaltender and some quality depth pieces. The biggest threat to a Panthers’ post-season birth is their strength of schedule and division, but they lucked out in that they only have to play Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto four times each. In such a top-heavy division, those 12 games will be a key determining factor in Florida’s 2019-20 season.