Florida had their surprise playoff trip a few years ago, but since then, things have been about what was expected for Dale Tallon and the Panthers’ rebuild. Last year, they had a mere 66 points and were minus-72 in goal differential. However, they’ve continued to build, and to do interesting, and occasionally head scratching, things, so at least they are worth paying attention to.
The Panthers got the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Now, rookie defensemen don’t always excel out of the gate, but it is still worth playing him to give him the experience. They also have Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, two young forwards who kind of struggled last year. Then again, the leading scorer for this team had 38 points. Fortunately, it was Nick Bjugstad, another young player who is part of their future.
This team also has some weird veterans. They gave Dave Bolland the worst free agent deal of the offseason. I mean, he’s an alright player, but he’s overpaid. They’ve also got Jussi Jokinen, Scott Gomez apparently, and Shawn Thornton unfortunately. They also added Willie Mitchell on defense, which is actually some solid veteran presence. They’ve got a few other veterans, like Brad Boyes, but they are all mediocre players. Everybody on this team is mediocre at best if they are over, like, 25.
The young guys are interesting though. I mentioned some of them, but Brandon Pirri is also interesting at forward. Then, on defense, they have Eric Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov. The one secure place is in net. Last year, they brought back prodigal son Roberto Luongo. He returned, gave them a .924 save percentage, and finally gives them some security in net. Yes, he’s 35 now. Yes, his contract may not be very good. However, he’s still a really good goalie, and that can only help the Panthers.
Florida hired a new head coach in Gerard Gallant. Will he help? We shall see. Last year, the Panthers were 29th in goals for and goals against, and dead last in power play and penalty kill. They pretty much have nowhere to go but up, and I think they will. However, I think they will go up to a point of mediocrity, instead of badness.