The Florida Panthers have not been the most active team during the summer, but they have plenty to look forward to as training camp roles around. Stephen Weiss now plays for the Detroit Red Wings, and Jose Theodore is no longer part of the team. With that said, the process of creating a new Florida Panthers squad is in full swing, and there are plenty of young players hoping to crack the lineup for the upcoming season.
Tomas Fleischmann has been the most consistent and integral part of the Panthers’ offense. While Kris Versteeg has shown promise, last season was quite difficult for him due to injuries, playing in only 10 games and accumulating two goals and two assists. Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau will be on the first line playing opposite to Fleischmann without question, whether it is as a winger or center remains to be seen.
Recent acquisition Scott Gomez could also provide great leadership and experience for the Panthers. He has had some tough outings in the past few seasons, but it was his contract that made him look worse. He will not be looked upon to create much offense, so the lack of pressure could make him a better player.
Unless some of the younger players create huge ripples in the Florida lineup, players like Tomas Kopecky, Shawn Matthias, Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim should be part of the NHL squad in 2013-14.
In terms of defense and goaltending, the Panthers seem ready for Jakob Markstrom, with Scott Clemmensen backing him up. On defense, they have maintained a solid group of young and experienced players, hoping to have up and comers like Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson slide into more prominent roles. However, injuries have been an issue for both youngsters, putting more pressure on some of the other defensemen. Brian Campbell has been the best part of the Cat’s blueline. His offensive abilities are unquestionable and he’s become a primary source of points for the team. Captain Ed Jovanovski had season ending surgery earlier in the year, and even though he is listed on the injured reserve, he should be ready to go next season.
On the Outside Looking in
With only a handful of players almost guaranteed spots on the NHL roster, the remaining roster spots will have to be decided throughout training camp. Most teams have a pretty clear idea of what the team will look like at the start of the season, but the Panthers should not be considered one of those teams. While it might be easy to determine the top line, maybe even a top-6 group, the remaining positions are truly in the air.
First round pick Aleksander Barkov could make the team if he proves himself throughout camp. Barkov’s NHL readiness is one of the key reasons the Panthers decided to select him so early in the draft. He played the last two seasons in the SM-liiga, the best professional league in Finland. Furthermore, during the development camp, Barkov made it clear that he wanted to come to North America as soon as possible. However, due to shoulder surgery earlier in the year, Barkov was unable to participate in the camp. Nevertheless, the skill and drive seems to be there, so it is up to Barkov to make his rookie campaign happen this season.
Other notable young players include Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden, Shawn Matthias and Drew Shore at forward, along with Alex Petrovic on defense. All of these players were given the opportunity to play in the NHL last season, making it very interesting to see who ends up making the roster in 2013-14.
Some of the other players that have a chance at the NHL roster are Joey Crabb, Bobby Butler, Eric Selleck and Jesse Winchester, all of whom are considered brink players and will either be playing in the NHL or AHL. Similar to the prospects group, it will most likely depend on their individual performances during training camp.
The Florida Panthers could go either way next season. If the young and experienced players gel well, and put together a solid outing, the Panthers could very well see themselves in the playoffs once again. On the other hand, it is quite rare that a team can come together so quickly during a rebuilding phase. The Florida Panthers are definitely moving in the right direction, but it would be quite surprising to see them come out guns-a-blazing with such a young roster. Not to mention, when considering the level of skill on other teams, it will be even more difficult for the Panthers to put together a consistent amount of wins given the lack of experience and high-end skill currently on the roster. Nevertheless, we have seen much crazier things happen in the NHL, so if the Panthers find chemistry early and put together some wins, a good start could lead to a very fruitful season for the Cats.