Valentine’s Day is here. Love is in the air, especially in South Florida, where the Panthers find themselves in first place in the Atlantic Division (and second in the NHL) over halfway through the 2021-22 season. While familiar faces like Jonathan Huberdeau and Sergei Bobrovsky have paved the way, a few newer faces have endeared themselves to the fans with their play so far this season.
Traded to the Panthers last July following seven seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Reinhart has made an instant impact. The 26-year-old center is averaging a point per game. His 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) rank second on the team, behind only Hart Trophy candidate Huberdeau, who has 64.
Through 44 games this season, Reinhart has already surpassed his point total from a season ago (40 in 54 games) and is on pace to pass his career high for a single season (65 in 2018-19). He has especially turned it on since the calendar flipped to 2022, registering 20 points in 13 games.
In the first year of a three-year contract with the Panthers, the British Columbia native has made a strong first impression on the Florida faithful. He has provided quality play as a second-line center behind Aleksander Barkov and moved over to the wing and up to the first line when needed.
Sam may become a popular baby name among Panthers fans with the way this season has gone. Sam Bennett, traded to Florida from the Calgary Flames in April, has been clutch in his first full season with the team. His six game-winning goals lead the team and rank tied for third in the NHL.
Overall, the 25-year-old has 30 points through 37 games. His 21 goals are tied for the team lead with Huberdeau, and his five power-play goals rank tied for second on the team with Reinhart (Huberdeau leads with six). He has already surpassed his career high for goals in a single season (18 in 2015-16) with 35 games to go.
Bennett, who is in the first year of a four-year contract, has provided quality play at the center spot, mostly anchoring the third line. The Ontario native seems to be trending in the right direction as he enters his prime.
Although his name is not Sam, Anton Lundell has still given fans something to be excited about this season. The 20-year-old from Finland ranks third among NHL rookies in points (32), sixth in goals (10), and third in assists (22). He also ranks tied for first in even-strength points.
Lundell continues the theme of new faces who have helped provide depth at the center position. In the 43 games he has played, he’s appeared all over the lineup at center and occasionally moved over to the wing.
The Panthers are happy they selected Lundell with the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, as he is already making an impact for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations and endearing himself to fans. The Calder Trophy candidate might even add some individual hardware as well.
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Panther fans are loving what they’ve seen from the team so far this season, and these three new faces are a major reason why. They have provided playmaking and offense behind stalwart stars Huberdeau and Barkov, helping make the Panthers arguably the team with the most forward depth in the NHL.
Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers/Columbus Blue Jackets and contributing to Morning Skate for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.