The Florida Panthers are building for the future, and the future is right around the corner. Dale Tallon has done a tremendous job building the team up from the ground where it lay before he got there.
Florida now has a strong young core of players to build around. Cornerstone pieces such as Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and now Lawson Crouse.
Those are all pretty big boys with the exception of Huberdeau who is still a sturdy guy at over six feet. The Panthers now need to hope that their young core and forward prospects are ready to produce and build off last season in order to become a playoff team this season.
Their strength is obviously the defense. There are no problems there whatsoever, especially with defensive prospects like Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, and Alex Petrovic knocking on the door.
People are again getting excited for hockey in South Florida, now it’s up to the team to keep them excited and optimistic.
The Panthers have not been the busiest of teams this offseason. They only made a few minor moves and adjustments. Reilly Smith was one such move, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for Jimmy Hayes and Marc Savard’s remaining contract. Smith did put up 91 points with Boston the past two seasons, so there is potential for him to solidify himself as a 2nd line winger.
Jaromir Jagr is aging and though some may call him an ageless wonder, time will take its toll sooner than later and Florida haven’t really prepared for that. Adding someone like Patrick Sharp would have been a great addition to the team, though having Savards $4 million contract on the books has not helped in that department.
Then again, maybe Tallon feels as though his current lineup is good enough for the playoffs and didn’t even try to grab Sharp or anyone else for that matter.
Florida did gain a big piece through the draft however, grabbing power forward Lawson Crouse, at 11th overall, who could be ready to step into the Panthers lineup. Vincent Trocheck, along with Rocco Grimaldi, Quinton Howden, and Crouse would be the forward prospects who are closest to making the team.
Looking at the Forward Lines
The Cats are becoming a much more solid team up front no doubt, though there’s just not quite enough goals in the group. It’s a very young group so it could just be a matter of time. However, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. A big concern when looking at the roster is the 4th line and who will be playing on the wings alongside Derek MacKenzie.
But, that’s just one of the question marks surrounding Florida’s forward group. There is also concern about Jagr’s production throughout the year, Pirri’s ability to be a consistent scorer, and how the new forward prospects will fit in. We’ll only find out these answers when the puck drops, so we must wait for now.
Let’s take a closer look at the Panthers potential forward line combinations.
- Huberdeau – Barkov – Jagr
- Crouse/Pirri – Bjugstad – Smith
- Jokinen – Bolland – Trocheck/Grimaldi
- Thornton – MacKenzie – Howden
Of course we cannot assume automatically that Lawson Crouse will make the team. Though I’d say with the lack of quality experience (minus Jagr) on the wings coupled with the fact that Crouse looks physically ready for the NHL, that he will make the team.
Fans of the Florida Panthers will have to be very patient with this young group of forwards and hope that management surrounds them with all the tools they need to reach their potential.
Where Can the Cats Go From Here?
Are the Florida Panthers a playoff team this year with their current roster? It’s tough to tell, a lot of things would have to go right for it to happen. Too many teams in the east have improved while the Panthers have questions still to be answered.
Most of the Panthers young core had breakout seasons last year, they’d all have to build on them for things to go right in South Florida, and that’s a tall ask if the roster stays as is.
The future is bright for certain, how bright is the question. Like I stated before, defense and goaltending are set for now, it’s whether or not the forwards can become consistent producers. While some of them will be looking to become stars.
Sebastian Noble is currently in his third year with The Hockey Writers covering the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers. Liverpool, England, and of course Colorado Avalanche & Florida Panthers supporter. You can follow him on Twitter @SebastianHNoble