Every bright hockey mind knew there was something good brewing down in Florida.
With a culmination of exciting young talent and many experienced veterans gracing the roster, it was only a matter of time before the Panthers were going to gain some traction. It looks like 2015-16 might be their coming-out party.
General Manager Dale Tallon has masterfully constructed a team that goes together like aged red wine and an assorted cheese platter with a little bit of sharp cheddar, havarti and brie in the mix, all bringing something different to the table.
Hungry yet? So are the Panthers, who have not won a playoff series since they went to the Stanley Cup Final during the 1995-96 season. Two of the franchise staples, Aaron Ekblad and Alexsander Barkov, were not even a year old when the Panthers went on that cup run.
However this year might be the nearest the Panthers have come to resembling a Stanley Cup contender. Dale Tallon can be credited for assembling this impressive Florida team since he took over as general manager in May, 2010. Tallon built the Blackhawks into a contender but was fired in May 2009, before the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. However, the Blackhawks did recognize his work, by having his name engraved on the Cup following their victory in 2010.
Building Through The Draft
Tallon built up a contender in Chicago, and he’s done something similar in Florida. Only one player, Dmitri Kulikov, remains from the team that Tallon inherited.
High draft picks have helped Florida build their team into a contender. You could argue about whether Erik Gudbranson, Tallon’s first pick as the Panthers GM, was the right selection for third overall in 2010. However, the second overall selection of Barkov in 2013 looks genius considering that most pundits had Johnathan Drouin ranked ahead of him. Here are some of Tallon’s other picks who are currently playing with the Panthers:
2010 NHL Draft
Erik Gudbranson: Round 1, 3rd overall
Nick Bjugstad: Round 1, 18th overall
Quinton Howden: Round 1, 25th overall
Alex Petrovich: Round 2, 36th overall
2011 NHL Draft
Jonathan Huberdeau: Round 1, 3rd overall
Vincent Trochek: Round 3, 64th overall
Logan Shaw: Round 3, 76th overall
2013 NHL Draft
Alexsander Barkov: Round one, second overall
2014 NHL Draft
Aaron Ekblad: Round one, first overall
Tallon’s other draft picks such as Rocco Grimaldi and Connor Brickley have played games with the Panthers this season, but have been unable to hold down a roster spot.
Tallon has surrounded his young players with solid group of veteran talent. Headlining the veterans is goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is playing is way into the Vezina conversation despite being the oldest starting goaltender in the league. The immortal Jaromir Jagr also had made Florida his home, and he leads the Panthers in points despite being the oldest player in the NHL. Jagr, along with his linemates Barkov and Huberdeau, have formed one of the hottest lines in hockey recently. They lead the league with nine goals together in their last ten games, according to leftwinglock.com.
The Panthers have two veteran Stanley Cup-winning defencemen to mentor the rest of the defensive corps. 38-year-old captain Willie Mitchell and 36-year-old Brian Campbell are around to mentor the younger core of Alex Petrovich, Erik Gudbranson, Aaron Ekblad and Dmitri Kulikov. Petrovich in particular, recently spoke about Mitchell as a mentor on the blue line.
Other veterans such as Derek Mackenzie, Jussi Jokinen, Shawn Thornton and Dave Bolland all bring experience to the roster, but head coach Gerard Gallant is not afraid to sit underachieving players despite their experience.
The Panthers want their younger players to fight for roster spots, hence why veterans David Booth and Martin Havlat were brought in during training camp on PTO’s. Both players were beat out for roster spots, and Gallant has sat other underwhelming veterans. Bolland in particular, has not played for the Panthers in a month despite being the highest paid forward on the team.
Even with some salary sitting on the sidelines, the Panthers have the right mix of veteran leadership and young talent. The team who beat the Panthers on Monday night look to be following the “Florida Model.”
Comparisons to Canucks
You can draw some comparisons between the Panthers and the Canucks. Both teams have a mix of young talent combined with veteran leadership, however there are some glaring differences between the teams.
Some of its youngest players, specifically Barkov, Ekblad and Huberdeau, are currently leading Florida. Veterans such as Jagr, Jokinen and Mitchell are merely supporting pieces on the roster and are guiding the way for some younger players.
Unlike Florida, the veterans are carrying the Canucks.Without the Sedin twins, the Canucks would be in a dark place, one that the Edmonton Oilers usually occupy. Their younger players such as Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann have shown potential, but are not ready to carry the team. The Sedins continue to hold the torch.
On defence the Canucks top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are in their prime, but they lack any big name prospects in that area. The Canucks have never really had a blue-chip prospect such as Ekblad on their team. Having a player such as Ekblad goes a long way towards building a championship roster.
Florida has accumulated more top-end draft picks due to their position in the standings, which is obviously easier to do when you have so many poor seasons. The Canucks have done a good job of selecting promising young players early on in the draft despite not having any top five selections. Selecting Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk in 2013, along with Virtanen, McCann and Thatcher Demko in 2014 have helped the Canucks stockpile the prospect depth for the future.
What the Canucks need to do is keep some of the veterans around to help usher in the young players. Having the Sedins as mentors for the younger players is not just beneficial for the future, it is a necessity. The Sedins spoke of how Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden were mentors to them, and now they are stepping into the same role. Ditto goes for players such as Derek Dorsett, who was a big influence on Bo Horvat last year.
Dorsett now up to 13 points. 8 scraps. Part of one of league's best PK. Mentor for Horvat. Pretty solid 4th line contributor for #Canucks
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) January 7, 2015
The Canucks are also showing that same competitive nature between the veterans and the young players. Canucks management wants younger players to step into bigger roles, but they have to earn it. General Manager Jim Benning stayed true to this by waiving veteran Chris Higgins, who was outplayed by the Canucks younger wingers such as Baertschi and Virtanen.
Many people in Vancouver advocate trading Dan Hamhuis, but the Canucks need a veteran defenceman to mentor young blueliners. Hamhuis has taken a step back this year, but he is still a valuable contributor in the top six. Hamhuis could have a very similar role compared to Mitchell with the Panthers, while the Canucks trying to ease younger players, such as Ben Hutton or Andrey Pedan, into contributing roles.
The Canucks are not the Florida Panthers, but they would be wise to follow their model for success.