Many Florida Panthers players have exceeded expectations this season, and many have disappointed. I have decided to go over all notable players who have played this season and grade them on how well they have done based on their expectations.
Aleksander Barkov: A+
I don’t think you need me to tell you this, but Barkov has been elite this season. His 13 goals and 37 points through 31 games have been vital to the Panthers’ success, and he is one of the top names in the race for the Hart Memorial Trophy for the league’s Most Valuable Player.
He holds the team-best 10.60 goals above replacement (GAR), and second-best on the team in defensive goals above replacement (EVD_GAR), with a 2.40. The GAR statistic takes into account even-strength offense and defense, powerplay, penalty kill, and drawing and taking penalties, and puts it into one big statistic to show how much above replacement level they are. He also has a 66.07 expected goals percentage (xG%), which is first on the team as well. xG% is the percentage of quality chances for and against, meaning anything over 49.9% is ideal, and in Barkov’s case, his are elite.
To say this was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement, as Barkov jumped from top-15 center status to top-10 player status within the span of a season. He has been elite on both sides of the ice and has been a dynamic presence for a great Panthers team.
Jonathan Huberdeau: A+
Jonathan Huberdeau, like his captain Barkov, has been elite this season. The Saint-Jerome native is currently tied for seventh league-wide in points, with 42. He has stepped up heavily offensively, especially with injuries handicapping the team.
Huberdeau ranks fifth on the team in GAR, with a 4.00, mainly due to his offensive prowess. He struggles in his zone, with a -1.70 EVD_GAR; however, that’s not what the Panthers need or expect from him, and he plays his role just fine. Without him, this team becomes significantly worse and would struggle to replace the major hole he would leave in the lineup.
While he could be at an A or even A- level, I gave Huberdeau the A+ because I believe he is one of the most valuable offensive talents in the entire NHL, and he adds a spark to Panthers hockey that they just would not be the same without. He compliments his linemates nicely and is vital to their powerplay success.
MacKenzie Weegar: A+
Where can I start with MacKenzie Weegar? This guy had my praise before the season started, but he somehow has found another level to his game and continues to shock me. He has played like a number-one defenseman this season and has to be an untouchable player for the Panthers going forward.
Weegar currently ranks tied for fourth in EVD_GAR, with a 4.10, making him one of the league’s best defensive defensemen with only Christopher Tanev, Adam Larsson and Adam Pelech ahead of him. Along with this, he has 19 points through 37 games, all of which have been even-strength.
All the talk has been about how the Panthers will replace Aaron Ekblad, however, do they even need to? Weegar has, in my opinion, been the team’s best defenseman, and can handle big minutes going forward. If I could have given him higher than an A+, I would have.
Carter Verhaeghe: A+
I know, I know, at this point you are probably thinking about how horrible of a teacher I would be handing out all these A+’s, but the Panthers have had some truly amazing stories this season, with Verhaeghe being a big one.
Verhaeghe has the team lead in goals, with 17, and is behind just Huberdeau and Barkov in points, with 32. This guy was in the American Hockey League in 2019, by the way. He was a cheap free agent signing expected to play bottom-six prior to the season and really was not expected to be a factor.
Despite all of this, Verhaeghe has proven he is extremely valuable, with a 5.60 GAR, with his 6.50 even strength offensive goals above replacement (EVO_GAR) being a huge factor. He is also second on the team in xG% with a 64.22.
Patric Hornqvist: A+
Okay, this is the last A+, I promise.
Hornqvist was not expected to be anything huge for the Panthers and was mainly just the bad contract they had to take back to get rid of Mike Matheson, however, this has proven not to be the case.
Hornqvist has been a great leader for the Panthers and has 25 points through 33 games to go with a 1.90 GAR. He has brought an energy to the team that they have not had in a very long time, and also brings in playoff experience to a franchise that lacks it.
Radko Gudas: A
Gudas gets an A grade. The big-body defender has made an immediate positive impact since signing with the Panthers this past fall.
Gudas may have just five points through 36 games, however, his impact away from the puck has been great. 171 hits, 47 blocks and a 53.55 xG%. Panthers fans realize his true value.
Fun fact about Gudas, he’s averaging 4.75 hits per game, which would put him on pace for 390 hits in a full 82 game season, which would be the most in a single season since the statistic has been tracked.
Aaron Ekblad: A
Ekblad gets the A. He had a terrific season up until his gruesome leg injury which is set to keep him out until mid-June and is a big loss for the Panthers.
He was the main source of the team’s powerplay success, generating 11 of his 22 points on the special teams unit. He held a 1.50 powerplay offensive goals above replacement (PPO_GAR), and without him, they have struggled to regain the same form.
The one thing that keeps Ekblad from the A+ was that I was hoping for an improvement defensively, which would help him take the next step in becoming a legit Norris trophy candidate, but that just never happened.
Anthony Duclair: A-
Duclair has been great for the team, with 16 points in 29 games, he has just one problem, putting the puck in the back of the net.
He has scored just four times this season, despite having a 3.45 xGF/60, the highest on the team. He has been producing quality scoring chances at an elite rate, but just can’t bury them.
Despite this, he still has a 3.10 GAR and could finish the season in the A+ tier if he can just start finishing off his chances.
Chris Driedger: A-
Driedger has been a pleasant surprise in Florida this season. After an amazing run last year, many questioned if he could replicate it, but he certainly has.
He holds a 10-4-2 record to go with a .927 SV% and 2.65 goals saved above expected (GSAx). GSAx is a goaltending statistic that shows how many “goals” a goalie has saved based on the shot quality faced.
Driedger has been the better of the two goaltenders this season, and should be the starter going forward.
Mason Marchment: B+
Whoever predicted Marchment to be given a B+ on a player report card halfway through the season needs to buy a lottery ticket. The powerforward had just four games of NHL experience prior to this year and was set to be a career AHL player.
This season, Marchment has seven points in 20 games to go with a 2.10 GAR, which ranks 10th on the team. His only below replacement level category has been his offense on the powerplay.
If Marchment keeps this play up, he could be in the Panthers’ bottom-six for a while.
Alexander Wennberg: B
Since being signed by Florida after being bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Wennberg has been solid for the Panthers’ top-six.
Wennberg has 16 points in 37 games but has struggled defensively and on the special teams. Still, he gets a B level for putting up solid production after being given up on by the team that drafted him.
Markus Nutivaara: B
Ever since being acquired during the offseason, Nutivaara has been a very good acquisition for the Panthers blueline.
Nutivaara has been a complete shut-down guy this season, he doesn’t drive any offense, with just three points through 14 games, but his defensive metrics have been good, with a 1.86 expected goals allowed per 60 (xGA/60), which ranks fifth on the team. He also possesses a 0.50 EVD_GAR, meaning he has been above replacement level defensively.
Gustav Forsling: B
Forsling has been an underrated addition to the Panthers blue line this season.
Seven points through 24 games after a full year out of the NHL is not an easy task. Forsling also has a 1.50 GAR and has just been an all-around reliable piece on the blue-line.
Frank Vatrano: B
Vatrano has had a solid season, with 11 goals and 16 points, he has done quite a bit of producing for the Panthers.
He ranks ninth on the team in GAR, and 11th in xG%, and has just been very solid all across the board. His production has been around the same as what it has usually been the last two seasons.
Noel Acciari: B-
If you look up “average” in the dictionary, a photo of Acciari during the 2020-21 season will be there.
Four goals, three of which were in the same game, 11 points in 29 games. With average defensive presence, average offense, and dull special teams, there is not much to love or hate about Acciari’s game this season.
Kevin Connauton: C+
Connauton has not played much, but when he has, he’s been a solid depth piece for the Panthers.
In five games, Connauton has one assist to go with a 2.40 GAR, which is mainly attributed to his offense.
Connauton has been a reliable extra defenseman for the team, and has done his job well.
Ryan Lomberg: C+
While Lomberg has not been anything special by any means, he has been a pleasant surprise for somebody who has spent the majority of their career in the minor leagues.
Lomberg has two points through 21 games but always seems to have tons of energy when he is on the ice, playing a similar play style to Brandon Tanev in Pittsburgh. While these numbers don’t scream “C+”, the effort he gives on a nightly basis is enough for me to propel him here.
Eetu Luostarinen: C
Luostarinen has slowed down after a hot start to his NHL career. He currently has eight points in 36 games played in a bottom-six role. He has had average offense and defense at even-strength and has been slightly below average shorthanded, leading him to a 0.50 GAR and 48.70 xG%.
Keith Yandle: C
Yandle has returned back to his ways after a nice start to the season.
15 of his 21 points have come off of the power play, and he ranks second-worst on the team in GAR, with a -2.10. He has been a liability defensively, and in the negatives offensively at even-strength.
This isn’t a surprise, since it has been a part of Yandle’s game for so long, just a disappointment after the start to the season he has had.
Riley Stillman: C
Stillman has been a solid depth piece to the team this season after a pretty disappointing campaign and postseason last year.
Only playing five games and not recording a point, he has been sturdy defensively, with a 0.60 EVD_GAR, and a team-best 1.62 xGA/60. His defensive metrics could be inflated due to his limited sample size, but the facts are that in his short time this season, he has been reliable on the back end.
Juho Lammikko: C-
Did Lammikko have any expectations from fans coming into this season? Was he expected to break any barriers or work his way up the lineup? I don’t think so, he’s been neither impressive nor disappointing, just irrelevant.
Lammikko has three goals and no assists in 28 games this season. He also has a -0.60 GAR, being below replacement level on both sides of the ice. He hasn’t shown sparks of flash or anything, and half of the time you even forget that is part of the team.
Sergei Bobrovsky: C-
Bobrovsky just has not been good enough. I know, I sound like a broken record at this point, but he has not. For the second-highest-paid goaltender in the league, you would expect an elite level of play every game, not consistency issues and horrid statistics.
I had Bobrovsky pegged as a comeback player of the year candidate, but that has not really been the case, although he has slightly improved as of late. He holds a 14-5-2 record, .907 SV% and -8.04 GSAx.
However, despite all of this, I have a sneaky belief that Bobrovsky becomes a different animal in the postseason, time will eventually tell.
Brett Connolly: D+
Connolly’s fall from grace has been unfortunate to watch, as he went from 22 goals and 46 points in Washington to 19 goals and 33 points in his first season in Sunrise, to being placed on waivers and healthy scratched numerous times.
Connolly has two goals and four points in 21 games and has generated the second-worst quality chances of any Panthers player this season, with a 1.91 xGF/60. This includes defensemen along with forwards, which is just bad in his case.
My money is on Connolly being out of Florida by the 2021-22 season opener.
Owen Tippett: D-
You can try to defend Tippett by saying he has stepped up his game as of late, but the fact of the matter is, he has been disappointing based on the hype he had around him before the season, as many fans discussed him as a potential Calder Trophy candidate.
Tippett has five goals and 11 points through 28 games, he ranks dead last on the team in GAR, and generates the fourth-least quality shots, with a 1.99 xGF/60. Maybe some time in the AHL will do him good, but he has been very underwhelming.
Anton Stralman: F-
F for Stralman. He has not been good, no secret about it, and his contract does not soften the blow in the slightest.
Stralman has nine points in 31 games, he has a -1.80 GAR, third-worst on the team, and has the worst defensive metics on the team, with a -2.00 EVD_GAR, and 2.42 xGA/60. He is handicapping the Panthers’ blueline, and it may prove to be very hard to win with him in the lineup.
That’s all the grading I have for you today. I decided not to include Grigori Denisenko, Aleksi Heponiemi and Noah Juulsen in this just due to their limited time with the club, all playing under 50 minutes total this season.
I would say the Panthers did pretty good grade-wise, with the top-six being very impressive.
PIT Penguins Writer THW. Instagram: puckempire. Formerly a Florida Panthers writer.