As it stands right now, the Florida Panthers are 16-5-4 and are just under halfway through their 2020-21 campaign. Because of this, I, along with fellow team writers Jack Dawkins and Joey Ganzi, have decided to take a look at each award and say who we think deserves it from this team so far.
Panthers’ Most Valuable Player
Panagiotis Mavridis: Aleksander Barkov
Barkov has been nothing short of amazing this season for the Panthers. The Finnish captain ranks second on the team in points with 27, and has been putting up insane two-way numbers. He stands at first on the club in expected goals percentage (xG%), with a 66.59%, and also third in expected goals above replacement (xGAR), with a 6.40, meaning he has been among the top of the team in terms of value, especially at limiting chances in his zone and producing them in the oppositions.
Jack Dawkins: Barkov
Could it honestly be anyone else? Twenty-seven points in 24 games and he’s the best play-driving forward on the team. He’s the team leader and MVP.
Joey Ganzi: Patric Hornqvist
I feel like he’s brought in a new format to this team since his arrival. He brings leadership qualities, and something that this team has been lacking for such a long time: toughness. He’s also tied for the team lead in goals.
Panthers’ Selke Winner
Panagiotis Mavridis: Barkov
Forget Panthers’ Selke winner, Barkov can make a very good case for the National Hockey League’s actual defensive forward of the year award. As I have stated in previous pieces of mine, I have always thought he was overrated defensively, but it is clear as day that he has improved in that aspect this season.
Barkov leads in expected goals allowed per 60 (xGA/60) on the Panthers with a 1.65, and is third on the team (first among forwards) in expected goals above replacement even-strength defense (EVD_xGAR). He has just simply been a monster this season, haunting the opposing forwards’ dreams.
Jack Dawkins: Barkov
Can he win two awards? He should. He’s a Selke contender at the NHL level every year and for good reason. He’s doing it again this year. If it’s not him, then I could give it to Noel Acciari, but how do you not give Barkov his due here?
Joey Ganzi: Barkov
Barkov continues to be one of the best two-way forwards night in and night out. I feel like he should win it every year. It also helps that he has 27 points through 24 games and only four penalty minutes on the year.
Panthers’ Best Defenseman
Panagiotis Mavridis: Aaron Ekblad
Ekblad is finally getting the credit he has deserved. The Windsor-native ranks second on the team in xGAR with an 8.40, mainly attributed to his offense, specifically power-play offense expected goals above replacement (PPO_xGAR), in which he ranks second in the entire NHL, trailing just Joe Pavelski, with a 5.60. This choice was close for me between Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar, as both of them have had very good campaigns thus far.
Jack Dawkins Ekblad
The point production has been really nice, even if it is because he’s shooting at an unsustainable 13.2%. Aside from the points, the minute load he is carrying is in the top 10 among NHL defenders. He is also part of the top power-play unit and top penalty-kill unit. Weegar is definitely a contender for me here, but he’s not a power-play workhorse.
Joey Ganzi: Ekblad
Should be a shoe in. He’s scored more goals than any other defenseman in the NHL this season and can play a strong defensive game. The 2015 Calder Trophy winner has truly blossomed into a top defenseman.
Panthers’ Rookie of the Year
Panagiotis Mavridis: Eetu Luostarinen
When the Panthers acquired Luostarinen at last year’s trade deadline, they had no idea they’d be getting an NHL quality player so soon.
At just 22, Luostarinen has three goals and eight points through 25 games as the team’s third-line centre this season, with a 1.20 xGAR and 50.54 xG%. He has been very stable for his first stint in the big leagues.
Jack Dawkins: Mason Marchment
I am a Mississauga Steelheads fan, so I watched Marchment play in the juniors for half a season in 2016. This is definitely a small sample size vote, but you have got to love him. He’s battled his way into the NHL the hard way through the minors. He was in the same draft year as Barkov. Plays a good, physical game and is showing some scoring prowess. Every team wants a big power forward and if this is something he can do long term, the Panthers have struck gold.
Joey Ganzi: Luostarinen
Luostarinen has been excellent on the ice since Day 1. He fought through training camp where they they thought he was going to get sent down and nearly levels the playing field in the Vincent Trocheck trade. While the immediate production of Marchment is there, it’s still too small of a sample size to vote him for that.
Panthers’ Best Goaltender
Panagiotis Mavridis: Chris Driedger
Both goaltenders have faced some adversity this season, but I am going to go with Driedger for this one. He ranks 25th in the NHL in goals saved above expected (GSAx) with a -0.32, along with a .922 save percentage (SV%). Have no doubt, he is this team’s starting goaltender.
Jack Dawkins: Driedger
I covered this a bit in my goaltending controversy article, but Driedger has been good enough to get a 50/50 split with a goalie making $10 million against the cap. You know the Panthers have a chance to win every game he is in net, and it shows on the ice.
Joey Ganzi: Driedger
Driedger has stepped up in starts and he’s played in big moments when Sergei Bobrovsky struggled. Although Bobrovsky has been better as of late, Driedger continues to hold his starter numbers.
Panthers’ Best Free Agent Signing
Panagiotis Mavridis: Carter Verhaeghe
Verhaeghe has been a blessing for the Panthers, and I called it when I wrote about him as a potential second-line center option prior to the season. While he hasn’t played at center, he’s been huge to the team’s top-six, ranking fifth on the team in points, with 17, and sixth in xGAR, with 3.00. It seems that he has stapled himself as a solidified NHL player for a while.
Jack Dawkins: Verhaeghe
Verhaeghe’s shot metrics are an anomaly that I cannot wrap my head around. It is hard to believe this guy was available as an unrestricted free agent and nobody else took a real stab at him. He has shown without a doubt that he can be an offensive force.
Joey Ganzi: Verhaeghe
Verhaeghe has absolutely blossomed into a top-line guy since he signed in Florida. I said early this season that he was the offseason steal of the year, and he’s done nothing but push that narrative. He is tied for third in goals on the teams and fifth on the team in points. General manager Bill Zito better be working on his new deal immediately.
Panthers’ Biggest Disappointment
Panagiotis Mavridis: Bobrovsky
Nobody on this team has been more disappointing for me than Bobrovsky. The veteran netminder was pegged by many, including me, to have a huge bounce-back season, which has just not happened. As we stand today, he ranks 64th out of 70 goalies in the NHL in GSAx, with a -8.35, to go with an abysmal .903 SV%.
While there is still lots of time remaining, I had expected more out of the gates for Bobrovsky this season.
Jack Dawkins: Bobrovsky
The Panthers wrote Bobrovsky a big check to be “the guy” in Florida. As of right now, he has Driedger nipping at his heels, but they have also got Spencer Knight and Devon Levi in the system. That has to make them a contender for the best goaltending prospect pool in the league. There are five years left on that contract after this season. A .903 SV% is not getting it done for that kind of money.
Joey Ganzi: Owen Tippett
Tippett has time to turn his game around, but his offseason hype made me feel a bit let-down when I saw his on-ice production. He has been scratched multiple times and sent back and forth through the taxi squad. He needs to establish his game, or his days in Florida may be numbered.
Obviously, things could change by the time the season ends, but for now, this is our analysis.
We may return to this idea when the season concludes in May. Until then, what do you think? Who are your midseason award winners?
PIT Penguins Writer THW. Twitter & Instagram: puckempire. Formerly a Florida Panthers writer.