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With the NHL season now less than a month away, the Florida Panthers are primed for another season of competing for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. They are coming off of their best season points-percentage-wise in franchise history, finishing with a 37-14-5 record in 2020-21.
With Selke Trophy-winning captain Aleksander Barkov leading the way, it’s not bold to say that the Panthers will be a serious contender. However, there are a lot of key contributors who could break out and help the team reach new heights that we don’t see coming. With that being said, here are three bold predictions for the Panthers’ 2021-22 season.
Sergei Bobrovsky Bounces Back, Solidifies Spot As Florida’s No. 1 Goaltender
Three years ago, I would’ve been called crazy for saying that it would be a bold prediction for Sergei Bobrovsky to be solidified into a starting spot, but his tenure in Florida has taken a turn for the worst. Since Bobrovsky signed his seven-year, $70 million contract with Florida on July 1, 2019, he has a record of 42-27-8 with a .902 save percentage (SV%) with a 3.10 goals-against average (GAA). In the playoffs, those numbers fall to a 2-5-0 record with a .880 SV% and a .380 GAA.
Those numbers are a far cry from what Bobrovsky put up in his final season with the Columbus Blue Jackets when he posted a 37-24-1 record with a .913 SV% and a 2.58 GAA. In the playoffs, he played like a potential Conn Smythe candidate after helping the Blue Jackets sweep the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and win their first playoff series in franchise history. In 10 playoff games, he went 6-4-0, adding a .925 SV% and a 2.41 GAA.
For the first time in his career, the pressure is on for Bobrovsky. He has 20-year-old phenom Spencer Knight waiting behind him after an impressive 2020-21 season, albeit on a small sample size, where he posted a 4-0-0 record with a .919 SV% and a 2.32 GAA. He added more pressure to Bobrovsky’s plate during the postseason when he went 1-1 with a .933 SV% and a 2.06 GAA.
The issue with Bobrovsky is that his confidence has looked shot and it hasn’t been helped by the fact the Panthers went into the 2020-21 season without a full training camp. With more time to prepare for the upcoming net-minding battle heading into the season, the 32-year-old has a chance to have his best season since joining the Panthers.
In 2021-22, Bobrovsky could see a resurgence that could send him pretty close to where he was in his last seasons in Columbus, possibly putting up a .915 SV% and a 2.55 GAA. With the Panthers’ defense also becoming solidified in front of him, Bobrovsky won’t be left to make those saves that he found difficult to make in his first two seasons and with a full preseason and training camp, he could find the confidence that made him the elite goaltender he was known as with the Blue Jackets.
Anton Lundell Scores 30 Goals in His Rookie Season
At just 19 years of age, Anton Lundell already proved to be a future star in the making after scoring 16 goals and 25 points in Finland’s top competition in 2020-21. Now, after signing his entry-level deal with the Panthers this offseason, he looks to become one of the brightest young stars in the NHL.
It’s still not guaranteed he gets a roster spot out of camp, especially with the addition of Joe Thornton, but Anton Lundell has the skill set to put up some serious numbers at the NHL level. He has superior skating ability and is able to find the right areas to get into position to score goals. He’s a smart hockey player and is always at least a step ahead of the defense, knowing exactly when to strike with his deadly shot.
He proved last season that he was able to play against professionals in Finland’s Liiga, and now it’s all about translating his skill set to the North American game. It already looks promising for Lundell, who has been one of the standout performers at the Panthers’ development camp and will have ample time to keep adjusting to the NHL game when the Panthers make a trip to Wesley Chapel, Florida, for the prospect tournament they’re taking part in, as well as NHL preseason and training camp later this month.
Assuming he keeps looking as impressive as he has been and makes the roster out of camp, he could be in for a 30-goal, 65-point season, making a run for the Calder Trophy in the process.
MacKenzie Weegar Wins the Norris Trophy
MacKenzie Weegar had an absolutely huge breakout season in 2020-21, scoring six goals and 36 points in 54 games and finishing eighth in Norris Trophy voting last season. What makes that even more impressive was that after his primary defense partner and Panthers’ star defenseman Aaron Ekblad went down with a leg fracture in late March, Weegar led all defensemen in points with 17 and plus/minus with a plus-17.
Weegar found chemistry with Gustav Forsling on the Panthers’ top pairing and it is possible that the two will reunite on a pairing going into next season. Forsling’s dynamic ability to play well on both sides of the ice gelled well with Weegar because he is the exact same way, allowing for the duo to take care of business in both facets of the game.
At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Weegar is both mobile enough to be a dynamic puck mover on the offensive end and keep up with fast skaters on the defensive end while also having the size to lay down a big hit. The 27-year-old showed loads of promise last season, and in 2021-22 he projects to be one of the best defensemen in the league. A 15-goal, 60-point season could possibly propel him to Norris Trophy status this year.
With a star-studded roster, the Panthers might be one of the most interesting teams in the league next season. It’s assumed that they’ll be one of the best scoring teams in the league, but it will be intriguing to see who those points will come from and which players could be surprising breakout candidates.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.