Everybody seems to be thriving in Sunrise this year. The Florida Panthers are 40-13-6 on the season, good for first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference. Several players are having career years, and not just guys who just started their careers, like rookie center Anton Lundell and third-year defenseman Carter Verhaeghe. With 23 games remaining, a few more experienced players have already surpassed personal bests in major categories.
Sam Bennett (Goals & Points)
The 25-year-old center, whom the Panthers acquired in a trade from Calgary on April 12, 2021, is playing the best hockey of his career in his seventh full season. Statistically, his best year prior to 2021-22 was his rookie campaign in 2015-16. He scored 18 goals and added 18 assists in 77 games for the Flames.
Bennett played in 81 games in 2016-17 and 82 games in 2017-18, finishing with 26 points in both seasons. He had 27 in 71 games the next year, but that dropped to 12 in 52 games during the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. Last season, he registered 25 points between Calgary and Florida.
Through 49 games this season, Bennett has already blown past his career-high goal total (18) with 24, and he’s already matched the point total with 36. He’s also six away from his career-high assist total of 18.
Anthony Duclair (Goals & Points)
After bouncing around during his first six years in the league, the 26-year-old forward seems to have found a home as a key contributor in Sunrise. Drafted by the New York Rangers in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft, he played 18 games in New York before the Rangers traded him to Arizona in 2015.
Like Bennett, Duclair’s best season prior to 2021-22 was his first full one. He scored 20 goals and chipped in 44 points in 81 games with the Coyotes in 2015-16. That game total went down to 58 the next year, and Arizona ultimately traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks in the middle of the 2017-18 season.
Duclair signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the 2018-19 campaign, and was once again traded mid-season, this time to the Ottawa Senators. If not for the pandemic, his 2019-20 season in Ottawa probably would have been his best, as he had 23 goals and 17 assists in 66 games. He signed with the Panthers prior to last season and finished with 32 points in 43 games, then re-signed last summer.
Through 51 games this season, he has 24 goals and 45 points, both one more than his previous career-highs, and 21 assists, three away from his career-high.
Jonathan Huberdeau (Assists)
Even the 28-year-old star forward, who scored 92 points in 2018-19, is on his way to a career year. The third overall pick of the Panthers in the 2011 NHL Draft won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie in 2012-13, scoring 31 points in 48 games. After having 28 points in 69 games his second season, he broke out, scoring 54 points in 2014-15 and 59 in 2015-16.
Huberdeau only played in 31 games in 2016-17, but he played all 82 each of the next two seasons, the second of which he set career highs in goals (30) and assists (62). After 78 points in 69 games two years ago and 61 points in 55 games last season, he’s on pace for a career-high in points with 83 through 59 games this season
Huberdeau’s main function on this year has been helping make plays and set up scoring opportunities for his talented teammates. Of those 83 points, 65 are assists, which is a career-high.
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Many players seem to have put everything together this season in Sunrise. Having good players who are playing the best hockey of their career has helped the team thrive, and being on an elite team with other talented players has helped the players thrive and play the best hockey of their careers.
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Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers/Columbus Blue Jackets and contributing to Morning Skate for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.