Lundell Chasing Best Offensive Rookie Season in Florida Panthers History

In a battle of Calder Trophy (awarded to the top rookie in the NHL) contenders Saturday night, Panthers 20-year-old center Anton Lundell outperformed both Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond of the Detroit Red Wings, scoring two goals in a 6-2 Florida win at FLA Live Arena. It was the team’s second straight resounding win following three straight losses to start the homestand.

Lundell has been exceptional in his first season, providing strong third-line play on a Stanley Cup contender. He ranks fifth among rookies in points (38), goals (14), and assists (24), and as a member of the third-best team in the NHL, he is the overwhelming rookie leader in plus/minus (plus-30).

Anton Lundell Florida Panthers
Anton Lundell has had a fantastic rookie season in Sunrise (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 12th overall pick by the Panthers in the 2020 NHL Draft is also having one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history, currently sitting tied for sixth in goals, tied for third in assists, and tied for fifth in points. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the players Lundell is chasing in each of those three offensive categories.

Goals: Mark Parrish, 24 (1998-99)

Parrish, who played in 722 games in the NHL, spent his first two seasons in Sunrise. The Minnesota-native was drafted 79th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 NHL Draft but was traded to Florida (along with a third-round pick for veteran Tom Fitzgerald) before ever playing a game for them.

Parrish made his NHL debut on Oct. 9, 1998, breaking a 1-1 tie with two third-period goals in a 4-1 Panthers win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. On Oct. 30, he registered a hat-trick, tallying four goals in a 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The 22-year-old finished the 1998-99 season with 37 points, 24 of those being goals, in 73 games. He finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting (Chris Drury won the award).

Parrish produced more of the same in his second season, scoring 26 goals and adding 18 assists in 81 games. While that was the last time he played for the Panthers, he would end up indirectly providing a major lasting impact. On June 24, 2000, the Panthers traded he and fellow forward Oleg Kvasha to the New York Islanders for goaltender Roberto Luongo and center Olli Jokinen, who would both turn into superstars in Florida.

Mark Parrish Florida Panthers
Although he holds the franchise’s rookie goal record, Mark Parrish’s biggest impact on the Panthers was netting them two future stars (Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge/Allsport)

Parrish produced by far his best season in 2001-02 with the Islanders, finishing with 30 goals and 30 assists. He spent his prime in New York, where he played 345 games between 2000 and 2006. He bounced around for the rest of his career, playing for five more NHL teams (and four AHL teams) before retiring from hockey in 2012.

Assists & Points: Jesse Belanger, 33 & 50 (1993-94)

The highest-scoring rookie season in Panthers history belongs to Belanger, a Quebec-native who went undrafted and signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1990. He excelled in the minors but struggled to crack Montreal’s deep and talented roster, playing in 23 total games for the team between 1991 and 1993.

After Belanger appeared in nine games of a postseason in which the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, the team exposed him to the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft, where the Panthers selected him. The 24-year-old, who still had rookie status, played in 70 games during Florida’s debut season, leading the team in assists (33) and finishing second in points (50).

Belanger led the Panthers in goals (15) and tied for the lead in points (29) in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and was once again leading the team in goals when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks at the 1995-96 Trade Deadline. He finished with 41 points, which included a career-high 20 goals in 72 games, but he struggled in Vancouver.

The Canucks released Belanger following the 1995-96 season. He signed with Edmonton and played in six games for the Oilers in 1996-97, but he wasn’t able to stick. He toiled in the minors the next couple of years, getting back to the NHL with Montreal during the 1999-00 season. He appeared in 16 games for the Canadiens that year and 12 games for the Islanders the next year.

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Belanger never made it back to the NHL after 2001 but did play minor league and international hockey until 2013. With 135 points in 246 NHL games, he didn’t make much of an impact, but he did make an impact in Florida, producing the highest-scoring rookie season in franchise history during what also happened to be the franchise’s rookie season.

With 27 games to go this season, Lundell is 10 goals behind Parrish, nine assists behind Belanger, and 12 points behind Belanger. The way he’s playing, he is definitely a threat to at least take down Belanger’s rookie record. But next up on those two lists is teammate Aaron Ekblad, who deserves mention here as a defenseman who had 27 assists and 39 points during his rookie season in 2014-15.

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