The Florida Panthers started their season on an extremely high note, going 6-0-0 for the first time to start a season in franchise history. This included beating the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and Stanley Cup favorites in the Colorado Avalanche, both by a score of 4-1. This feat was assisted by some of the young and upcoming stars who quickly made a name for themselves in the NHL. These young rookies are Finnish forward Anton Lundell and goaltender Spencer Knight. They have made such a big impact in such a short time that they should both be in the Calder Trophy conversation.
The Finnish Superstar in Lundell
From the moment he hit the ice for his first game in the NHL, Lundell has made a near-immediate impact for the Panthers. He plays as if he’s been in the league for several years. Offensively, he’s been nothing short of fantastic, as he centers their third line with wingers Sam Reinhart and Mason Marchment. He’s currently tied with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Drew O’Connor for second in the league among all rookies in the league in points with five (two goals, three assists) through five games. This also ties him for second on the team.
Additionally, he is second among rookies in goals. For comparison, the favorite to win the Calder in Montreal Canadiens’ forward Cole Caufield currently has an assist through six games. Furthermore, he’s been an absolute phenom at the dot as he hones a faceoff win percentage (FO%) of 54.8, which makes for the second-best on the Cats behind Carter Verhaeghe.
Related: 3 Keys to the Panthers’ Hot Start
Much like his captain in Aleksander Barkov, who he’s also been rooming with, Lundell excels on both sides of the puck, which is why head coach Joel Quenneville puts him on the top penalty kill unit (‘Panthers rookie Anton Lundell grew up idolizing Sasha Barkov. Now he’s living with him’, Miami Herald, 10/24/21). His defensive hockey mind has helped the team to 11th in the league on the kill with an 85.2% success rate. At only 20 years of age, Lundell is playing some elite-level hockey.
Our “Knight” in Shining Armor
Since coming in late last season, Knight has been given the spotlight in the goaltending department for the Panthers due to a struggling Sergei Bobrovsky and the departure of Chris Driedger. In his regular-season career, he remains undefeated, and that did not change in his one and only appearance this season against the Lightning. In that game, he stopped 30 of 31 total shots on goal, a save percentage (SV%) of .968, and helped shut down one of the most potent power plays in the NHL by helping the team go six-for-six on the kill that night. On the season overall, he has an SV% of .923 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.01 through two starts. Additionally, just like the team, he is currently 6-0-0 in regular-season play and is two straight wins away from tying Martin Jones for the longest winning streak to start an NHL career in net.
Like Lundell, he is only 20 years old, and goaltenders typically have longer careers than most skaters. We already know that he can handle a playoff atmosphere. If the league is seeing this level of production now, imagine how much more they will see when he hits the prime of his career. Additionally, he is learning from some of the best in Roberto Luongo and his starter in Bobrovsky. The Panthers have put Knight in a position to succeed, and he is doing so this season.
Two Rookie of the Year Candidates Is a Little Unfair
With these two youths in the lineup, the team has a lot to look forward to in the future. It comes down to how the organization develops them during the beginning of their careers. So far, it seems that the Panthers are doing a good job, as their stats show they are succeeding in big minutes. As a result, they have earned the trust of Coach Q and their peers.
Related: Sergei Bobrovsky’s Road to 300 Wins
For now, their goal is to get back into the postseason and show that they’re not just regular-season MVPs. At the rate the team is going, the sky is the limit for Florida and these rookies.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!