Panthers Pickups Proving Problematic

They say a winning lottery ticket comes with its own set of problems. Florida Panthers general manager Tom Rowe would undoubtedly agree.

Sunday evening, Panthers forward Colton Sceviour virtually strapped the team on his back and carried the Cats to a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The July 1 free agent signee tallied goals on the power play, at even-strength and shorthanded for the first hat trick of his NHL career. Sceviour was Florida’s best player on a night when the entire team looked good.

The ex-Dallas Star didn’t score the game-winning goal, however; he left that to another free agent pickup, Jonathan Marchessault. The diminutive (5 foot 9) forward’s sixth goal of the season tied him for the NHL lead. His 11 points in nine games put him just one behind league leaders Claude Giroux and Connor McDavid.

After Sunday night’s win, Marchessault and Sceviour are Florida’s top two scorers. Sceviour’s two shorthanded goals have him tied for tops in the league. Marchessault has tallied the game-winner in two of the Panthers’ four wins thus far.

The thing is, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The two free agent forwards were signed on July 1 in order to “juice” Florida’s bottom-six by adding speed (and hopefully, a little scoring) to the third and fourth lines.

Panthers’ Plans Pulverized

Jonathan Huberdeau's injury opened the door for Marchessault. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
Jonathan Huberdeau’s injury opened the door for Marchessault. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

That plan was partially scrapped when Jonathan Huberdeau suffered an Achilles injury in the Panthers’ preseason finale. Following surgery, the top line left wing is expected to be out until late January or early February. Head coach Gerard Gallant plugged Marchessault into Huberdeau’s spot on a line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr prior to the season-opener, and the Cap-Rouge, Quebec, native took off like a rocket.

The other half of the plan went out the window when second-line left wing Jussi Jokinen suffered a “lower-body” injury against Washington on October 20. After AHL call-up Kyle Rau failed to mesh with linemates Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith through five periods of play, he and Sceviour switched places. In just their second full game together (Sunday’s win over Detroit), the Sceviour-Trocheck-Smith line combined for four goals and three assists.

Jokinen is expected to be out at least another week, maybe more, so Sceviour should have a minimum of three more games to show what he can do with second-line minutes. Marchessault likely will remain on Florida’s top line until Huberdeau returns. Already, the two first-year Panthers are exceeding expectations by a wide margin. They’re beginning to draw attention from around the league…and that’s a problem for GM Rowe.

Viva Los Panteras! Viva…Las Vegas?

george mcphee
One of the Panthers’ current top-two scorers could be moving to Las Vegas next June. (Wikipedia)

Next June, the Las Vegas (TBA) Knights will select one player from each NHL club in the Expansion Draft. Rowe’s problem is that he can only protect seven forwards. Huberdeau, Barkov, Jokinen, Trocheck, Smith and Nick Bjugstad seem virtual locks for “protected” status, leaving just one open spot. Assuming Sceviour and Marchessault continue to perform at a high level, the GM will be hard-pressed to decide which to protect, as the “exposed” forward will almost certainly be drafted by Las Vegas.

Trading one of the above-named protected forwards to open up an additional spot won’t necessarily solve the problem, either. Expansion Draft rules state teams must expose a minimum of “two forwards who a) are under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.”

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“Protected Six” aside, Florida currently has three forwards who meet – or will meet – the criteria: Sceviour, Marchessault and team captain Derek MacKenzie. The captain will be exposed, but which of the Panthers’ current top-two scorers will Rowe offer up to the league’s 31st franchise? Either way, Florida’s loss will be Las Vegas’ gain.