2017-2018 NHL Preview: Florida Panthers
In this 31 part series, I will be working my way back from 31st to 1st in my projected 2017-2018 standings. Third up is a team who will be entering into their 25th year in the NHL. They made the playoffs two years ago and looked to be a good young threat going forward but instead it appears it was a one year blip.
2016-2017 NHL Standings: 23rd
Eastern Conference Standings: 13th
Atlantic Division Standings: 6th
GF Rank: 23rd
GA Rank: 19th
Overview: The year was 2015-2016 and finally, after years of speculation the young teams of Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators are all coming to fruition and showing themselves to be forces for years to come. Well, looks like that lasted all of one year. Florida achieved this on the shoulders of #1 overall pick Aaron Eckblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Marchessault. Excellent play by Roberto Luongo who was rejuvenated and showing why he was one of the most dominant mass shot goalies. How much can change in one year? Well, Jonathan Marchessault goes to Las Vegas, Jaromir Jagr is not resigned losing some veteran leadership (that is a combined 46 goals and 97points they just lost) and Jonathan Huberdeau was plagued with an injury that kept him out of a majority of the season. Aaron Eckblad meanwhile scores just 21 points almost half of what he did the previous seasons. Their 2nd overall PK ranking kept them in much of the season but I'm not sure if the 85% PK success is sustainable with their losses. The recent moves of Erik Gudbranson trade and letting Jonathan Marchessault and Jaromir Jagr coupled with their draft picks in previous years have me thinking they are trending in the wrong direction.
Major Additions: Radim Vrbata
Major Subtractions: Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault
Prospects and Picks:
-Owen Tippett. (10th overall pick; 1st round) falling to them at 10 was a gift as Owen was projected to be a 3-6 draft pick. He has size (6'2) and a pure scorers mentality that is not to dissimilar to what they lost in Jonathan Marcessault. He's 18 and likely has 1-2 seasons before he finds himself in the big league but his skating and offense should help the Panthers.
-Ian McCoshen (31st overall, 1st round 2013). The Boston College grad was up for 3 games last year scoring 1 assist. The 6'3 defensemen, played in the World Juniors and has the size and shot to succeed in the NHL. He won't be a major difference maker but could crack the top 4 within two years if he can learn to utilize his size a bit better.
Sleeper Fantasy Asset:
-Aleksander Barkov & Vincent Trocheck. Both have scored at least 20 goals and 50 points in the last two seasons, I had hoped to see them rise to a 30 goal scorer last year (which Jonathan Marchessault did) but instead they regressed a few goals and now I have a fear that their assist totals could take a hit without pure goal scorers of Jagr and Marchessault. They will have to learn to shoot more and fill those gaps and it is with that hope that they find more goals this year. They are already playing top line minutes and providing top line talent, it remains to be seen if they provide top line goal scoring (at least above 25 goals). Truthfully, I'm more bullish on Aleksander Barkov as a long term success candidate over Vincent (who is more of a quick reflexes goal scorer), Aleksander's game is more complete and it appears to have a slightly higher hockey IQ.
They currently have around $10.9MM in cap space with 18 players signed
2017-2018 NHL Standings: 29th
Western Conference Standings: 16th
Atlantic Division: 8th
NHL 30th: Las Vegas Golden Knights (Western Conference 14th; Pacific Division 8th)
NHL 31st: Colorado Avalanche (Western Conference 15th; Central Division 7th)