This week the Eastern Edge takes a look at what we might expect from several of the young Florida Panthers this season.
Gone are four of the Panthers top ten leaders in average power play ice time from last season; Stephen Weiss, Peter Mueller, Alex Kovalev and T.J. Brennan. There will be plenty of competition for prime time minutes.
Some people were surprised when Florida passed on both Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin in order to take Aleksander Barkov. He's been cleared to play after having recovered from successful shoulder surgery in April. The team is playing it cautious and holding him out of the team's rookie tournament. He will be ready for the opening of the Panthers training camp.
Barkov finished ninth in league scoring with 48 points in 53 games for Tappara in Finland's top professional circuit last year. Not bad for a player who just turned 18 years of age last week.
He is better positioned to post superior offensive numbers compared to first overall selection Nathan MacKinnon, at least for this season. Barkov should be a lock to play in Florida's top six as well as receive some prime power play time. MacKinnon may start the season on the third line in Colorado. Tampa's Jonathan Drouin might also have a big say in the Calder race this season if he does secure a spot beside Steven Stamkos and Martin St-Louis. A back to back Calder trophy win for the Panthers would be the first in the NHL since a pair of Bruins turned the trick in 1967 (Bobby Orr) and 1968 (Derek Sanderson).
Last season's top rookie, Jonathan Huberdeau recorded 31 points, playing in all 48 games, a pro-rated 24-goal, 53 point campaign. It was revealed that he finished the year playing on a hip that required surgery to repair. Luckily, the mid-May surgery was successful and he found the time to add some muscle to his frame over the summer. The 20-year-old is aiming to avoid a sophomore slump this season. Last year, Huberdeau averaged nearly 17 minutes of ice time per game and that number will very likely finish closer to 20 minutes per match when this campaign is complete.
Nick Bjugstad struggled in his 11 game NHL debut last year, recording just one goal. He showcased his talent by scoring 46 goals and 78 points in 80 games over his last two seasons of college hockey. As with many big players, the 21-year-old is a candidate to struggle to produce fantasy-worthy numbers until he figures out how to play within his large frame (6-6, 215 pounds).
Drew Shore was a bit of a surprise last season, suiting up for 43 NHL games with the Panthers. The 22-year-old recorded only 13 points, but 10 of those came during a 13 game stretch. He also played 41 AHL contests last year, scoring 30 points. In his final two seasons of college hockey, Shore netted 45 goals and 99 points in 82 games. Another centre with size, he will get his looks in the top six this season, but where he ends up will have a lot to do with chemistry.
It seems like it took Shawn Matthias forever to become fantasy-relevant, but at the start of last season, he was only 24-years-old. Overall last year, he recorded 14 goals and 21 points in 48 games, but during an 18 game period, he notched 15 points, including an eye-popping 11 goals. He'll be in the mix for top six minutes this year, but he'll fare no worse than top nine, subbing in for the eventual injury to a less sturdy player.
Last year was pretty good to Vincent Trocheck. In his final junior campaign, he led the OHL in scoring with 109 points, including 50 goals in 63 OHL games and was named the league's Most Outstanding Player. He also won gold with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, recording six points in seven games. The 20-year-old is expected to start his professional career in the AHL, but keep a close eye on him at training camp. Here's a quote by Panther's GM Dale Tallon via NHL.com:
"We're going to go with our young guys," Tallon said. "That's been the plan all along and that's the way we're going to go. … The Barkovs and Bjugstads and [Drew] Shores and Trochecks. Those are the guys that are our future. That's what's going to have to get done here."
In his only season of junior hockey, Dmitry Kulikov registered 62 points in 57 games. Much more was expected than the 10 points in 34 games last season. The four year NHL veteran scored at a 40 point pace the season before the most recent lockout. The 22-year-old is going to be fed prime offensive opportunities this year and he has the talent to take advantage of it.
To say that when Alex Petrovic makes it to the NHL, he'll make an impact might be an understatement, at least physically. In his final two seasons of junior, he recorded 105 points and 281 penalty minutes over 137 games. Petrovic was voted the WHL's Top Defenseman in 2011-12. Last season, he played 55 AHL games, recording 17 points. The 21-year-old has a big shot, but the offense may take a few years to show up at the NHL level. He will however, contribute big penalty minutes.
Goaltender Jacob Markstrom is going to be tested mightily this season. Those young players will make their share of mistakes and Markstrom's numbers will bear the brunt of their "teachable moments". The 23-year-old has already represented Sweden at two World Junior and two World Championship tournaments. With Scott Clemmensen in place as the back-up, there is no threat to Markstrom's status as top dog, err, cat.
The Panthers are shaping up to be a large, competitive and talented club. Many of their key pieces to the future are already large physical specimens. Bjugstad is 6-6, 215, Barkov 6-3, 209, Shore 6-3, 200, Matthias 6-4, 220, Petrovic 6-4, 210 and even Markstrom is 6-6, 196.
While individual Panthers may not be the greatest to own in one year fantasy leagues this season, the team is clearly going to be very big and has even bigger potential for real success in the coming years.
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