Panthers’ GM Dave Tallon has done nothing short of a massive overhaul to his roster, arguably bigger than the Philadelphia Flyers’. Countless names were shipped out and just as many new faces arrived. With an overwhelming amount of new talent available, there are quite a few question marks surrounding the players, their potential performance, the line combinations, and of course the overall competitiveness of the team. Here’s a quick look at some of the players in Florida this year.
Tomas Fleischmann –Flash is back and healthy, scoring four points in three preseason games. It was evident that last year Fleischmann was much more comfortable on the wing (in Colorado) than at center (in Washington), and left wing is where he will start the upcoming season. In all three games, Fleischmann took only three faceoff draws, winning one. He also rattled off an impressive 14 shots, translating to a 383-shot pace over an 82-game season. There’s no chance he shoots that much in the regular season, but sure is a great sign for a guy with a career high of 131 shots on goal. Most of his shifts were with Kris Versteeg, and their most common center was Stephen Weiss. Expect Fleischmann to be Florida’s number-one left wing to start the season.
Mike Santorelli – Behind Stephen Weiss, Santorelli is Florida’s next best center. Although Santorelli scored only one goal in the preseason, he won the second-line job last year off of two goals in five games, so that’s nothing to be concerned about. Mike did stand out in one category and that was faceoffs. Last year Santorelli took the most draws (68) of any Panther in the preseason, winning 51.5%, contrasted with this preseason, where he took the third most (39), winning 64.1%. Unfortunately for Santorelli, he suffered a shoulder injury and will miss the beginning of the season. It doesn’t sound too serious though, as head coach Dineen expects him back before the end of the month.
Marcel Goc – Surprisingly, Goc took the most faceoffs (55) this preseason for the Panthers, winning an impressive 54.5%. Goc played in four games, only registering one assist, five shots on goal, and a minus-two rating and that was even with the benefit of skating mostly with Fleischmann and Versteeg on the top line. With Santorelli’s injury, there will be some temporary availability at center, but the team is also using Kopecky and Matthias at center as well. Goc should be a third- or even fourth-line player at this point and won’t carry much fantasy value.
Tomas Kopecky – Kopecky skated in only two preseason games, but took 26 faceoffs in the preseason, winning 12. Tomas also scored three points in those two games, with four shots on goal and a plus-three rating, something that was very rare in the Florida locker room (most had a minus rating). Although Kopecky is a LW/RW in Yahoo, it’s looking as though he’ll start the year as the number-two center in Florida, with Booth and Upshall on his wings. Kopecky is one of those guys who has increased his point totals every year he’s been in the league and could look to pull his best Andrew-Ladd-breakout impression in 2011-12.
Scottie Upshall – The former sixth-overall selection has never scored more than 34 points in a season, but the Panthers are hoping for more. While Upshall has proven he can score at a 54-point pace, he has never been able to string it together for a full season. In two preseason games, he scored zero points, registered three shots, and carried a minus-two rating. We might see flurries of offense from Upshall, but odds are strong that there are better options available for a full 82 game season.
Sean Bergenheim – After a Herculean effort in the postseason last year for Tampa, Bergenheim signed with the other team in Florida. Although he managed a few more shots (8 total) than Upshall, he also had a goose egg in the points column. He was minus-three, skating primarily with Ryan Carter and Steven Reinprecht. It looks like he will start the year on the third or fourth line.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Huberdeau definitely impressed the coaching staff and even stuck around through the final round of cuts. He won’t be able to play for the Panthers though unless they sign him to an ELC by tomorrow, so we’ll keep a close eye on him. Although the Panthers have repeatedly said they do not wish to rush youngsters, Huberdeau could very well be looking at a nine-game tryout. In five preseason games, he scored three goals and one assist, tying for the team lead in points and leading the team in goals, despite getting only nine shots off. Update: right after press time, the Panthers announced that they have cut Huberdeau, returning him to junior.
Dmitry Kulikov – Kulikov also scored four points, leading Panther defensemen, but this guy is all offense. He tied Reinprecht for the team-worst minus-five rating in four games. Although Kulikov’s even-strength shifts have been with Mike Weaver as the third pairing, Kulikov is skating with Campbell on the PP1 unit. Whether or not he skates even-strength with Campbell for the regular season is yet to be seen. Whichever partner he gets, it looks as though an increase in points should be in order, but Kulikov is still working out his defensive coverage. Be cautious if plus/minus is a significant factor in your league.
Erik Gudbranson – Gudbranson has made the team and is being paired with Ed Jovanovski, both at even strength and on the power-play. In five preseason games, the former third-overall selection registered one assist, a minus-two rating, and 11 shots on goal (second-highest on the team). Gudbranson also led Panther defensemen with 12 hits.
Jose Theodore – Theodore is expected to begin the season as the starter, but in the two preseason games he faced, he was lit up like a Christmas tree. To be fair, the first five goals came in the very first preseason game, where chaos was to be expected with so many new faces in the locker room. The next game he played (which was a week and a half later), he suffered seven goals at the hand of the Dallas Stars, who were boasting Mike Ribeiro and Loui Eriksson. With a more stabilized roster and the ability to get in a routine, Theodore might be able to perform well in Florida, but he’ll have strong competition right behind him.
Scott Clemmensen – Clemmensen’s 3.00 GAA was best among Florida goaltenders. That tells you how good the team played overall throughout the preseason. He also played only one game in the preseason, which was cut short by injury. In the last three years, Clemmensen has played anywhere from 23-40 games, posting at worst a 2.91 GAA and also at worst a .911 save percentage. If Theodore cannot handle the workload, Clemmensen will be ready to prove he can take on a bigger workload. Currently he is recovering from minor knee surgery and is expected back in three weeks.
Jacob Markstrom – The highly touted goalie-of-the-future for the Florida Panthers had the second-best camp among Florida goalies, at least in terms of goals-against-average, posting a 3.30 in two games. With the injury to Clemmensen and the waiving of Plante, Markstrom has won the backup job out of camp and should have at least a one or two chances to show his stuff. While it’s unlikely he will do be able to replicate, it’s interesting to note that Sergei Bobrovsky was in a similar situation last season, beginning the year in the NHL thanks to an injury to Michael Leighton.
All in all, the Panthers should have a stronger year, but will have to battle like hell to make it into the postseason. This is a team that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in a decade and only won three playoff series in the history of their franchise (all en route to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1996), but is slowly making steps in the right direction. They won’t be a powerhouse, but they certainly have a couple interesting players in the organization now.
They begin the season on Sunday in Long Island, followed by a game in Pittsburgh on Oct. 11 and finally facing Tampa Bay in their home opener on Oct. 15. By that point, Clemmensen is scheduled to be only a week or so away from a return, so it will be interesting to see how the team plays, especially in goal during those first three games.
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