2015-16 Florida Panthers Season Preview

Roberto Luongo smiling during a practice
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Welcome to Cats on the Prowl’s 2015-16 Florida Panthers season preview. In this article, we’ll do a full recap of the Panthers’ off-season and look forward to the upcoming season, which is shaping up to be a promising one.


Table of Contents

  1. The Basics
  2. The Off-season
  3. Roster Moves
  4. Storylines
  5. Players to Watch
  6. Depth Chart
  7. Projected Line Combinations
  8. Final Take

The Basics

Owners: Vincent Viola & Doug Cifu, 3rd season

General Manager: Dale Tallon, 6th season

Head coach: Gerard Gallant, 2nd season

Captain: Willie Mitchell, 2nd season

Assistant captains:

  • Brian Campbell, 5th season
  • Derek MacKenzie, 2nd season
  • Dave Bolland, 2nd season

Where the Panthers finished last season:

  • Record: 38-29-15
  • Total points: 91
  • Wildcard: 4th
  • Division: 6th
  • Conference: 10th
  • League: 20th

Current total salary cap hit*: $63,144,183

Current salary cap space*: $8,255,817

Draft picks this year:

  • FLA 1st-round, FLA 2nd-round, MIN 3rd-round, FLA 4th-round, NYI 5th-round, FLA 6th-round
*Information courtesy of General Fanager

The Off-season

The Panthers’ offseason began on April 11th following their 3-2 win at home against the New Jersey Devils. Jaromir Jagr, who scored the game-winning goal that night, was re-signed the next day to a one-year, $3.5 million deal and for good reason, too. The 43-year-old veteran tallied 18 points (6G – 12A) over the 20 games following the trade to the Panthers, and he had a noticeable impact on most of the team’s young players. His linemates, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, performed at a point-per-game pace following the acquisition and formed instant chemistry with the ageless right-winger. Keeping Jagr in the fold for at least one more season was huge for the Panthers and in retrospect will have probably been their most important move during this entire off-season.

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The next order of business was the 2015 Draft Lottery which saw the Panthers retain the 11th overall pick after finishing 11th-to-last in the standings last season and with the Oilers jumping up and grabbing the coveted 1st overall selection for the fourth time in the last six drafts. Several days after that, word got out that the Panthers’ 2010 5th-round pick Zach Hyman was not interested in signing with the team after coming off a breakout, Hobey Baker-finalist year with the University of Michigan. On April 23rd, the NHL announced that rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad was one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded annually to the league’s top rookie, after he put up a franchise record 39 points in 81 games.

Panthers prospect Jayce Hawryluk (2014, 2nd round) and the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL were swept in the WHL conference finals by the Kelowna Rockets while Chris Clapperton (2013, 5th round) of the Rimouski Oceanic and Josh Brown (2013, 6th round) of the Oshawa Generals both advanced to the Memorial Cup. Brown and the Generals would go on to defeat the Kelowna Rockets in the Memorial Cup Finals while Clapperton would forego his opportunity to sign with the Panthers and instead ink a contract with the Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, six Panthers took part in the 2015 IIHF Hockey World Championships, and in the end, Aaron Ekblad and Team Canada came away with a gold medal while Dmitry Kulikov and Team Russia went home with silver.

The second signing of the off-season came on May 28th when the Cats signed forward Brett Olson to a one-year deal, and this would be the first of many made with the intention of bolstering their new AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. Chase Balisy became the third signing by agreeing to a 2-year deal on June 1st, the same day on which prospect Chris Clapperton became a UFA after failing to sign an entry-level contract with the team. On June 18th, GM Dale Tallon told the media that the team’s UFAs, which included Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky, among others, would not be offered new contracts, therefore paving the way for the team’s core of young players to take over. The Panthers made their first of two trades during the off-season the next day, sending the disinterested and unsigned rookie Zach Hyman to the Leafs for forward Greg McKegg and a conditional 7th-round pick. On June 24th, the NHL approved five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime prior to a shootout rather than the previously standard 4-on-4 for five minutes, and coaches will also be given the ability to challenge goals that may have been caused by a missed offsides call or goaltender interference. One of the highlights of the off-season occurred that same day when Aaron Ekblad was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, becoming the 2nd Panther since 2012 to receive the award.

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

On June 26th, the Panthers selected left-winger Lawson Crouse 11th overall at the 2015 Draft right here in Sunrise, Florida. The Cats would go on to make 7 more selections the next day during rounds 2 through 7, including goaltender Samuel Montembeault, Thomas Schemitsch, and Denis Malgin. After development camp began on June 29th, the organization announced that a total of 8 restricted free-agents were tendered qualifying offers, including Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Petrovic. In a somewhat surprising move, the Panthers placed veteran right-winger Brad Boyes on waivers and later bought out his contract after he cleared, opening up yet another lineup spot for a young player like Rocco Grimaldi, Quinton Howden, or Lawson Crouse. The buyout came as surprise to nearly everyone who follows the Panthers, especially considering Boyes hovered around 40 points in both of his seasons with the Panthers and was on a relatively cheap contract for his level of production. When the free agent signing period opened the next day on July 1st, the Panthers remained quiet with regards to signing players for the NHL roster and instead focused on  bolstering their new AHL affiliate. They signed Mike McKenna, Shane Harper, and Sena Acolatse to short-term deals as well as two defensemen in Cameron Gaunce and Brent Regner.

New Panther: Reilly Smith, Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
New Panther: Reilly Smith
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The second and final trade of the off-season came later that day when the Cats dealt big-bodied right-winger Jimmy Hayes to the Boston Bruins for the skilled Reilly Smith and the contract of Marc Savard. It was reported that Hayes was being dangled at the draft after asking for more than the team was willing to give him with regards to a new contract. The Panthers wrapped up their free agency signings by adding forward Rob Flick to the Portland Pirates on a one-year, two-way deal. News broke on July 3rd that the Carolina Hurricanes had hired the Panthers’ assistant coach Mark Morris to become the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. Morris is one of the main reasons behind the strides made defensively by the Panthers last season as he managed the team’s defensive duties. Several days later, forwards Garrett Wilson, Corban Knight, and Greg McKegg all agreed to their qualifying offers by signing one-year, two-way contracts with the team, furthering strengthening the likely starting lineup of the Pirates. Another big signing day for the Panthers occurred about a week later when 11th-overall pick Lawson Crouse signed a three-year, entry-level contract, Alex Petrovic agreed to a two-year deal, and Quinton Howden and John McFarland both accepted their one-year, two-way qualifying offers.

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

At the beginning of August, we created a post discussing the relationship, (or recent lack thereof) between the Panthers and their ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. Links and references to the Cyclones had been removed from the Panthers’ website at the end of the season and vice versa, leading us to question whether or not the two teams were still affiliates of one another. Word came out shortly after that the Panthers would be using the Manchester Monarchs as an unofficial affiliate as a result of the league’s board of governors limiting ECHL teams to one affiliation. The Cyclones renewed their contract with the Predators instead of the Panthers, leaving them without an affiliation. Soon after, a handful of Panthers prospects, including Lawson Crouse, Jayce Hawryluk, and Sam Monteambeault, participated in Hockey Canada’s annual summer junior camp, and Cats on the Prowl followed along as all three of them played in an exhibition game against Russia. You can read our quick report on their performance in that game (highlight clips included) right here.

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

On August 19th, the NHLPA announced that Panthers prospect Mike Matheson was among the 40 NHL prospects selected to participate in the annual NHLPA Rookie Showcase which will be held on September 1st in Toronto. Less than a week later, Fox Sports Florida, the Panthers’ television home, announced several changes to the broadcast crew for the upcoming season, including the addition of longtime radio play-by-play host Randy Moller and the departure of Drew Goldfarb who had only joined the network two years ago. Craig Minervini will also rejoin Fox Sports Florida as the broadcast host and Doug Plagens will fill Randy Moller’s spot as the radio play-by-play man. From September 8th through the 10th, Vincent Trocheck, Randy Moller, and other Panthers staff traveled to the Dominican Republic to hold a street hockey clinic for students at a school in Santo Domingo in addition to visiting sick patients at a hospital. The Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, unveiled new jerseys last Tuesday which feature the Panthers logo as a patch on the left shoulder. Later that week, the Panthers signed David Booth and Martin Havlat to professional try-out contracts they’ll be attending training camp which begins Thursday, September 17th. Several Panthers prospects and invitees came together on September 12th to take part in a 4-team, 4-day rookie tournament in Estero, Florida. The Panthers’ rookies went 1-2-0 after beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout, losing to the Nashville Predators 5-2, and losing to the Lightning 4-1. Connor Brickley tallied 3 goals for the Cats during the tournament. On September 17th, the first day of training camp, the Panthers’ final RFA of the offseason, left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau was re-signed to a 2-year, $6.5 million contract after negotiations dragged on over the course of the past several months.


Roster Moves

Re-signed:

Trade acquisitions:

Signed to new contract:

Drafted:

  • Lawson Crouse (11th overall)
  • Samuel Montembeault (77th overall)
  • Thomas Schemitsch (88th overall)
  • Denis Malgin (102nd overall)
  • Karch Bachman (132nd overall)
  • Christopher Wilkie (162nd overall)
  • Patrick Shea (192nd overall)
  • Ryan Bednard (206th overall)

Departures: 


Storylines

The 1st line + will the young guns take the next step?

The Panthers’ first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr were dominant in the final 21 games of the season, combining for 35 even strength points (15 goals, 26 assists) while nearly propelling the team into the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. While the success of the team won’t be completely dependent on the production of the top line, failing to produce at or near their pace from last season will certainly sour the team’s chances of reaching the postseason. However, with both Barkov and Huberdeau adding another season of experience under their belt and with Jagr likely to remain largely the same performance-wise, the expectations are fairly high for the trio.

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The second part of this storyline is whether or not the young core of the Panthers will take that next step. Nine players from last season’s roster that played almost every night are under 25 years old, and add to that Reilly Smith, who will most definitely be on the roster this year, and guys like Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden who have the potential to make the roster this time around. The success of the Panthers as a whole will be largely dependent on the success of the Panthers’ youth considering the roster is comprised mostly of players 25 or younger. We saw Huberdeau and Barkov take steps last year, and Nick Bjugstad showed us he can produce consistently on a season-to-season basis. Reilly Smith has also posted back-to-back 40-point seasons with Boston. Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson will have to continue to progress like they did last season while Vincent Trocheck, Brandon Pirri, Aaron Ekblad still have some proving to do with regards to whether or not they can produce and be effective on a consistent basis. The Panthers did away with veteran guys like Brad Boyes, Tomas Kopecky, and Scottie Upshall to make way for younger players, most of which have little to no NHL experience. Some might argue that neglecting to re-sign Kopecky and Upshall was a blessing in disguise, but that means having to thrust younger players into action earlier than many anticipated. Lawson Crouse who has a chance to earn a roster spot, has no professional experience while Grimaldi has just one season in the AHL under his belt

Nick Bjugstad post- back surgery

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Nick Bjugstad was forced to undergo season-ending surgery on his back in late-March after sustaining a a lower back injury on February 19th against the Canadiens. Bjugstad played through several games with the injury before leaving the Panthers’ March 21st game against the Bruins early. According to Jaromir Jagr, the 23-year-old center couldn’t even bend over to tie his own skates. He told FloridaPanthers.com at the end of May that he was “feeling 100 percent” and GM Dale Tallon says it’s fully expected that Bjugstad will be ready for training camp this month, however back injuries and surgeries should not be taken lightly.

It’s possible that it could take time for Bjugstad to settle in before regaining his form from last year when he lead the team with 24 goals. Jonathan Huberdeau had a similar situation when he underwent hip surgery in May of 2013 and went on to tally just 28 points in 69 games during the 2013-14 season after winning the Calder Trophy the year before. While Bjugstad is by no means expected to have a terrible season, whether or not he is affected by the back surgery in the short-term is something to think about.

Aaron Ekblad + more offense from the defense?

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Out of the 541 total points generated by the Panthers last season (goals + assists), just 125 were produced by defensemen. Only three defensemen reached 20 points, only one scored more than 5 goals, and only two reached 20 assists. Like with their first forward line, the Panthers’ playoff hopes won’t hinge on the backend’s offensive production, however if you add in just 5 to 10 more goals that could be the difference in a handful of games. Take away the 39 points by Aaron Ekblad last season and the Panthers’ defense would’ve produced just 86 points or 17 percent of the team’s total offensive production. Can Aaron Ekblad reach that mark in consecutive seasons being only 19 years old? The defense can be relevant offensively if he’s able to, but if his production drops slightly in his sophomore year, will there be anyone to pick up the slack? The hope is the defensemen can produce at or above their mark from last year, therefore putting less pressure on the forward lines which will have a few new faces this season.

Backup goaltending

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Backup goaltending situation was a mixed bag for the Cats last season. Al Montoya was good some nights and a bit off on others while Dan Ellis was impressive when Roberto Luongo and Montoya went down at the same time. Now, Ellis is with the Capitals after not resigning with the Panthers, and Mike McKenna, who was acquired on July 1st, is the Panthers’ new third goaltender leaving the backup goalie picture a bit unclear again. McKenna played just one NHL game last season during which he allowed 5 goals and hasn’t played more than 4 in the bigs since the 2008-09 season when he suited up for 15 with the Lightning. He’s performed admirably in the AHL posting a 2.24 GAA and a .926 save percentage in 52 games with the Portland Pirates last season, but how he’ll perform if needed in the NHL is still uncertain. Montoya, on the other hand, has been reliable in the past as a backup goaltender so perhaps it was an off year for him. Regardless, Luongo will not be playing every game this season, so it’s imperative that the Panthers have a reliable and somewhat consistent option waiting in the wings. It will also be important that the Panthers pay attention to detail when a backup is in net this year after being sloppy in front of Montoya and Ellis many times last season. Management may also want to try to fit Montoya into the schedule a bit more often so he stays fresh and ready to go.

Brandon Pirri’s torrent goal-scoring pace + how many goals will be enough?

Brandon Pirri was a goal-scoring machine for the Panthers last season, so much so that not only did he net a career-high 22 goals, he only tallied 2 assists giving him a goals-to-assists ratio of 11-1, which is good for second-best in NHL history. But one of the biggest questions entering this season is can he continue that pace or at least be a 20-goal scorer again? Pirri’s 22 goals last season came over the course of just 49 games (19 were scored in the final 30 games of the season) due to the fact that he missed two stretches of games after sustaining a concussion and an upper-body injury. Assuming he stays healthy, we can only hope he scores 20 again, especially if his lethal one-timer continues to find the back of the net.

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Last season, Bjugstad and Pirri were the only two Panthers to reach the 20-goal mark, however Jagr combined for 20 with the Devils and Panthers, and Barkov and Huberdeau were not too far behind either. It’s safe to say that at least two of those five players will reach 20 goals next season, but that probably won’t be enough if the Panthers want to make the playoffs. There’s also newcomer Reilly Smith who scored 20 goals two seasons ago and may have a better opportunity to do so this year. It’s good to see that the Panthers finally have some options in the goal-scoring department, and that’s not including Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck, or even Rocco Grimaldi who could certainly end up making the team this year.

The powerplay

Prior to the All-Star Break last season, the Panthers scored just 17 powerplay goals on 132 chances (12.8% success rate) which was good for 2nd-to-last in the league ahead of the Buffalo Sabres. The players were stagnant with the man-advantage, shots were not getting through to the goaltender, and zone-entry was a major issue. After the All-Star Break, however, the Panthers returned with a new-look powerplay that featured four forwards and one defenseman which resulted in a much-improved 23 goals on 114 opportunities (20.1% success rate). The units became better at cycling the puck and making passes in a quick and smart manner which helped the offensive output. Had they been as successful for the entire season, they would’ve owned the 7th best powerplay in the entire league. Several more games could’ve been won had they been able to cash in on the powerplay, especially during the first half of the season, but now they at least know what works and they can work on it some more come training camp. There were many times where the Panthers were down by a goal or two and had 2 or 3 powerplay opportunities and couldn’t cash in on any of them, and games that are lost through special teams are difficult to take.

Contract years aplenty

The Panthers have many players with expiring contracts this coming season and this could potentially be huge for the performance of the team as as a whole. From the NHL roster, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Brandon Pirri, and Erik Gudbranson are all RFAs at the end of the season in addition to Jaromir Jagr, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell, and Brian Campbell who are all UFAs at the end of the year. Big years from the RFAs (or bigger than their past seasons) could pay dividends for a Panthers team that is looking to make the playoffs this season, and the same goes for the UFAs who will not only be trying to perform for the team, but at the same time looking to impress other teams to get contract offers. The team also has several more young players in the AHL with contract years this season, including Connor Brickley, Quinton Howden, Jonathan Racine, and Sam Brittain, among others.


Players to Watch

NHL

  • Jonathan Huberdeau – Huberdeau will be a focal point of the forward corps for the Panthers this year. How he performs will be pivotal after a long summer during which contract talks between his agent and the Panthers have dragged on and have still yet to be completed. Huberdeau started off slow last season after slumping the year before, but was impressive down the stretch, especially following the acquisition of Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline. The Panthers and all fans will be looking for Huberdeau to be one of the team’s leading point-getters after totaling 54 last season, and Huberdeau likely will be too in order to prove that he can be a force to be reckoned with following a bounce-back year.
  • Aaron Ekblad – With Ekblad entering his second season in the NHL, whether or not he can capitalize on a Calder Trophy-winning season will be something to watch for. Fans are divided on whether or not the 19-year-old will have a sophomore slump, but so far, it seems as though nothing has phased the confident, bearded youngster. Ekblad’s performance will be particularly important for a Panthers roster that is not deep with offensive talent on the backend, and that will be the thing to watch for more than his improvements defensively which we can expect to see.
  • Aleksander Barkov – Barkov is one of the team’s top RFAs this coming season and many will be looking for a fairly big year from him. After a pretty good rookie season, Barkov slumped last year before picking up the pace just before the Panthers acquired Jaromir Jagr. He was almost after the acquisition, and that post-trade deadline Barkov is what the Panthers will be hoping to see for most of this coming year. It’s very likely that he’ll retain the number 1 center position barring a very bad training camp and preseason, and a 15-25 point improvement over his 36 points from last year shouldn’t be a stretch at all with another summer under his belt, a full year of Jagr, and a likely improved Huberdeau.
  • Reilly Smith – As he enters his first season with the Panthers, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact he makes and how he fits in with the team. Of course, he won’t be compared to Jimmy Hayes every minute of the day like he would be if he was traded into a different hockey market, but there’s no doubt people will look to talk about the two together when one is doing better than the other. Smith has tallied at least 40 points in each of his last two seasons, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect at least 40 points again this season especially now that he’ll be in his 3rd full NHL season. If he slides in as the 2nd line right-wing like he’s projected to, he’ll be apart of a line that has a good combination of smarts, scoring, and skill with Brandon Pirri and Nick Bjugstad. The Panthers could perhaps have a more complete top-6 than they’ve had in the past with Smith plugging that hole on the right side..
  • Rocco Grimaldi – Grimaldi has seemingly entered this year’s training camp better than ever. He looked impressive at development camp, informal skates, and in the rookie tournament so far, and he’s also coming off his first AHL season during which he scored 42 points in just 64 games. Even though he’s only had one season of professional hockey, he played for 3 years at the University of North Dakota where he reached nearly a point-per-game each season, and he’s also in the top-10 of several all-time scoring categories for the United States National Team Development Program where he played for many years before college. There are a couple roster spots available for the upcoming season, and while Grimaldi isn’t guaranteed to get one of those spots, he has one of the best chances to grab one out of all of the players that are competing. He plays a lot bigger than his smaller size would suggest, and it’s expected that he’ll bring an element of speed to the Panthers if he makes the team which they’ll definitely need in 3-on-3 OT situations.

Honorable Mention: Brandon Pirri – If Pirri can continue to score goals, the Panthers will be in good shape offensively. If he’s able to stay healthy this year, he’ll have better opportunities to find the back of the net and therefore won’t have to score 22 goals in 49 games, but 25-30 goals in 75 games could be on the horizon.

AHL/Juniors/College

  • Quinton Howden – It’s very possible that Howden could make the NHL roster this year, but even that is still up for debate. He’s been in the AHL for the past three seasons and his best year offensively was his first season when he put up 30 points in 57 games. He dropped slightly the year after that and was plagued by injuries this past season holding him to just 33 games played. While he’s likely not going to break the top-6 any time soon, it’s still expected that he can be an impact player in a bottom-6 role with his speed and offensive ability which is above average for the role he’ll play. There’s certainly a spot for him on the Panthers’ roster this season, but he won’t be the only one fighting for it.
  • Connor Brickley – Brickley is probably the most underrated and least talked about player in the Panthers organization and that could change very soon. After four consecutive unimpressive seasons at the University of Vermont, Brickley stepped on that gas last year in his first year in the AHL with the Rampage and posted 47 points in 73 games. He finished 6th in the league in points by a rookie last season (one point behind 5th place), was 2nd on the Rampage in points, and tied for 2nd in the league in goals by a rookie (22). He also has two goals in two games at this year’s rookie tournament in Estero, Florida. The hope is that Brickley can be a middle-6 guy for the Panthers very soon, and while it probably won’t be this season, he’s without a doubt a player to watch this season in the AHL and could certainly see a call-up at some point during the year.
  • Lawson Crouse – Crouse is also wildcard for this season in terms of where he’ll end up, and we won’t know where exactly that will be until late October or early November. There’s no doubt that the 11th-overall pick from the 2015 Draft is ready for the NHL physically. His size fits in with what the Panthers already have on their NHL roster, but the main question is whether or not he’s ready offensively. There’s certainly a spot for him on the roster, but is it necessary to stick him on the third or fourth line in the NHL when he could be getting top-line minutes in juniors? Dale Tallon and Gerard Gallant have already said that he’ll be given every chance possible to make the team, and that likely means he’ll play in the 9 games allotted to rookies in order to prove himself further. Some say he has grown out of the CHL, but in the end, it would be better for him developmentally to do well in juniors and build his confidence rather than rush him and have him play poorly in the NHL. And remember, if he is sent back to the Frontenacs of the OHL, he’ll be forced to sit out for 8 games after being suspended for a check to the head of Marcus McIvor at the end of last season.
  • Mike Matheson – Matheson is yet another Panthers prospect that has developed very well the past few years and has looked impressive recently. The Quebec-native spent three years at Boston College and reached 20 at least points in each of those three seasons. As a left-shot defenseman, it’s been speculated over the past few years that he would be the one to replace Brian Campbell when his contract expires at the end of this season, and it looks like that could come to fruition. Matheson was a stand-out at this year’s development camp and has been during the rookie tournament games this past week. His hockey IQ is off the charts and he’s got a good balance of offensive and defensive skill. He played 5 games with the Rampage at the end of last season and didn’t look out of place at all as he tallied 2 assists. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him play first- or second-pair minutes with the Portland Pirates this year or even see a call-up if the Panthers need a defenseman.
  • Kyle Rau – Rau, similar to Matheson, is entering his first full professional season after playing 7 games  and scored 3 points with the Rampage after his college season ended last year. With the Panthers roster flooded with centers for this coming season, it’s not likely that he’ll make the opening roster unless he completely knocks the socks off of the management during the preseason, and even then it might not happen. It’s not yet clear where Rau will fit in with the Pirates, especially after the Panthers signed Chase Balisy and traded for Greg McKegg during the off-season, and there’s also guys like Corban Knight, Rob Flick, and Brett Olson who could potentially be starting centers. However, if he does have a good training camp, that may give him a leg up on the other forwards and allow him to possibly play a middle-6 role which is where he’d develop best.

Honorable Mention: Sam Brittain – This season will be Brittain’s second in professional hockey after spending most of his time with the Cyclones last year,  the Panthers’ former ECHL affiliate. After a backup stint with the Cats when Luongo and Montoya went down last season, Brittain returned to the AHL and flourished in the several games he played. This year will be important for him to see if he can capitalize on that success and continue on his developmental path.


 Organizational Depth Chart

Below is an [arbitrary] organizational depth chart of the Florida Panthers, sorted by position, for the 2015-16 season. Priority is given to players currently in the NHL, followed by AHL players, and then players in college, junior hockey, or international leagues. This chart is not meant to suggest possible line combinations nor does it suggest that a player at one position is better than a player in another position because one is listed higher. A shorter list of players at a position suggests less depth at that position. Players more likely to be called up or players that are close to reaching the NHL are listed higher than ones that are not. Also, some players can play multiple positions (ex. right wing and center), however this chart will only reflect their natural position or the one they’ve played most often to this point.

Forwards
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Jonathan Huberdeau Aleksander Barkov Jaromir Jagr
Brandon Pirri Nick Bjugstad Reilly Smith
Jussi Jokinen Vincent Trocheck Logan Shaw
Shawn Thornton Dave Bolland Shane Harper
Quinton Howden Derek MacKenzie Juho Lammikko
Garrett Wilson Rocco Grimaldi Christopher Wilkie
Lawson Crouse Greg McKegg Joe Wegwerth
John McFarland Connor Brickley
Miguel Fidler Kyle Rau
Karch Bachman Corban Knight
Brett Olson
Rob Flick
Steven Hodges
Jayce Hawryluk
Denis Malgin
Patrick Shea
Matt Buckles
Defensemen
Left Defense Right Defense
Brian Campbell Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov Alex Petrovic
Michael Matheson Steven Kampfer
Dylan Olsen Brent Regner
Jonathan Racine Sena Acolatse
Cameron Gaunce Josh Brown
Ian McCoshen MacKenzie Weegar
Michael Downing Thomas Schemitsch
Ben Gallacher
Goaltenders
Roberto Luongo
Al Montoya
Mike McKenna
Sam Brittain
Colin Stevens
Samuel Montembeault
Evan Cowley
Hugo Fagerblom
Ryan Bednard

Projected Line Combinations

Forwards
Line 1: Jonathan Huberdeau Aleksander Barkov Jaromir Jagr
Line 2: Brandon Pirri Nick Bjugstad Reilly Smith
Line 3: Jussi Jokinen Vincent Trocheck Rocco Grimaldi
Line 4: Derek MacKenzie Dave Bolland Quinton Howden
Defensemen
Pairing 1: Brian Campbell Aaron Ekblad
Pairing 2: Dmitry Kulikov Steven Kampfer
Pairing 3: Willie Mitchell Erik Gudbranson
Goaltenders
Roberto Luongo
Al Montoya

Final Take

The Panthers’ outlook is very positive. Dale Tallon didn’t make any knee-jerk moves during the off-season or mortgage the future to acquire a player that might’ve helped the Panthers make the playoffs, because if last season was any indication, they’re already headed in that direction. However, Jaromir Jagr is back in the fold, Roberto Luongo will be between the pipes once again, and a talented core of young players is poised to take the team to the next level. After missing the playoffs by just 7 points and improving by a total of 25 points, the Panthers’ locker room is undoubtedly overflowing with optimism, confidence, and excitement for the upcoming season, and we certainly can’t wait for it to get started.

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