Thoughts: Post-trade deadline, Vatrano, Borgstrom, Greco’s hot

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Here are a few new Panthers thoughts from the past little while.

1. The trade deadline has come and gone, and for the Panthers, it turned out to be extremely quiet, and maybe that was for the better.

They did strike a deal, acquiring Frank Vatrano from the Bruins for a 3rd-round pick in this year’s draft, and I think that’s the type of move they were looking to make all along.

Vatrano, soon to be 24-years old and a pending restricted free-agent, fits the mold of a player that could grow with the Panthers’ current core.

The Panthers have had their eye on him for a while now, and they were finally able to pull the trigger.

Undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the 5’9″, 201-pound winger has already played in 108 NHL games – as well as 6 in the playoffs last season – all with the Bruins – and has totaled 20 goals – including a hat-trick – and 11 assists.

He tallied 36 goals in 36 games for the Bruins’ AHL affiliate during the 2015-16 season en route to earning the league’s Rookie of the Year award in addition to All-Rookie Team and First All-Star Team honors.

Last season at 5v5, Vatrano owned the Bruins’ fourth-highest goals per 60 rate, third-highest scoring chances for per 60 rate, and fifth-highest points per 60 rate.

During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons combined at 5v5, Vatrano ranked tenth in the entire league in shot attempts per 60 minutes (18.4) and third in shots for per 60 minutes (11.61) behind Evander Kane and Brendan Gallagher, which is pretty impressive.

He’s yet to do much offensively at the NHL level yet – and that’s largely due to averaging just under 12 minutes of ice time per game over his career – but his underlying numbers suggest there’s some untapped potential.

Vatrano has just 2 goals in 22 games this season while spending most of his time on the Bruins’ 4th line, but you can bet the Panthers will give him a much better opportunity to succeed than he had in Boston.

He owns a great release, above-averaging skating ability, and projects to be a good fit in the Panthers’ middle-6.

He also hasn’t played a whole lot of hockey over the past several seasons, so there’s also still some developing for him to do.

Being around Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Dadonov – as well as assistant coach Paul McFarland, who has done some solid work with the Panthers’ forwards – should be beneficial.

Initially, the price seemed a tad steep, but Vatrano has the makings of a player that can produce in the NHL (he’s already shown it to some degree) and he’s under team control for the foreseeable future.

If the Panthers are able to get more production out of him, it would be a huge win for them in terms of adding forward depth to a roster that lacks it.

2. There were also a lot of big names on the market, including Max Pacioretty and Ryan McDonagh, and the Panthers were in on them, but only until a certain point.

The Canadiens and Rangers, as well as many other teams, wanted the Panthers’ top players and prospects, and unsurprisingly, they had no interest in parting with anyone from either of those two categories.

“One of Pacioretty’s preferred destinations is Florida,” said Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “GM Dale Tallon is close with Bergevin. I suspect the Canadiens targeted Vincent Trocheck. The Panthers weren’t doing that.”

A lot of fans in Florida seemed surprised that the Canadiens wanted Trocheck, but Montreal has been on the lookout for a top center for a while now, and Pacioretty has scored 30 or more goals in each of the last 5 full seasons.

It wasn’t going to come cheap; Montreal wasn’t going to take Nick Bjugstad – who has 18 goals over the last 2 seasons combined and has proven to be better on the wing – like many thought or hoped.

“Sounds like the Panthers, Rangers and Wild discussed a three-way that would have sent McDonagh to Florida,” Friedman added.

That certainly would’ve been interesting, but again, I can’t imagine a scenario where the Panthers wouldn’t have had to give up significant assets.

The Rangers ended up getting Vladislav Namestnikov, who’s in the midst of a breakout year, two solid prospects in Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, a first-round pick, and a conditional second-round pick for McDonagh and J.T. Miller.

McDonagh turns 29 in a few months while Pacioretty turns 30 in November.

Adding players who are nearing the wrong side of the age curve isn’t ideal for a team like Florida that isn’t in the same position as Tampa or other teams expecting to make it deep into the playoffs.

3. There’s no question the Panthers should’ve made a move to add a defenseman at the deadline, but they seemed to be adamant about not adding a player on a rental basis, and that probably limited their options.

Based on what they have coming, it was probably for the better that the Panthers had more interest in moves that make sense long-term.

This year’s trade deadline was very clearly a sellers market and it wasn’t worth trying to patch the holes that still exist in the lineup for the short-term to try to make a run.

Once Vatrano and Denis Malgin return from injury, the Panthers will have several extra forwards up front at their disposal, but their only extra defenseman is either Ian McCoshen or MacKenzie Weegar (whichever isn’t in the lineup), and that’s a little worrying if they do wind up making the playoffs.

If any of the top five defensemen suffer an injury down the stretch, the Panthers won’t be in a good situation.

Veteran defenseman and pending unrestricted free-agent Johnny Oduya was placed on waivers the day before the deadline and the Flyers eventually claimed him. He would’ve been a nice, cheap, low-risk add.

4. Speaking of Malgin, playing on the second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck has taken his game to a new level.

What a crazy idea to think that, as a skilled player, he’d be more productive playing with better players in the top-6 rather than getting under 12 minutes per night in the bottom-6.

Malgin’s 10 goals in 39 games puts him on pace for 21 over a full 82-game season, and it’s also four more than he scored last year in 8 more games.

His 5v5 goals per 60 rate of 1.16 leads the Panthers and is tied for 18th-best in the league among skaters with at least 400 minutes of ice time.

Not having him in the lineup isn’t ideal, and hopefully he can pick up where he left off when he returns.

5. It should come as no surprise that one of the players that every team the Panthers talked to at the deadline wanted was Henrik Borgstrom.

For everyone except the Panthers, that’s a big change in feeling towards Borgstrom compared to when they drafted him 23rd overall two years ago.

Because it was Borgstrom’s second year of draft eligibility, not many projected him to be selected in the top two rounds.

“That is… off the board,” they said on the Sportsnet feed at the 2016 Draft. “That is off the board without question. In all the mock drafts I looked at…”

“Is this an analytics pick?” asked another commentator.

“I don’t know enough about his numbers to make that determination.”

“Let’s be clear, this kid was draft eligible last year,” said another. “And nobody took him. Nobody took him.”

The tweets were great too.

But wait, it gets better.

Less than a year later, Borgstrom was deemed untouchable.

This might’ve been part of what sold him:

I’ll admit, this one was pretty funny:

I’ll leave you with this one:

Never question the great Jari Kekalainen.

6. Naturally, there’s been a lot of talk about when Borgstrom will make it to the NHL and the fact that it could happen as early as this month or early April.

With the Panthers in a playoff race, the discussion has been turned up a notch.

Borgstrom is in his second season at the University of Denver where the Pioneers just wrapped up their regular season on Saturday night. He recorded an assist, setting a new career high in points, 44, after totaling 43 points in three more games last season.

Every team in the NCHC qualifies for the playoffs, which begin March 9th and run through March 11th with the top four seeds hosting the bottom four seeds in a best-of-three format.

The winners of the four quarterfinal series will advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff on March 16th and then the two winners from that will play in the championship game.

The winner of that game receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament which begins with regionals on March 23rd and concludes with the Frozen Four running from April 5th through the 7th.

Last season, Denver lost in the conference semifinal game, but received an at-large bid (an invite, basically) to the NCAA tournament and went on to win the NCAA championship.

Borgstrom returned to Denver this year hoping to win it all again, but either way, he’s widely expected to make the jump to the pro level once the season is over.

Even if Denver doesn’t make it the conference finals, odds are they’ll be invited to the NCAA tournament again, and from there, it’s just a matter of how far they make it.

The Panthers’ regular season ends on April 8th, so theoretically if Denver were to make it to the title game on April 7th, Borgstrom probably wouldn’t suit up for an NHL game the next day.

Two other things to factor in is his contract and a possible expansion draft for Seattle prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.

It’s not guaranteed that the league will award the city a franchise, but if their successful preliminary season ticket drive is any indication, NHL teams better start preparing.

If Borgstrom were to sign a contract before the end of the season and play in the NHL, even if it’s just 1 game, the first year of his three-year entry level contract would be burned.

That means his contract would be up after the 2019-20 season and he’d have to be protected at the expansion draft since only first- and second-year pros would be exempt.

Once he signs with Florida, he’ll no longer be eligible to play college hockey, which is different from juniors where players can sign and return to their junior team.

I’m sure it’s something the Panthers have talked about already and will continue to talk about and monitor in the days and weeks ahead.

If they’re still in the playoff hunt and have the opportunity to add Borgstrom’s skill to their lineup, it may be too difficult to pass up.

7. I’m a bit surprised Anthony Greco hasn’t gotten a chance with the Panthers this season.

The 24-year old winger earned an AHL contract with the Panthers’ affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, after 69 points in 130 games over four seasons at the University of Ohio and a standout performance at development camp in 2016.

He went on to finish fourth in points (31) and third in goals (16) on the Thunderbirds last season as a rookie. His three shorthanded goals were tied for second in the league.

This year, he’s up to 22 goals in 57 games, which leads the Thunderbirds and is tied for the fourth-most in the league.

Greco is the fourth-youngest player among those that have at least 22 goals this season, his four shorthanded goals are tied for the league lead, and his 186 shots also lead the league.

He’s played in all situations for the Thunderbirds this year and last, and he plays a big role on the penalty kill, which is currently ranked 10th, because of his elite skating ability.

Greco is easily one of the fastest skaters in the AHL and if he was in the NHL, he’d be one of the fastest there too. His acceleration is incredible and he can quickly separate himself from opposing players.

He signed an NHL contract with the Panthers in November for the remainder of the season, so they’re definitely aware of what he’s doing.

I’ve been wrong before, bit I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets a shot, whether that’s this season or next.

The bottom-6 would be the most likely landing spot him, at least at first, but wherever he slots in, he’d fit right into the speed game the Panthers want to play.

8. The Panthers signed defenseman Riley Stillman, their 4th-round pick in 2016, to a three-year entry-level contract on Sunday morning.

Stillman, who turns 20 on March 9th, is in the midst of a career year in the OHL where he’s currently playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs after departing from the Oshawa Generals in a mid-season trade.

He has recorded a career-high 27 assists in 58 games, surpassing his previous high of 22 assists set last year in four more games played.

Stillman plays a steady, responsible defensive game and has a big shot from the point which has made him an asset on the power play with the Generals and the Bulldogs.

Because he’ll be 20 before the end of this year, he’s eligible to play in the AHL next season, although he does have one year of junior eligibility left.

Stillman would’ve been allowed to re-enter the draft if not signed by June 1st.


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