Panthers on the Prowl

If there was one team that is completely ready to adapt to the new CBA it is the Florida Panthers. It is really too bad that this team is where it is, where hockey is probably dead last when it comes to importance down in Florida. We have seen fan support dwindle since their cup run in 1996 and much of it is due to them being in last place annually and because of the nice sunny weather.

But the fans should flock to see this team in the near future because it should be a good one. The team has several terrific young players who are with the team now or will be shortly. THey have two excellent hockey men running the show and one of them, Jacques Martin, finally gives them a coach who will get results. The team is in excellent cap shape as there is approximately $6 million committed to 7 players.

Forward: Nathan Horton

Defence: Alex Karpotsev, Mathieu Biron, Eric Cairns, Sean Hill, Bradislav Mezei

Goal: Jamie McLennan

Sure they will have plenty of work to do as they will have to resign several restricted free agents on their roster:

Forwards: Christian Bergland, Nik Hagman, Kristian Huselius, Olli Jokinen, Darcy Hordichuk, Jurai Kolnik, Denis Shvidki, Stephen Weiss, Vaclav Nedorost.

Defence: Mike Van Ryn, Jay Bouwmeester

Goal: Roberto Luongo

But with the kind of young depth they have, it is likely that some of these players wont be offered any deals. With the cap room they have, they may look to get some outside help, preferably veterans who can step in and lead their young kids in the right direction.

Obviously priority number 1 is resigning Luongo. He is the franchise. Despite never playing in the playoffs, he has proven his worth in big games like in the world championships and world cup. He is someone a team can ride for 4 playoff series if he is given that chance. He simply needs a much better team to surround him. on most nights he is left to fend for himself facing 40 shots a night and counted on to let in 1 goal or less for the goal starved Panthers. McLennan is a decent backup who is a better option than what the cats had in the past. Their only other option with NHL experience for now is Patrick DesRochers who was terrible last season in the AHL. In as wise move looking to the future, the Cats drafted David Shantz who is years away but offers the team a goalie for the future and someone the organization can develop which hasnt happened ever.

Keenan revamped his blueline bringing in some veterans last summer to supplement their young studs on defence. But Iron Mike is on the prowl for a top stud on defence and he could find one via free agency. Right now Bouwmeester is the man. He stuggled on the farm last season but after going to an AHL contender near the end, his game significantly improved. He showed in the world cup he can play well if surrounded by some talent. His skating, skill and smarts are unmatched. His value will be shown when he starts playing for a winner. Mike Van Ryn quietly put together a nice season the last time they played and should be the Cats powerplay quarterback. He has a nice offensive game and if he can find a partner who can take care of the defensive duties, Van Ryn should be a dangerous player. Of the veterans they brought in so far, Sean Hill may have the most impact. He can help the powerplay but his grit and leadership will be huge in front of Luongo. He will play a big role in the development of the young kids. We have seen Biron and Mezei show glimpses of their talents but both have not put it together consistently. Injuries have played a part as well as playing for a bad team. Those two could be possible trade bait for more proven talent. The Cats can afford to get rid of those two as they have two other youngsters chomping at the bit to get a shot. Lukas Krajicek has been a top prospect for a few seasons. The log jam has prevented him from winning a job full time. Krajicek oozes offensive potential. He could be a Goncharesque type of blueliner putting up points big time. But he has only showed flashes of his talents in the pros and really would be helped if he played for a better team. Phil Novak is another good blueline prospect. He too has plenty of offensive potential, but playing on a bad team, hurts his development. Missing 1 year due to injury has hurt his progress as well. But he still remains a good prospect.

The Cats do need a top blueliner to take some pressure off the kids. It is nice to have plenty of young prospects on defence but they will never get better if the dont play with better players and dont play in a winning environment. Even the Panthers minor league team was terrible. Florida will need to clean up their act in terms of development so that their prospects can succeed. Certainly Keenan will look to the players out there via free agency to see what he can do. Wouldn’t a player like Chris Pronger fit in perfectly in Florida.

Up front the Panthers are very similar to how they are on defence. Plenty of top young players to choose from with a variety of skills, but lacking in experience and simply not ready to shoulder the big load. The cats have one top forward in Olli Jokinen. He will need to be resigned as he is the only legitimate threat they have. His combination of size, speed and skill is something the Panthers dont have much of. But he needs help. Steven Weiss is projected to be a top line centre but how can he be productive with the players currently surrounding him? He is too small to battle on his own in the corners and in front but so too are many of the Panther forwards. But his speed, skill and smarts are why he is projected to be a top line player. He is an excellent playmaker and should mesh well if the cats find a proven sniper to play with him.

The Panthers potential number 1 centre for the future is Rostislav Olesz. He is an excellent playmaker and has the makings of a strong two way centre. His size will help him adapt to the North American game. Nedorost has been a prospect for a few years as well and could find a role on the third or fourth line. His decent size and smarts are an asset and he is already a smart defensive player. Down the road there are a few other guys that could help Florida such as Dany Roussin. He is better known as the guy playing with Sidney Crosby but has been a solid producer in junior hockey. He is a good playmaker with good smarts who may develop into a number 2 centre. His production cannot be overlooked.

On the wings it is the same story. lots of potential but little results so far. Their top young forward is probably Nathan Horton. He jumped straight from junior due to the fact he adds size, physical play and scoring ability in one package. He compliments the soft small forwards the cats have. He is the total package and a top power forward to be. If he can stay healthy, he will be a huge asset for FLorida. In all likelihood, Horton will be joined by Anthony Stewart another big guy in the power forward mold. He had a very good junior career and is versatile enough to play a checking role or a physical scoring winger. With more pro experience, he could be exactly what the Panthers need in terms of size and toughness.

Those two players will compliment the many soft forwards the Panthers have. The list is long with the likes of Huselius, Shvidki, Hagman, Bergland and Kolnik on the team. Only Huselius has proven to be a 20 goal man but he could do so much more. He is the prime candidate to get traded to help fill other needs, like on defence or more size up front. The others have been up and down and it is possible that they find themselves back in Europe where they possibly could get better money and more playing time.

Prospects such as Rob Globke, Gregory Campbell and Stefan Meyer make the Panthers even deeper. Globke is another decent sized winger who has good scoring instincts. Whether he can translate that to the pro game remains to be seen. Campbell is one of those role players that all good teams have. He can play a gritty game yet chip in on offence. He should find a role as an energy 4th line guy this season. Meyer is finishing up a solid junior career and gives the Panthers another potential sniper. He has good size and willing to battle. He could be a Craig Simpson type of player who score many goals around the net.

It is clear that we can see that the Panthers have a tremendous future. But how long can they keep building for that and start getting some results now. They have a top goalie, a nice core of young blueliners and some talented forwards. They simply need more experience, more experienced players around them and a solid system that suits the personnel. having a top coach is a good start, and any team that has a world class goalie has a fighting chance. With some key additions of proven veterans, the Panthers could be legitimate playoff contenders as soon as next season.

6 Responses to Panthers on the Prowl

  1. NemiNA says:

    Their Defense is good, their goaltending is Top Notch, their only problem is on the wing. Not really physical and their scorers aren’t that good. They should try for both Thornton and Murray. They can afford it.

  2. Habfanforever says:

    Jacques Martin, the other “Jacques” (other being Lemaire) capable of bringing out the best in each player. He is a no-nonsense coach who, as far as I know, WILL turn this team around. Although their D does need a boost I also see a lack of role-players up front. A guy like Jason Blake or maybe even Peca would be a fine addition for the 2nd or 3rd lines as their team does look depleted of ressources berond the 1st line.

  3. wingerxxx says:

    The good news is that assuming that Sean Hill is the same player for Florida that he was with Carolina, he could provide a lot of the stability that the Panthers need on defense. And he would be a lot less costly down the road than someone like Pronger.

    The bad news is that the last time Hill left Carolina (for the Blues), things didn’t exactly go so smoothly for him. He should have been gold alongside Pronger there, but it just didn’t work. I imagine that he would get a lot of ice time alongside Bouwmeester, so we’ll see what happens.

  4. mikster says:

    The Panthers appear to be in a good position with the cap, but you can’t really tell once they re-sign their key players.

    Luongo is arguably the best goalie in the NHL. I was never convinced until i saw the guy tie the Lightning after making 50 saves, and it’s not the only time he made 50 saves.

    The only concern is what his asking price will be. Keenan is an arrogant man as well, and he also know the abbundance he can get in return for Luongo, but will that happen? Most likely no, but you never know what could happen in the hockey world.

    They gotta keep Berglund. I’ve been watching this guy since he was a Devil, and he was a little devil. He knows how to play hockey, he is a solid depth player and has a special role that the Panthers need. He is not a flashy player, though he’s got a nice shot, but he’s very useful.

    Nick Hagman, he’s also a keeper. I think trading away Marcus Nilson was a major mistake by Rick Dudley. I was also right that Nilson was going to thrive under Sutter, and he did…..and he will. Hagman has to try and fill in that same role, a typical solid Swedish two-way player, a checker…not physical, but checks well, and must be a reliable player.

    Huselius is a keeper and ought to be used as trade bait. Martins may find a way to make this guy score, but Huselius highest potential is around 50 points, and he is the kind of player that fits great in the Western Conference style hockey. Trade him to the Nucks if they are interested.

    Jokinen is an admirable player. Still young, still has the potential to be a 30 g’s 30 a’s guy, strong leader, and very competitive.

    Hordichuk is also a keeper, cheap price, and he is the kind of player that can turn out to be some sort of Barnaby/Asham guy. Annoying, hits hard, hussles….good attitude, fights…. Panthers need that kind of player.

    Kolnik is my sleeper kind of player. Hey, here’s another Long Island gift to the Panthers after Luongo and Jokinen. Kolnik is not expected to be such a top line forward, he has the potential to be a 2nd line guy though. Gifted offensively, and he knows how to shoot so well. He came up big sometimes last season, and showed good promise.

    Shvidki is still a prospect and it is still unknow if he is a bust or not, who knows, but it’s leaning more towards that path unfortunately.

    Weiss is a big question mark. Here is where i see disagreements between Martins and Keenan. Weiss was not used well under Keenan, but Martins is the type of coach that wants to groom young players and produce them into key NHL’ers. Weiss has all the tools, but he has not put them together, as of yet. He has shown promise, but inconsistently.

    So, does Keenan use him as bait? Or does he keep him for Martins? We shall see.

    Nedorost has not shown much as a prospect yet, but he is a well touted prospect, and it was a very good trade for the Panthers giving Peter Worrell to the Avs. He should be able to make the line-up.

    I like Van Ryn on the PP, and Jay Bo… well, he is just untouchable. Why should the Panthers make the same mistake as they did with Jovanovski?

    I don’t know why Keenan signed Karpotsev. The guy is just an older defenseman, and quite injury prone.

    Cairns was also a useless signing. He is a whiner, was a whiner with the Rangers, with the Isle’s. He takes stupid penalties…. i guess he is just a depth defenseman, but not a great personality.

    Biron will most likely be shopped around, although i doubt anyone wants him and his contract. Biron is a good defenseman, just quite inconsistent.

    Sean Hill is a very solid pick up, good veteran leadership for the D. The only question i have is, can he play like he did with the Canes? Hill failed to be any good with the Blues, maybe too high of expectations? Still, good addition and it follows what Lyle Odelein came to do for the Panthers. Lead.

    McLellan is a smart pick up. I liked him with the Rangers, liked him with the Flames, he’s a back up goalie that is very unnoticed throughout the NHL.

    Horton should have an improving season. He had pretty good stats in his rookie campaing and showed promise. Is he a similar version of Joe Thornton or Tkachuk? No, but a definite power forward and he’s got the speed and skills. Keenan did well with Thornton, he’s got to do well with Horton too.

    Also, the Panthers signed their other top prospect Anthony Stewart. I expect him to make the line up, and he should have a respectable rookie season, although he is not the type that i would rush to development. He is a gigantor, he can score, he has extremely great work ethic and he is very ambitious. I’d make him play on the top two lines with the Panthers next farm team (it ain’t San Antonio anymore).

    If the Panthers get a top pick, i think they should eye at one particular, besides Crosby of course. Bobby Ryan. Keeps a nice trend of prospects with Horton and Stewart.

    They also have Rostislav Olesz, but i don’t think he is ready just yet, maybe for the AHL yes, but he is a great prospect that will come in very handy for the future of the Panthers.

    Panthers should sign a couple of more players. They really have two options. Keep the same team intact, and sign a couple of free agents, or make a big splash with a trade to get a big calibre player a la Joe Thornton. Not necessarily must it be Joe, but someone of that calibre.

    With Keenan and Martins, free agents will be more interested to join the Panthers. Two big name hockey guys running the team. Dudley was good, i liked him a lot and i feel as if he was backstabbed by ownership. But, he could not pick out the right coach either.

    Still, he paved an amazing future, possibly, for the Panthers and for the guy he fired, Keenan.

  5. Habfanforever says:

    What about anthony Stewart? He’s pretty much ready for the big leagues. I would see him fit very well alongside Weiss.

  6. nordiques100 says:

    yup i got him mentioned about 2/3rds down in the article. he will a real solid player.

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