Training camp is roughly a month away and aside from any potential trades it’s safe to say the Florida Panthers roster is set. Looking at the current roster and piecing together lines you’ll notice Florida lacks a “superstar” but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some nice pieces, let’s get things started and jump right into the first line.
C Stephen Weiss – 80GP 20G 37A 57P, LW Tomas Fleischmann – 82GP 27G 34A 61P, RW Kris Versteeg – 72GP 23G 31A 54P
Looking at the top line you would instantly say as I’ve heard many times before, “That would be a second line on any other team in the league.” Sure that may be true, these guys may not be an ideal top line for a team, but take this into consideration next time, to begin the season through December this was the most productive line in the NHL. You might argue that Kessel and Lupul were better, but overall points on the line were better than any other line at the time. After that it’s safe to say, yes they dropped off, but take injuries into consideration. Versteeg was playing with an injured hip for the entire second half of the season that required surgery days after Florida was eliminated from the playoffs. Every player has issues they deal with throughout a season, but how about Fleischmann and his blood disorder he battled back from? Some said there was a chance he’d never play again, but he overcame it. Weiss is a workhorse and proves it year after year, thankfully he’s finally getting some support. Speaking of support, let’s take a look at the potential 2nd line for the upcoming season.
C Peter Mueller – 32GP 7G 9A 16P, LW Jonathan Huberdeau – 37GP 30G 42A 72P (OHL), RW Tomas Kopecky- 80GP 10G 22A 32P
I’ll jump right into what you are all probably confused about, I placed Kopecky on this line for several reasons. I could easily have chosen to throw Scottie Upshall on this line, but the reason I chose not to is because of injuries. Not just because of the injuries he suffered last season, but also because of those Mueller has suffered through his career and the potential injuries Huberdeau could face coming into the league in his rookie year. Kopecky is a solid right wing who posted 80 games last season and has played in at least 74 games in each of his full NHL seasons. He has size and has shown he will throw a hit, he parks his body in front of the net to create traffic, and even though we all wish he’d do it more, he’s still very effective at it. That being said, who wouldn’t want to see a line where Huberdeau and Mueller are potentially given the chance to work their magic and fire pucks on net to a screened goalie. Kopecky will also provide protection of sorts for Huberdeau and the injury plagued Mueller, again this statement may confused you, but he has been known to stick up for teammates which is what these two will need. Mueller hopefully can remain healthy this season, and if he does will look to be yet another homerun for GM Dale Tallon. He’s signed at just 1.75m for one season, so if it doesn’t work out we cut ties and move on, if he does stay healthy we have first crack at re-signing him as he’ll still be a restricted free agent. Moving on, saving the best for last, Huberdeau is looking to make the jump into the NHL this year and it’s even been said by Tallon it’s basically his spot to lose. Sent down after training camp last season due to his size he’s gained a few pounds, gotten stronger, and is looking to tear up the back of the net come October. The third overall pick in 2011 has been on fire the past few seasons in the OHL, despite injuries this past season still almost averaged two points per game. He’s also tallied a total of 88G 124A 212P in 165 career games played in the OHL.
C Marcel Goc – 57GP 11G 16A 27P, LW Sean Bergenheim – 62GP 17G 6A 23P, RW Scottie Upshall 26GP 2G 3A 5P
Last year with Mikael Samuelsson in place of Upshall this line produced consistently throughout the season, however injuries are a thing to look at. Goc, Bergenheim and Upshall all missed significant time in 2011-2012 due to injuries and while my reasoning for putting Kopecky on the second line was to hopefully prevent that with Huberdeau and Mueller I don’t feel it’s as much of a concern with these guys. Goc is a solid two way center and it’s expected he’ll have some bumps and bruises and I think he’ll be looking to bounce back this season even after putting up respectable numbers. Sean Bergenheim surprised a lot of people when he scored 17G last season, most expected he was just a “one hit wonder” and would come back to reality after his 9G in the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning, I see the opposite. Look for him to score 20 this year if he can keep healthy, he did end up missing 20 games last year and I’m sure is hungry for more. Upshall had a horrible season last year, not just in the games he played but just overall luck was bad. Seemed like after he missed considerable time he couldn’t get back into the swing of things, which can be expected and is forgivable. But as soon as things were looking better he’s hit with a season ending injury which limited him to just 26 games on the season. Sure Upshall has scored 20 in his career before, but also remember his career high in points is only 32, sure he got those in only 49 games played, but you would have to think 40 roughly is his ceiling. Upshall has never played in more than 61 games in a season and if you want to assume he’ll get into 65 as he looks to bounce back, that’s fair, but I wouldn’t go any higher. Look for him to fill more of an energy player type roll, using his speed to make things happen while being a pest to the opposing teams.
C Jared Smithson – 69GP 1G 5A 6P, LW George Parros – 46GP 1G 3A 4P, RW Jack Skille – 46GP 4G 6A 10P
C Shawn Matthias – 79GP 10G 14A 24P
I have both Matthias and Smithson listed here because unless a trade happens I expect them to be rotating in and out of the lineup, or of course filling in for injuries. Smithson is one of the best faceoff men in the league and one of the best penalty killers. Last season the Panthers penalty killing dropped off while their powerplay soared thanks to an early season hot streak. He could very well see a lot of time on the PK or taking defensive zone draws late in games to help protect leads. Matthias has been an energy line type guy the past few seasons, he was originally touted as a very gifted offensive threat and has shown flashes, but since that doesn’t appear to be his role on this team he’s adapted his game. Parros is listed as a RW but signed here with the idea of getting more playtime than he was receiving with the Anaheim Ducks, to do so he could be asked to slide from right to left wing and I don’t think he would have much of an issue with this. Jack Skille, where do we start with him? He’s the kind of player you will absolutely love, but be frustrated with on a nightly basis. He’ll create plays and chances only to see the puck sail over an open net, or off the post, but for the most part those chances always lead to goals within a few moments thanks to the momentum shift. I labeled him our unsung hero last season due to the effort he would put in on a nightly basis, and altho he rarely saw the spotlight on the scoresheet, many goals he didn’t get his name on could be thanks to him. Hopefully he can stay healthy this season.
Erik Gudbranson – 72GP 2G 6A 8P, Brian Campbell – 82GP 4G 49A 54P
With the departure of Jason Garrison to the Vancouver Canucks I’m penciling Gudbranson into this spot. He has a solid hard shot and could benefit from the playmaking of Campbell much like Garrison did last season. He’s gotten stronger defensively and towards the end of last season and in the playoffs looked like one of our best defenders at times, and with the veteran play of Campbell next to him, mistakes if they happen could be covered. Much like in junior hockey, he worked on his defensive game, now it’s time for the offensive side.
Dmitry Kulikov – 58GP 4G 24A 28P, Filip Kuba – 73GP 6G 26A 32P
Despite missing 24 games last season Kulikov recorded career numbers and is looking to improve on that further this year. He’s still a restricted free agent and needs a new contract to be worked out but I’m confident things will be done and he’ll be there in time for camp. Kulikov at times can look shaky on defense, which is why I think he’d be a good matchup with Kuba, as solid two way defender who like kulikov has the potential to put up some points, even as he gets older.
Ed Jovanovski – 66GP 3g 10A 13P, Mike Weaver – 82GP 0G 16A 16P
Let’s face it “Jovocop” isn’t what he used to be, and while he may still got it when it comes to throwing a few hits he has slowed down. His skating has slowed down which is why I see him once again getting bottom pair minutes, on the flip side however is his partner Weaver, who could see more icetime than Jovanovski because of his penalty killing expertise. Don’t look for these guys to put up big numbers offensively because you’ll be disappointed, but if you want a solid shut down pairing who can wear down the opponents forwards, that’s most likely what these guys will be doing.
Also look for Tyson Strachan to get some ice time this season, especially if/when one of the regulars go down due to injury. He had a solid season when called upon last year and looked promising in the playoffs as well.