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NHL Florida Panthers

5 Florida Panthers Players Who Must Step Up During 2013-14 Season

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5 Florida Panthers Players That Must Step Up During 2013-2014 Season

Florida Panthers
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Before the lockout last year, things were starting to look up for the Florida Panthers. They made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and took the eventual Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils to a Game 7 before being eliminated. New head coach Kevin Dineen seemed to have a nice mix of young talent coming up with a group of talented veterans. They spent a lot of money before the 2011-12 season to get players like Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim to help the scoring and Defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski to be mentors on the blue line.

The success of that season didn't carry over to 2012-13. A lot of these players missed big portions of the season with injuries and the Panthers went into rebuild mode early. Their top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau was expected to contribute early and he did. He ended up winning the Calder Trophy as the top rookie and finishing second on the Panthers in points and tied for second in goals. They also got contributions from rookies Drew Shore, Nick Bjugstad, Colby Robak and a long look at the goalie of the future in Jacob Markstrom.

Gone from last year are Stephen Weiss, Filip Kuba, Jose Theodore, Peter Mueller, Jerred Smithson and Jack Skille. The Panthers replaced them with former Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, Scott Gomez, Brad Boyes, Tom Gilbert and No. 2 overall pick Aleksander Barkov. More than any of the additions, they need improvement from their two young defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. Neither of these two highly drafted defenseman have been able to play a full season or show consistency for a long period of time. In the last two seasons, Kulikov missed 38 games and Gudbranson missed 26. In his two full seasons in the NHL, Gudbranson is a combined -41 and has two career goals.

For the Panthers to be able to compete this year, they will need a handful of players to step their game up and contribute.

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5. Nick Bjugstad

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The Florida Panthers have coveted a big and physical center since they traded away Olli Jokinen. They drafted Nick Bjugstad in the first round of the 2011 draft hoping that he could fill that void. He played in eleven games last season and scored the first goal of his career. For the Panthers to be successful, Bjugstad will have to be a 20-25 goal scorer this season.

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4. Aleksander Barkov

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The Florida Panthers had a chance to select defenseman Seth Jones, who was considered the No. 1 player entered in the draft. Instead they went for a young scorer and took Aleksander Barkov No. 2 overall. He is a big and very skilled center who should be able to compete for the Calder trophy this year. He will probably start the season on the third line for the Panthers and eventually work his way up to the top two lines.

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3. Brad Boyes

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The Florida Panthers have had success finding cheap veterans to provide some offensive punch. Last year it was Peter Mueller and the year before it was Mikael Samuelsson. This year they signed Brad Boyes who scored 43 goals in 2007-08 and added 33 more in 2008-09. He is passed his prime and probably won't be able to get close to those numbers, but he has the ability to put up 15-20 goals and help replace the recently departed Stephen Weiss.

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2. Erik Gudbranson

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Gudbranson was the third overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. He is a big and physical defenseman with limited offensive skills. Like the majority of the picks in that draft, Gudbranson has yet to establish himself as a solid NHL player. He has played two seasons and has scored two goals and ten assists. The biggest stat that jumps out to you about Gudbranson is he is a -41 in only 104 games. For someone that doesn't bring any offense to the table, he will need to be on the positive side of the plus/minus for the Panthers to compete.

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1. Jacob Markstrom

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The Florida Panthers have been grooming Jacob Markstrom to be their goalie of the future since he was drafted in 2008. He got a good taste of professional hockey last year with the Panthers struggling and going into rebuild mode. He finished 8-14 with a .901 Save Percentage and a 3.22 Goals Against Average. The Panthers have let Jose Theodore and will be without Scott Clemmensen for a few weeks. They hope that Markstrom will be able to take control of the starting Goalie job, but if not they have Tim Thomas waiting. Thomas hasn't played in over a year and would only be a temporary fix. Markstrom needs to be a consistent starting goalie for this franchise to have any stability this season and beyond.