Youth is the thing in Florida, as the Panthers will take to the ice in an effort to improve their fortunes following last season’s sixth place finish. The club has a new head coach in Bob Boughner, who replaced Tom Rowe in June. The 46-year-old hopes to bring in some continuity and will work in support of the youthful roster.
Florida’s plans for the future do not include 45-year-old forward Jaromir Jagr, who was left without an offer despite piling up solid offensive totals over the last two seasons. The Panthers also bought out Jussi Jokinen, while Reilly Smith was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for a draft pick. Jonathan Marchessault, the team’s leading scorer last season, was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft.
General manager Dale Tallon has a lot of faith in the nucleus of his group and has stated his desire to give the prospects a clear look at training camp. To that end, we could see the likes of Henrik Borgstrom, Owen Tippett or Sebastien Repo on the big club come October.
Aleksander Barkov has a lot weighing on his shoulders going into the 2017-2018 season. Injuries kept him to just 61 games last season, but he was productive when he skated. The 21-year-old produced 52 points, including 21 goals and 31 assists. He had 14 points on the power play and 142 shots on goal. The Finnish centre has a stellar compete level, so he should be set for a decent upcoming season.
Injuries also hampered the production of Jonathan Huberdeau, who skated in just 31 games last season. He did produce a notable 26 points, including 10 goals and 16 assists, and he averaged 17:55 of ice time. The 24-year-old is expected to line up with Barkov and Evgeny Dadonov on the top unit, plus he ought to be gifted a good chunk of power play time.
Centre Vincent Trocheck set career highs on points and shots on goal last season and there’s no reason to expect he won’t be set for more of the same in 2017-2018. The 24-year-old put up 23 goals and 31 assists, with a dozen points on the power play. He also had 230 shots on goal and gives the Panthers a versatile option up front.
Much is expected of Chelyabinsk native Dadonov, who was picked up as a free agent. The Panthers actually drafted the Russian in 2007 and he skated with the club for 55 games, representing Florida in the 2011 NHL All-Star Skills Competition before scooting to the KHL. He excelled overseas in 311 KHL games and subsequently signed a three-year deal with Tallon and Co. in July.
Aaron Ekblad had a disappointing season in 2016-2017, producing just 21 points in 68 games. That may seem moderately impressive for a defenceman, but the Windsor native is capable of so much more. The 21-year-old had 39 points in his rookie season and followed up with a 36-point campaign in 2015-2016. The good news for Ekblad last season was that he cracked off a high volume of shots.
Keith Yandle had 41 points in 82 games, including five goals. Those numbers seem reasonable, but they actually represent his lowest point totals in a full season since 2009-2010. The 30-year-old posted 47 points in 2015-2016 and has since seen a dip in his shooting percentage, but he could turn things around this year.
23-year-old Michael Matheson is capable of offensive totals. He put up 17 points in his first full NHL season, including seven goals and 10 helpers. He clocked 179 shots on target and averaged 21:03 of ice time a game, so look for some interesting statistics from the Pointe-Claire native in 2017-2018.
Roberto Luongo may still be the starting goalie in Florida, but that may not last long. He picked up 40 starts last season, his lowest start totals since his rookie year. The 38-year-old put up a .920 save percentage and a 2.53 goals against average.
James Reimer will likely see more starts in 2017-2018. The Panthers signed him to a five-year contract last off-season and went 18-16-5 in 43 games. He posted 39 starts and had three shutouts, so he should respond well to an expanded role. The 29-year-old has top-tier poise for the NHL game, plus his glove ain’t too shabby.