The Florida Panthers closed out 2017-2018 with a 25-8-2 run in their last 35 games, tying the Winnipeg Jets for the most wins in that timeframe but nevertheless missing the playoffs. That’s a day late and a dollar short as far as they’re concerned, but there’s momentum there and that’s a start.
Entering the 2018-2019 season with a hungry mindset is critical for the success of the Panthers, who boast an offensively-compelling roster but need to build something out of it.
All 12 players who finished last season with 20 or more points are back and they’ve also got former Senator Mike Hoffman on the ticket, who has scored at least 22 goals in his last four straight campaigns.
This will be Florida’s second season with Bob Boughner as head coach and they have to be hoping they’ve worked out some of the kinks.
“The guys have that little bit of bad taste in their mouth,” Boughner said. “We didn’t like the start to our season last year, but saying that, we like what’s happened in the summer with a couple of the additions and think guys are hungry. I’ve been talking to a lot of the players, and they’re anxious to get back and train, get going the way we finished off basically.”
Hoffman does give the Panthers a significant boost and will add fire to their top six.
Aleksander Barkov heads the list after setting career highs in assists, points and points on the power play last year. He also registered a career-high 256 shots on goal. If he can stay in the tank, he could put up career-high totals in goals this coming season. But the issue for Barkov is his health. He’s missed 79 games since 2013-2014 and will need to stay off the shelf if big-time production is in his future.
Centre Vincent Trocheck had a breakout year last season, with 75 points in 82 games. He led the Panthers in goals with 35 and was arguably the best second-line pivot in the NHL. With Hoffman on his line (probably), he’ll be back for more of the same and is a nice safe bet for numbers if you’re into that sort of thing. He also hits, with 145 registered last season.
Jonathan Huberdeau set career highs in points, goals and assists last season and if you’re starting to spot a trend, good on you. He forged a great line with Trocheck and, with the addition of Hoffman, should really hammer home some numbers this coming season. The 25-year-old is by all rights a top 50 forward in the NHL.
With Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau, Hoffman, and the likes of Evgenii Dadonov pushing big points, the Panthers are one of the league’s most exciting offensive teams. And there’s every reason to suspect they’ll fill the net a lot this season.
And there’s every reason to suspect these Panthers could be in it for the long haul. They have most of their critical players inked up through the 2020-2021 season. Prospects like Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett sweeten the pot, with KHL all-star Bogdan Kiselevich bolstering the impressive defensive group.
So yes, the Florida Panthers are looking like a mighty good team. They will be a playoff squad, barring any unanticipated conditions, and they could give some of the rougher teams in their division a run. All it will take is a good start.