Season Preview: Florida
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com
season, the Florida Panthers shocked everyone by capturing the Southeast
Division crown. The team was scrapped together by GM Dale Tallon, who in his
first year as GM brought along guys with hefty contracts like Brian Campbell,
who played extremely well. Panthers fans can take solace in the face that they
gave the New Jersey Devils, the eventual Eastern Conference Champions, the
stiffest competition in the entire East.
This year, coach Kevin Dineen will need to get the best out of his players if he
wants another repeat performance in a division that saw the Carolina Hurricanes
get much better.
The key for the Panthers offensively last year was their depth. Other than
Stephen Weiss, there is not a huge amount of talent on the club. Guys like Kris
Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, in conjunction with Weiss, carried much of the
offensive load upfront, and will need to do so again for the team to be
successful. The Panthers only had three forwards break the 50 point mark last
The big unknown at this point is team's top prospect, Jonathan Huberdeau. In the
QMJHL, he has put up excellent numbers and added a Memorial Cup victory to his
resume while playing for the St. John's Sea Dogs. Huberdeau can be an impact
player, but it might not be this year.
Losing Jason Garrison, who proved to be deadly from the point last year, will
hurt the team mightily. Garrison signed a rich contract in Vancouver in the
off-season. Campbell will need to live up to his contract if the team wants to
get offense from the back end.
Dmitry Kulikov, who is slowly becoming a household name, will need to take the
next step in his development and prove that he can be a No. 1 defenseman in the
league. But he needs a new contract, first.
The dark horse here is Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom, the 22-year-old Swedish
netminder, has been the top goaltending prospect in Florida's system for quite
some time and the main reason why Roberto Luongo isn't back in the Sunshine
State. He may not be ready to see full time duty as the No. 1, but if he does
get called up, there is a chance he never gets sent back down to the AHL is he
impresses with his play.
Jose Theodore will handle most of the team's goaltending duties for now, at
least to start the season. The veteran continued to impress last year despite
heading towards the twilight of his career.
Last year, the Panthers captured lightning in a bottle and everything worked.
They won a very weak southeast division with only 94 points. This year, they
will not be dealt as favorable a hand. If they make the playoffs -- that is a
big if -- they very likely won't be anything higher than a seven or eight seed.
More likely, the Panthers will miss the playoffs.
3 Players to Watch
Campbell saw his career revitalized when he was shipped to Florida for the
2011-12 season. He has a hefty contract, but last year put up excellent
numbers to match his cap hit. If he regresses, the team is in big trouble.
Weiss is a supremely talented anchor of the Florida offensive system, but
without a ton of talent around him, he has never put up elite numbers. If he
doesn't really breakout this season, it might be time for Florida to start
looking for a new top-line center.
Is the former third-overall pick going to come in and turn the franchise
into a dynasty? No. But his development and how he handles the pro-game will
be interesting to see this year if he makes the team out of training camp.