The BB&T Arena should be filled this season with relatively high expectations of an improved Florida Panthers squad. Free photo from flickr.

We continue our deep dive into the teams of the Atlantic Division. Be sure to also read up on the predictions for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins. Today, we tackle the Florida Panthers. The Panthers head into the 2019-2020 season an improved team after a few years of failure.  It wasn’t three seasons ago that the Panthers, under then head coach Gerard Gallant, seemed like an up-and-coming franchise.

Led by young stars such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers looked like a team on the rise. However, some changes in management, the unforgettable firing of Gerad Gallant (a taxi literally picked him up from the arena afterward, and it was photographed by media), some misplaced trades, and a lot of turmoil and chaos has led to the Panthers taking a few steps back. They failed to make the postseason again last year.

While the Panthers are improved this year, they are likely to find themselves in a middle of a competitive Atlantic Division. Armed with one of the winningest coaches in NHL history, Joel Quenneville, the Panthers are hoping he helps tilt the tables in their favor. Let’s take a look at the depth chart of the 2019-2020 Florida Panthers.

Goalies

  1. Sergei Bobrovsky
  2. Samuel Montembault
  3. Chris Dreidger
  4. Phil Desrosiers
  5. Ryan Bednard

The Panthers didn’t waste anytime replacing the recently retired Roberto Luongo. GM Dale Tallon went out and signed Bobrovsky right away on July 1st. Bobrovsky struggled at times last season on the Blue Jackets, but he has been a perennial number one goalie for years now. Bobrovsky has won a Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie. He struggled a bit at times last year, but he likely has a few more years of solid play left in him. The Panthers are banking on him playing a ton of games this season, especially considering their backup situation.

Rookie Sam Montembault seems slotted right now. Montembault has struggled at the pro level, and in his second year in the AHL, he posted an .898 save percentage. He has potential, but he is likely not NHL ready. If Bobrovsky falls to injury, look out.

Chris Dreidger may also compete for a backup job. Dreidger posted excellent numbers in the AHL and could push Montembault out in training camp. AHLer Phil Desrosiers fills in at the number four position. He too has struggled at the AHL level and was not a regular until last year. Rookie Ryan Bednard had a solid college career, but he is in need of AHL or ECHL seasoning. This is a position the Panthers lack depth in. They may look to the waiver wire early in the season to help fill some depth needs here.

Defensemen

  1. Keith Yandle
  2. Aaron Ekblad
  3. Anton Stralman
  4. Mark Pysyk
  5. Mike Matheson
  6. Mackenzie Weegar
  7. Ian McCoshen
  8. Josh Brown
  9. Ethan Prow
  10. Riley Stillman
  11. Tommy Cross
  12. Tom Schemitsh

The Panthers attempted to address some defensive depth issues by signing veteran Anton Stralman. Stralman took a big step back last season, and being in his early 30’s, this may be a sign of things to come. The Panthers are hoping he can add some stability to their second pairing. Keith Yandle is also in his early 30’s, but he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down as of yet. Look for him to quarterback the powerplay and put up over 50 points. Aaron Ekblad as struggled a bit, but he is still young and capable of reaching the potential we all saw when he was taken #1 overall. The Panthers will rely on him in all situations.

Mark Pysyk has excellent underlying numbers but doesn’t produce much offensively. The Panthers will likely use him in a 4/5 role next year. Mike Matheson will play a similar role. He has been somewhat of a disappointment since signing a eight year contract two seasons ago. Matheson has shown flashes of brilliance, and the Panthers are banking on him returning to his rookie form and beginning to play a stable top four role on the regular.

Weegar, McCoshen, and Josh Brown will compete for the 6/7 positions. Weegar likely has it in the bank, but at times, the Panthers have chosen to sub in one of McCoshen and Brown. McCoshen is a big, rangy defender who played well at the NCAA level but has struggled to adapt to NHL play. He will likely get a chance if injury hits. Overall, the Panthers could use some depth help here as well. A dark horse of the group, Ethan Prow, may also get a shot. Prow is a late bloomer, and at 25 years old put up excellent offensive numbers in the AHL. He may also get an opportunity.

Forwards

LW C RW
1. Jonathan Huberdeau 1. Alex Barkov 1. Evgeny Dadonov
2. Mike Hoffman 2. Vincent Trochek 2. Brett Connolly
3. Frank Vatrano 3. Henrik Borgstrom 3. Owen Tippet
4. Jayce Hawrlyuk 4. Noel Acciari 4. Colton Scevior
5. Dryden Hunt 5. Alepsi Heponiemi 5. Denis Malgin
6. Kevin Roy 6. Dominic Toninato 6. Paul Thompson
7. Joel Lowry 7. Sebastien Repo 7. Alex Greco

 

The Panthers have a deep forward core that got even deeper this offseason thanks to the signing of Brett Connolly and the likelihood of some rookies graduating into pros. Upfront, the Panthers boast Alex Barkov, a top 5 center in the NHL. Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, has an excellent skillset and is one of the most well-rounded players in the league. He is good for over 90 points again this season. Vincent Trochek was injured for much of last season but is healthy heading into this year. Trochek is a play driver and a high energy player that is good for around 50 points.

On the wings, Jonathan Huberdeau put up over 80 points last season and is likely to do again, especially if he plays with Barkov. Mike Hoffman is a perennial 30 goal guy, and with all the set-up men he gets to play with on the regular, look for him to hit that number again. Depth wise, Frank Vatrano and Brett Connolly are versatile middle six forwards that seem to excel no matter where they play in the lineup.

Henrik Borgstrom will likely slot into the number three center role. Borgstrom, a former first round pick, played over 30 games as a rookie and while he struggled at times, he showed excellent offensive instincts. The third line center role is his to lose. Owen Tippett, a true rookie, may find himself on the roster opening night. Tippett is an absolute sniper who has torn up the OHL the past three years. The 20 year-old may slot into the second line right wing spot.

There will be some competition for the fourth line this season, with Acciari, the former Bruin, likely slotted into the center spot. Three of Hawryluk, Sceviour, Hunt, and Malgin will likely round out this group. Hawryluk and Sceviour play with more of an edge, but Hunt and Malgin play with higher pace. Either way, Joel Quenneville has some options here. One dark horse that may find himself in the lineup when the season starts is Finnish rookie Alepsi Heponiemi. Heponiemi tore up the Finnish league last year as a 19 year old. He is small (5’10”), but also offensively dominant. He may start the season in the AHL, but don’t be surprised to see him in the big leagues at some point in the season.

Bottom Line

The Panthers are an improved team. The hiring of Joel Quenneville helps immensely. Bobrovksy should help their goaltending woes, and the adding of depth throughout the roster should put the Panthers close if not into a playoff position. In a deep Atlantic Division, teams will need to be wary of the Panthers this season.