The anticipation for the start of the 2014-15 season should
be at an all-time high in Sunrise, Florida. Roberto Luongo is back in town for
his first full season as a Panther since 2005-06 and they added multiple pieces
through Free Agency and had the first overall draft pick, that they used to
select Aaron Ekblad, a kid who is expected a franchise defenseman.
Dave Bolland – C Tom
Gilbert – D
Jussi Jokinen – LW Scott
Clemmensen – G
Willie Mitchell – D Jesse
Winchester – C
Derek MacKenzie – C
Al Montoya – G
Shawn Thornton – RW
In 2013-14 the Panthers finished with 66 points (29-45-8),
second worst in the NHL to the Buffalo Sabres. Despite the rough season, it did
not deter the Panthers management from making a splash when they traded for
Luongo last year. Bobby Lu was a Panther from 2000 to 2006 before heading to
Vancouver for seven and a half seasons. He returns to the Sunshine State with a
career 2.51 GAA and .919 SV%. In 14 starts after coming over from the Canucks,
Luongo went 6-7-1 with a 2.46 GAA and .924 SV%. On paper it looks like they
should be a better team than last season.
The majority of their offseason additions were forwards.
They brought in four players all over the age of 28, which will bring some
experience to a talented, young group of forwards. The biggest signing they
made was bringing centre Dave Bolland in on a five-year contract worth $27.5
million. Bolland has Stanley Cup experience, but is coming off of an awful Achilles
injury that cost him 59 games in Toronto last year. With Aleksander Barkov and
Nick Bjugstad expected to man the first two lines, it looks like Bolland and
his $5.5 million dollar cap-hit will plug in on the third line. After two years
in Pittsburgh, Jussi Jokinen fled for more money and warmer weather this
offseason. He had 57 points (21G / 36A) playing with Evgeni Malkin last season,
the Panthers are hoping he can find chemistry with one of the aforementioned
Barkov or Bjugstad.
By the time the season starts, Barkov and Bjugstad will be
19 and 22 respectively. The 2013 second overall pick, Barkov had his rookie
season cut short by a knee injury, but will be 100 per cent for training camp.
The 6-foot-3 teenager had 24 points (8G / 16A) in 54 games and showed flashes
of brilliance. The most important forward in this lineup is Jonathan Huberdeau.
After winning the 2012-13 Calder Trophy, Huberdeau slumped hard in his sophomore
campaign. He is a tremendously talented and creative player and should bounce
back in 2014-15.
When you take a look at the Panthers’ blueline, Brian Campbell is the first name you see. He is just two years removed from a career-high
49 assist, 53 point season with the Panthers. In three seasons with Florida, he
has never missed a game and has averaged 45.25 points per 82 games. Dmitri Kulikov who has under-performed through his first five seasons, but he will
only be 24-years-old in October, so there is still time for his game to grow. Earlier
I mentioned their first overall pick Ekblad, he should make the big club out of
camp and have an immediate impact. The 6-foot-3, 216 lbs. blueliner had 23
goals and 30 assists (53 points) in 58 games with the Barrie Colts last year.
He was not the first overall pick for nothing. He has it all. A big body, poise
with the biscuit and exceptional vision.
Season prediction: The Panthers finish sixth in the Atlantic
Division and miss the playoffs for the third straight year and 13th time in the
last 14 seasons.
View the Panthers’ entire roster and cap space heading into the 2014 – 2015 season
Other team previews: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers