The Florida Panthers forward core is really jammed. With the top six pretty much set in stone, there are several young/veteran forwards fighting for 6 spots and likely 1 scratch spot during training camp. Let’s take a preview.
Aleksander Barkov- The 23 year old Finnish center is the best player on the team and has been propelled into conversations as one of the top 30 forwards in the game. After setting career highs last year in games (79), assists (51) and points (78), Barkov should continue to improve and his health is crucial to success this year.
Nick Bjugstad- In my opinion, the return to form of Nick Bjugstad was the best thing that happened to the Panthers last year. After a couple of down years due to injuries, Bjugstad bounced back with a career high 49 points in his first 82 game season. A full season in the top 6 should get Bjugstad over the 50 point hump but he needs to stay healthy. He is one of the worst performing players in the league after injury but when he is healthy, he is a well kept secret.
Evengii Dadonov- Dadonov’s return to the NHL was fantastic with 28 goals and 65 points in 74 games. He seamlessly fit in phenomenally with Aleksander Barkov and was a big reason why the Panthers were on fire after the break. Dadonov is a lock for this upcoming season.
Mike Hoffman- After a bunch of controversy in Ottawa, which saw Hoffman’s fiance accused of cyberbullying Erik Karlsson’s wife, the Senators dealt Hoffman to the Sharks who immediately flipped him to the Panthers. This continued a dumpster fire in Ottawa which had been completely taken to school by the Sharks only to see Hoffman end up in their division. Hoffman is a likely top 6 player and his arrival patches up one top 6 spot which the Panthers had trouble filling last year.
Jonathan Huberdeau- Huberdeau also was fantastic last year setting a career high in goals and points. The mainly passing winger sometimes struggles with consistency but when he is hot look out.
Vincent Trocheck- The team’s leader in goals, Vincent Trocheck is by far one of the most entertaining players on the Panthers. Trocheck scores goals, makes nice assists, plays good defense and chirps other players and is always involved in post whistle scrums. He is also usually healthy and hopefully it keeps up.
Very Likely Makes
Jared McCann- The 22 year old had 28 points in 68 games last year. He also dramatically improved defensively and definitely improved. I think McCann is going to have a break out season and Bob Boughner has done a great job developing him.
Jamie McGinn- McGinn is probably the most likely to get traded before the year starts but he is a decent player. He has scored some critical goals and he does chip in. He is also well liked by Boughner and with his contract, he is most likely playing on opening night.
Derek Mackenzie- Yes I know everyone is going to yell at me but Derek Mackenzie is the captain. He is well liked by the coaching staff and is effective on the penalty kill and is a decent energy guy. Yes he isn’t the best player in the world but based on logic, he will be on the opening night roster.
Colton Sceviour- Sceviour has been spotty offensively but he is a good penalty killer and is talented. With the correct linemates, he can thrive. He will make the team and should contribute.
Denis Malgin- Malgin is a clutch player and got top 6 playing time last year. Many on Panthers twitter are really high on him and think he could be the next best thing. Personally I don’t think he’ll exceed 40 points but he has a tendency to score in crucial situations and is good at creating offense.
Micheal Haley- Yes Haley will likely make it. Bob Boughner like him despite Panthers twitter having a huge vendetta against him and Mackenzie. Haley gets on the scoreboard more than Shawn Thornton but Thornton was better on the defensive side.
The Main Battle
Henrik Borgstrom- The Panthers 1st round pick in 2016, Borgstrom was fantastic in college and quickly became one of the most exciting prospects throughout the league. He got a taste of big league action last year and managed to score 1 goal in 4 games. Borgstrom is a skilled, big forward but he might need time in the minors and Bob Boughner likes to use players who are more experienced.
Frank Vatrano- Vatrano was great for the Panthers last year after they got him at the deadline. However, Vatrano is going to have to fight for a spot. Yes he is talented but the forward core is stacked and I think Denis Malgin is a little better.
Troy Brouwer- After a couple of disastrous seasons in Calgary, Brouwer was bought out and signed by the Panthers. Brouwer brings veteran leadership and has decent stats. Knowing Boughner, Brouwer will likely win this battle.
Get Your Toes Wet
Owen Tippett- Tippett will probably make it but like last year I think it will only be for a few games before he is sent back to Mississauga to gain more experience.
Probably to the Minors/Cut
Maxim Mamin- Mamin did a good job in the bigs last year, but he needs more development. I think starting the year in Springfield will be beneficial but he will definitely get called up and spend a majority of his season in Sunrise.
Dryden Hunt- Hunt was great in the AHL last year and got his toes wet. However, there isn’t room for him He might be a call up but he won’t get much time.
Anthony Greco- He had a great year last year and the Panthers are high on him. I think he is a dark horse at camp and he will see time this year, however he should keep his place in Springfield.
Mark Letetsu- Letetsu was signed to a PTO and could be decent. However the Panthers usually don’t keep their PTO guys, so Letetsu will likely be released. He will be an NHLer but likely with another team.
Opening Night Prediction
Scratched: Tippett (remember I said they’ll start him in the NHL at the start of the year) and Vatrano (if Hutchinson is sent down)
AHL if Hutchinson is sent down (Meaning Vatrano stays in NHL)
Bajkov-Byron-Probably a defender knowing Kinnear