Panthers Lick Their Wounds

by Russ on May 9, 2017
Jonathan Marchessault - USA TODAY Sports Images

 

The Florida Panthers experienced some growing pains last season. After a 103-point, first-place finish to in the Atlantic Division in the 2015-16 campaign, the Panthers finished with a disappointing 81 points this past season.

The Jack Adams finalist from the previous year, Gerard Gallant, was fired following a 11-10-1 start this season. Then there was also an unexpected “promotion” of general manager Dale Tallon to an executive position. The changes did not produce the desired results.

Now that Tallon is back in the GM seat, let’s hope that it will bring some much-needed stability to the team. I’d like to take a look at some players and what the upcoming season may have in store for them:

 

Mike Matheson

 

In three seasons at Boston College, the budding offensive-minded defenseman scored 25, 21 and 25 points. In his first year of professional hockey (2015-16), Matheson recorded 20 points in 54 AHL games. He also got his first taste of the game at the NHL level, getting in three regular season contests (no points) and five playoff matches, where he notched his first NHL point.

Once the playoffs were done for the Panthers, Matheson answered the call for Team Canada at the World Hockey Championship. He showed that he can provide some offense at a high level, recording six points in 10 games. He’s back at the tournament again this year and has two points in three games while averaging top four minutes alongside NHL veterans Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers and Tyson Barrie.

This past NHL season was Matheson’s official rookie campaign. He acquitted himself well during his 81 games, scoring seven goals and 17 points. He also led the team in blocked shots (118) and had the second most shots on goal by a defenseman behind only Aaron Ekblad. Look for Matheson to record close to 30 points this season, in part because he should average more than 30 seconds per game on the power play.

 

Jonathan Marchessault

 

While Dobber expounded the 26-year-old’s virtues in the preseason and in his Draft Guide, I’m sure even he was surprised by Marchessault's team-leading 30 goals and 51 points this year. He ran when given the opportunity, starting the season on a tear with 11 points in nine October contests and 17 points over his first 22 games. Marchessault also ended the season tied with Keith Yandle for the most power play points (18).

In his final year of junior hockey, Marchessault scored 40 goals and 95 points in 68 games. He has 263 points in 306 career AHL games, so he was a proven scorer at all levels except the NHL…until this past year. One cause for concern is his high shooting percentage (15.5%). In his last two AHL seasons, he was at 9.3 percent in both years.

With all the young talent on the Panthers, will they be able to hang on to Marchessault once the expansion draft is all said and done? Will Vegas gamble on an undersized, 26-year-old, offensive-minded forward who just had an unexpected career year? We’ll soon find out.

 

Jonathan Huberdeau

 

One player set to take it to another level is Jonathan Huberdeau. The resume of his short career already includes Memorial Cup MVP and NHL Rookie of the Year. He scored 31 points in 48 games (0.65 points per game) in his rookie NHL season and then got bit by the sophomore slump, where he managed only 0.41 points per game (28 points in 69 games). In his next three seasons, his points per game has increased in each successive year, 0.68, 0.78 and during this year’s injury shortened campaign, 0.84.

This is a guy who has not just scored at every level, he’s dominated. If, as expected, he lines up beside Aleksander Barkov, then 70 points seems like a realistic target for the coming season. The only downside is that his peripheral numbers are nothing to write home about. Outside of a points only league, Huberdeau will only contribute in shots on goal (225), power-play points (20) and to a lesser extent, hits (70).

 

Nick Bjugstad

 

Heading into last season, many of us poolies had Nick Bjugstad pegged for about 40 points, after putting up consecutive seasons of 38, 43 and 34 points. So his 13 points in 54 games was a big miss. While he was still receiving second-unit duty with the man advantage, his even-strength ice time was down to third-liner minutes.

Bjugstad’s most frequent linemates (44.2%) at even-strength were Jonathan Marchessault and Thomas Vanek, not exactly chopped liver. As mentioned earlier, Marchessault had 30 goals and 51 points.

Will Bjugstad bounce back to the 35-40 point mark, or is he now locked in as a third liner?  The 24-year-old is a good bet for rebound to at least 30 points, and if things break his way, he could still hit 40 points.

 

Roberto Luongo and James Reimer

 

When James Reimer signed a five year deal last summer, most thought that the writing was on the wall for 64-year-old Roberto Luongo. Okay, so Sweet Lou is “only” 38 compared to the 29-year-old Reimer, but you get the picture. Last season, Reimer’s numbers were better than Luongo’s in every measurable category except Twitter followers:

 

 

GP

GS

W

SO

SV%

GAA

TWITTER

Luongo

40

39

17

1

.915

2.68

715K

Reimer

43

39

18

3

.920

2.53

21.5K*

 

* Okay, I couldn’t find James Reimer’s Twitter account, so I went with his wife’s totals

Luongo’s numbers really fell off, after posting a 2.35 gaols-against average in back-to-back seasons and save percentages of .922 and .921. It sure feels like Father Time has caught up with Stombone. While Reimer could be given an opportunity to steal away the starting role, he’ll still have to earn his starts. Luongo is a proud athlete and more than capable of going on a run.

If the team can manage to put last season’s tumult behind them, and assuming Aaron Ekblad returns from his concussion in top form, Florida definitely has the talent to challenge for a playoff spot in 2017-18.