The Florida Panthers continued to re-tool their team, after seeing a few wingers leave over the last couple of weeks. Along with the the signing of Evgeni Dadonov, Florida announced the signing of another winger that would help fill the gaps in their roster:
Vrbata in Florida: one year, $2.5 M base salary plus $1.25 M in performances bonuses
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2017
Vrbata is coming off a season with 20 goals and 55 points with the Arizona Coyotes. He turned 36 years old in June.
While it’s still possible that Dadonov slots on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, as I mentioned in my writeup for the Dadonov signing, I just don’t see that as likely given they all have the same handedness. It’s not impossible it happens – the Nashville top line are all right shots – but it’s just unusual. That would make me think that Vrbata is the replacement for Jaromir Jagr on the top line.(Update: As mentioned in the update in the Dadonov piece, it does look like he could start the year on the top line, which would push Vrbata to the second line).
It would be a good fit for Vrbata, too, beyond the obvious of just playing with a skilled tandem. Both Barkov and Huberdeau are in the bottom-half of regular NHL forwards over the last two years in shot attempts per minute. Adding the Czech winger could add a shooting dimension to that line that hasn’t really been there. It could also help Vrbata turn around his shooting percentage, as he’s averaged just 8.7 percent over the last four seasons.
With Vrbata joining the fold, this leaves one winger spot left in the top-six. Assuming both Vrbata and Dadonov take the top two right-wing spots, that leaves the second-line left wing position open for internal competition (barring another signing or a trade). Peter Harling from Dobber Prospects suggested to me that Henrik Haapala could slide into the top-six for the Panthers. They could move Dadonov to the left wing position and try Owen Tippett, their 2017 first rounder. Regardless, it looks like the second line left wing slot may be a revolving door unless it’s filled via free agency or trade.
Vrbata is a good addition for the Panthers in that it gives them a player who can score in their top-six, at both five-on-five and on the power play. Given the centres he will play with, and the minutes he should get, a 25-goal, 50-point season seems very doable.
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