Our Florida Panthers 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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Florida finished 2nd in their division last season with a 37-14-5 record and 79 points. They were 4th in the league for goals for with 188 goals, and 9th in the league in goals against with 151 total. This team could score, although they did struggle a bit with special teams. Their powerplay was only 15th in the league at 20.5% and their penalty kill was in the bottom half of the league with a 79.8% effectiveness for 18th in the league.
Aaron Ekblad got hurt mid way into the season while he looked to be having a career year. At the time of his injury he had 11 goals and 11 assists in only 35 games. His loss hurt the team but in his absence Mackenzie Weegar really stepped up. Weegar finished the season with 36 points, and after Ekblad he led the team in average total ice time per game.
Offensively the team was really carried by the heavy hitters Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, who are both just so good. They saw a lot of time apart this season, but were put together on the number one powerplay, although it did struggle. Beyond these two the team had a lot of depth scoring, including a sizeable contribution from the blue line. Patric Hornqvist, Anthony Duclair, Alexander Wennberg all did their part. One great story was seeing Carter Verhaeghe, who was sort of the odd man out after Tampa’s first Stanley Cup, emerge as a top 6 centre this season. He really played well with the teams high end talent and tripled his point total of 13 points in 52 games in 2019-2020 to 36 in 43 games this past year. Pretty great to see and I for one can’t wait to see him hit 108 points in even less games this season…
The team acquired Sam Bennett and a 2022 6th round pick from the Calgary Flames at the deadline in exchange for Emil Heinemen and a 2022 2nd round pick. Bennett immediately looked great on Florida earning 15 points in 10 games, including 6 goals. He also earned 5 points in 5 playoff games with the team. He’s always been a great playoff player so it was probably part of the decision to bring him in. Since he re-signed in the off season, he’ll be looking to continue his play over a longer stretch here.
The team also acquired defenseman Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2021 3rd round pick. Montour looked to fit in well also. It was a cheap trade and they also resigned him in the off season. Montour played top 4 minutes for the team and a 3rd round pick for that is pretty darn good.
Florida unfortunately met the eventual champions Tampa Bay in the first round of playoffs. It was a great first meeting of the two in the playoffs, but Tampa was just a great team on the path to the cup.
In the offseason the team had a significant loss in the expansion draft, goaltender Chris Driedger. Out of the three goaltenders the team played over the season, Driedger had the best stats, which is humourous considering that he had the lowest cap hit out of the three and made less than one tenth that of Sergei Bobrovsky. It sucks to lose your highest performing goalie, but it looks like it may be less bitter of a pill to swallow considering the third goalie was a rookie goalie Spencer Knight, who looks like the real deal. Spencer Knight actually played the best out of the three in his 2 playoff appearances as well.
So how does Florida look going into this season?
- Sam Reinhart
- Joe Thornton
- Zac Dalpe
- Alexander Wennberg
- Chris Driedger
- Keith Yandle
- Anton Stralman
- Nikita Gusev
The biggest change is Alexander Wennberg out and Sam Reinhart in. This is a move up for the team in terms of offensive numbers, as Reinhart is a goal scorer, but it means the loss of the second line centre. Because the team retained Sam Bennett, it means they must be looking to play him in that role. Like I mentioned above, Sam B had a great run with Florida last season in the 15 games he played. Will he be an over a point per game guy for them? Probably not, but I don’t think he’s going to revert to his disappointing totals from Calgary either. At 25 years old, I’m hoping Bennett has found a home as a centreman in the NHL, and I couldn’t think of a better place to try than with Jonathan Huberdeau on your wing. Huberdeau led the team with 61 points last year. Bennet may also have the speedy Anthony Duclair on the other side to play with.
The top line will likely see the dynamic duo of Carter Verhaege and Aleksander Barkov as well as newcomer Sam Reinhart. How will Reinhart fit in and can Verhaege build off his impressive last season? If these are both positive answers I think the top line will be great.
The bottom six will look pretty much the same as last season, with the injection of 42 year old Joe Thornton. Thornton will definitely bring a veteran presence to the locker room. Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, Patric Hornqvist and Owen Tippett will all be regulars but I think the team may not play Thornton every game. In my opinion they’d be better off playing energy guys like Ryan Lomberg or Mason Marchment after the solid season and playoffs they each had. Eetu Luostarinen should also get a solid chance to play.
Overall the forward group is pretty strong here.
I actually really like Florida’s defensive lineup too. Now that Keith Yandle is gone it’s probably even better. It looked like coach John Quenneville really didn’t care too much for Yandle and it wasn’t hard to see why with Yandle’s sloppy turnovers and overall poor defensive game. Anton Stralman and his giant contract got dealt out of town also, and his veteran presence and stability will be missed. That being said, I do still think this is a strong defense, although perhaps a little less depth.
With Aaron Ekblad returning the top pairing will likely be Ekblad and Weegar, which is one of the best in the league in my opinion. Both of those guys were great last season, and if Ekblad can return to that form they will be a great pairing again.
Beyond that top pairing there is Brandon Montour and Gustav Forsling. Both of these two have a bit of an offensive side so they might get split up as well.
The third pairing will likely be Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas. Gudas hits everything that moves so you’ll always know when he’s out there.
Florida has a mix of younger defenseman in their system like Lucas Carlsson, Matt Kiersted, John Ludvig and Noah Juulsen that could try to push for as spot or see limited time as well.
This is the most dramatic change for the team. Chris Driedger was a solid goaltender and was lost in the expansion, so they’ll be running a tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and rookie Spencer Knight. Bobrovsky did pump his numbers up somewhat during the regular season, but in playoffs he looked awful against Tampa Bay. He did still have to split starts with a guy who made less than one tenth than him though due to inconsistency. He’s still not worth the $10 million per season cap hit, and I think a Driedger, Knight tandem would have been the most competitive for the team this season. It is obviously nigh impossible to rid yourself of an albatross like Bob’s contract, so they are sort of stuck with him. Knight played 4 regular season games and looked amazing. He also was the team’s best goalie in playoffs and had the team’s only win when he came into the series. He’ll look to build on that confidence and earn himself a consistent backup role until he inevitably steals Bob’s crease and then leaves town once they can’t afford to keep him since Bobrovsky is signed until the end of time.
Florida Panthers 2021-22 Prediction
Florida has a great team put together here. They will need to improve their special teams, especially in playoffs to get anywhere, but at the moment they look pretty stacked. This is a playoff team and I think it may be the best iteration of Florida we have ever seen. They’ll be dynamic and fun to watch. That being said, I don’t think they can top Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division so hopefully they don’t meet in round one of the playoffs again.
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