Countdown 4: No. 2 Question; Who Will Play In The Top-Six?
Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 4:25 PM ET
|Two forwards that should see a lot of top-six minutes are Tomas Kopecky (82) and Tomas Fleischmann (14). Both were added this off-season by GM Dale Tallon. Kopecky was traded for and then signed on June 27 while Fleischmann signed as a free agent on July 1.(Getty Images)
With so many new faces in the Panthers lineup this season, including seven forwards that weren’t here at the end of last season alone, chemistry will be key for Florida to sort out. The sooner they find the right balance, the better chance the team will have at a strong start to the season.
Early season play suggests that the top forward line will consist of Tomas Fleischmann (21 points in 22 games with Colorado last year), Stephen Weiss (team-high 49 points last year), and Kris Versteeg (46 points in 80 games last year). Looking at the trios’ numbers, as well as their potential to grow even stronger, and it’s a logical choice of a line combination to stay together and perform well.
With health issues in his rearview mirror, Fleischmann is oozing with breakout potential. He scored nearly a point per game after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche last season, and is just entering his prime at 27-years old. After leading the team in points last year, Weiss looks ready to pick up where he left off, with a goal in the team’s first game. At 28-years-old, he is also entering the prime of his career and could be poised for his best season to date. And finally, even while bouncing around to a few teams in the past couple of years, Versteeg has shown that he has loads of potential. Just 25-years-old, Versteeg already has three twenty-goal seasons to his name, and a Stanley Cup ring. Not to mention, he may be available to sing at your next big gathering.
The probable second line for the Panthers features a similar combination: two new Panthers and a familiar face. David Booth is the mainstay, and boasted a team-high 23-goals last season. His blazing speed and aggression to shoot give the Panthers a solid weapon up front. Tomas Kopecky enjoyed a breakout season last year, recording 42 points in 81 games for the Chicago Blackhawks. He’ll have a chance to show that the progression is a trend playing in a top six role for the Cats. Scottie Upshall should round out the Panthers top six, after scoring 22 goals and recording 34 points split between Phoenix and Columbus last season. The former sixth overall selection (2002 NHL Entry Draft) could blossom in the role, after setting a career high in goals and points last year.
Although each of those six forwards will make the case to remain firmly planted in that role, there are at least a few players who may push for extra ice time. Playoff wonder Sean Bergenheim scored nine goals in 16 games during last year’s postseason with Tampa Bay, and will certainly garner extra attention if that carries over to this year. Marcel Goc is coming off a year in which he probably would have set career highs across the board had it not been for injury. He'll be waiting to fill in a top-two line center role if the injury bug comes around. Jack Skille is another former top-ten pick that has shown flashes of that talent in his short time with the Panthers. Young Russian sensation Evgeny Dadonov could take a top six role and run with it if he gets an opportunity, after representing the Panthers in the YoungStars Game last season. Also, don’t forget about Shawn Matthias, whose size and skill could become a dangerous combination in an expanded role and Mike Santorelli who could easily find himself back in the top-six after coming back from injury. In the top-six for most of last season, Santorelli posted a career-high 21 goals with the Panthers.
Overall, the Panthers have to be thrilled at the depth they possess at forward. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game, but this year, Florida will be equipped with the weapons to overcome obstacles in their way.