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The Panthers 2011-12 season is quickly approaching and with that, floridapanthers.com is going 15 in 15 by taking a look at the top five questions, players to watch and games of the season on a countdown to the home opener on October 15th against Tampa Bay. We'll unveil one of the top five on a rotating basis each day to help fans get ready for what hopes to be an exciting season.

PURCHASE TICKETS TO THE HOME OPENER

Countdown 4: No. 2 Question; Who Will Play In The Top-Six?

Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 4:25 PM
By Andrew Imber - FloridaPanthers.com / Countdown To Home Opener 2011

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)
In today’s topic, we take a closer look at how the top forward pairings will shake out for the Florida Panthers in the Top Five Questions this season.

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.

 
UPCOMING EVENTS

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 76 16 22 -14 38
S. Upshall 76 15 22 1 37
B. Campbell 82 7 30 -6 37
B. Boyes 78 21 15 -6 36
S. Bergenheim 62 16 13 -16 29
J. Huberdeau 69 9 19 -5 28
T. Fleischmann 80 8 20 -18 28
T. Gilbert 73 3 25 -5 28
B. Pirri 49 13 12 6 25
A. Barkov 54 8 16 -3 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 25 23 7 .919 2.40
S. Clemmensen 6 7 1 .896 3.09
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