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Finding Offense Among Panthers' Five Questions

NHL 30 In 30

Wednesday, 08.20.2014 / 5:07 PM / News
By Alain Poupart  - Correspondent
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Finding Offense Among Panthers\' Five Questions
NHL 30 in 30 takes a look at Panthers\' question marks heading into next season

After making an improbable run to the Southeast Division title in 2011-12, the Florida Panthers stumbled badly the past two seasons, finishing with the worst record in the NHL in 2012-13 and the second-worst last season.

The Panthers still have an abundance of highly touted prospects, either on their roster or in the system, and they also have a new coach in former Columbus Blue Jackets coach and former Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant. But they also have a lot of question marks heading into next season, and here are five that jump out:

1. Are the Panthers' promising young forwards ready to make a major impact? -- General manager Dale Tallon has maintained since arriving in Florida in May of 2011 that his blueprint would center around the NHL Draft, and he has accumulated some impressive prospects over the past few years, among them forwards Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Because the Panthers haven't been able to land a high-scoring veteran forward to lead the way, the team will be relying heavily on those three players to help produce on offense after Florida tied for next-to-last in goals each of the past two seasons.

Bjugstad led the Panthers in scoring last season, but his 38 points were the fewest for a team leader since the last NHL expansion. Barkov shined as a rookie in 2013-14 before his season was cut short by a knee injury, but his all-around game stood out more than his offensive prowess. Huberdeau, meanwhile, will be looking to rebound after he followed his Calder-winning 2013 season with a disappointing sophomore effort.

The Panthers were busy in free agency on July 1, but their acquisitions brought leadership and complementary skills instead of pure offensive firepower. The Panthers could be looking at another long year offensively if their three young forwards don't deliver.

2. Can the Panthers tighten up their defense? -- In addition to their scoring woes, the Panthers also finished second-to-last in the NHL last season in goals allowed. The two big changes in the defense corps involve the arrival of veteran free agent Willie Mitchell from the Los Angeles Kings and the selection of Aaron Ekblad with the first pick in the 2014 draft.

Ekblad is expected to be on the Panthers roster from the start of the season, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact he can make early on. As for Mitchell, 37, the hope is brings stability to a group that features only one other player older than 24, Brian Campbell.

The Panthers defensive corps includes Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson, each of whom was re-signed this summer as a restricted free agent. The two first-round picks need to take a step forward if Florida is to improve on the defensive end.

3. How much better can the Panthers special teams become? -- It won't be difficult for the Panthers power play and penalty killing to be better than last season because Florida was last in the League in both categories, and by a wide margin.

Offensively, the Panthers still are looking to replace point man Jason Garrison, whose big slap shot was the key to the power play's success during the playoff season of 2012. At the other end, the Panthers need someone to step in for top penalty-killing defenseman Mike Weaver, who ended up with the Canadiens at the NHL Trade Deadline last season.

4. Is Roberto Luongo still good enough to steal some victories for the Panthers? -- The Panthers' decision to bring back Luongo last March, despite his contract, was made not only to re-energize the franchise, but also to provide some stability in the net.

The Panthers needed their goalies to win games for them last season, but instead Tim Thomas was merely adequate, while Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom both fell below that line.

Luongo had a .924 save percentage in his 14 games with the Panthers last season, and the team gladly would take that figure again over the course of a full season.

5. What kind of a difference can a new coaching staff make? -- Tallon indicated after letting interim coach Peter Horachek go after last season that he wanted someone with NHL coaching experience, and that's what he got with Gallant.

Furthermore, Gallant was behind the bench for the Canadiens' run to the Eastern Conference Final last season and new assistant Mark Morris was instrumental in developing many of the players who helped the Los Angeles Kings win two of the past three Stanley Cup titles in his role as coach of the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League for the past eight seasons.

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1 MTL 65 41 18 6 175 146 88
2 NYI 66 42 21 3 211 185 87
3 TBL 66 40 20 6 217 173 86
4 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 66 35 21 10 194 164 80
8 BOS 63 31 22 10 168 165 72
9 FLA 65 28 23 14 159 185 70
10 PHI 65 28 25 12 173 187 68
11 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 65 26 34 5 175 199 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43


N. Bjugstad 65 22 17 -8 39
J. Huberdeau 62 10 28 2 38
J. Jokinen 64 6 29 0 35
A. Ekblad 65 11 23 7 34
B. Boyes 63 11 21 9 32
J. Jagr 60 12 19 -10 31
J. Hayes 56 17 12 -5 29
B. Campbell 65 3 20 1 23
A. Barkov 54 10 12 -7 22
D. Kulikov 56 3 15 -5 18
R. Luongo 23 16 11 .921 2.37
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08 is the official Web site of the Florida Panthers. Florida Panthers and are trademarks of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2015 Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.