If the Panthers return to the playoffs in 2018-19, Aleksander Barkov will be a big reason why.
With the 2018-19 season fast approaching, we’re running snapshots of all 31 NHL teams, including point total projections, positional previews, best- and worst-case scenarios and more.
After narrowly missing the postseason in 2017-18, are the Florida Panthers ready to make the leap back into the mix this season?
How they finished in 2017-18: 44-30-8 (96 points), finished 16th in NHL, fourth in the Atlantic Division
The Panthers entered the 2017-18 season after one of the most tumultuous years in franchise history, in which coach Gerard Gallant hailed a taxi out of his job after 21 games and the front office was in turmoil. But new coach Bob Boughner and a collection of burgeoning offensive stars pushed the Panthers right up to the playoff bubble before falling one point short of the New Jersey Devils.
Over/under projected point total (per the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook): 94.5
Best-case scenario: The top two lines carry the Panthers’ offense to new heights, taking them from middle of the pack (2.99 goals per game) into the top 10 offenses in the NHL.
Worst-case scenario: The Panthers thought all they needed was another talented, top-six forward, and they’d figure into the playoff mix yet again. It turns out, this team wasn’t a Mike Hoffman away from winning. Goaltending isn’t great. Florida has 10 players signed through at least 2020-21, which is great if you believe in this core. But if not …
Forward overview: Treating Aleksander Barkov as one of the NHL’s best-kept secrets is like your friend being like “Hey, have you heard of Shake Shack?” No, if you want a well-kept secret, try Vincent Trocheck, the second-liner who has 129 points in 164 games the past two seasons. These two centers have talented wingers Evgenii Dadonov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Hoffman (who hopefully left his off-ice baggage in Ottawa). Beyond that, especially playing in this conference, there are some questions about depth. NHL rank: 13th
Defense overview: Keith Yandle led the Panthers in ice time and points, and his tandem with Aaron Ekblad anchors a group that needs to be better than it was last season (Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic among them). NHL rank: 20th
Goalie overview: Roberto Luongo‘s age is a concern — he’ll turn 40 on April 4 — but he was fantastic in the 35 games he appeared in last season. If anything, the Panthers might want more out of James Reimer in this tandem. NHL rank: 16th
Special teams: The Panthers were 21st in the NHL on the power play, at 18.9 percent, which needs to improve for them to reach contender status. The penalty kill (80.2 percent) was ranked 16th, though Barkov had five short-handed goals last season.
Pipeline overview: The Panthers’ system is not terribly deep at this point, but its top end is a major separating factor from other systems. Henrik Borgstrom is an exceptional talent, with Owen Tippett looking like a high-end goal scorer. Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel and Aleksi Heponiemi each possess big potential to grow into a key contributor down the line. Read more — Chris Peters
Fantasy nugget: After his unceremonious exit from the Ottawa Senators, Hoffman will settle into a top-six role for the Panthers. He hasn’t scored 30 goals or 65 points in the NHL, but both of those thresholds are at risk, especially with him likely to slot onto the power play with Barkov and Jonathan. I think Hoffman is just inside the top 25 wingers, thanks to his shots on goal total and improved plus/minus in Florida. Read more — Sean Allen
Coach on the hot seat? Bob Boughner got 94 points out of the Panthers last season and grew nicely into the job as Florida posted 25 wins in its last 35 games. So far, so good.
Bold prediction: Florida gets 100 points and wins a playoff round.