The Florida Panthers were the biggest surprise of last regular season, riding breakouts from their elite young talent along with the resurgence of some veterans to win the Atlantic Division.  Despite bowing out in the first round, last season’s success has the Panthers facing the most pressure they have in years.  Many consider them as a sneaky Stanley Cup contender this year.  They have plenty of fantasy options at all positions worthy of our attention so let’s take a look at their roster:

GOALTENDING

Roberto Luongo‘s last two seasons saw him put up almost identical percentages.  However, with the improvement of the rest of the roster, Luongo won 7 more games in 2015-16 despite starting 1 less game than the previous season.  The days of him starting 65+ games but he’ll have plenty of value in the 55-60 games that he starts.  Luongo is 37 years old now so I expect the Panthers to minimize his workload to keep him fresh for the playoffs.  He’s a bottom end #1 goalie that I’d look to pair with his new backup James Reimer.

The Panthers surprisingly gave Reimer a 5 year deal this offseason.  I’m not sure what their plan is considering they can only protect one goaltender in the expansion draft next year but for now, Reimer is strictly Luongo insurance.  His starts are going to be worth streaming if he’s available so it’s worth paying attention to on a daily basis.  If I was in a rotisserie league and draft Luongo, I would  draft Reimer very late and start the Panthers goalie in every game.

DEFENSEMEN

The biggest move the Panthers made was signing Keith Yandle to a massive 7 year contract.  I’m all aboard the Yandle bandwagon and think he’s a sure fire #2 D with the upside to be a #1.  First, he’s played every single game for the past 7 seasons. Last year on the Rangers, he had his lowest ATOI in the past 7 seasons; that total is surely going to go back up playing on the first pair in Florida.  Despite his lowest time on ice, he had his third straight season with 40+ assists.  Yandle is good for 40+ PIM every year and I expect his shot rate to return to the level it was at on the Coyotes.  He’s a power play quarterback at heart and should be that guy again.  A 10+45 season with a good plus-minus, elite special teams points, strong PIM and a potentially elite shot rate could be in the cards.  He’ll be one of my favorite targets in the middle rounds.

The other reason I love Yandle this year is he gets to play with Aaron Ekblad.  The 20 year old had a similar sophomore season to his Calder winning rookie year posting 36 points (15+21) with another great plus-minus and solid PIM & shots.  In his third season, I expect Ekblad to take a step forward offensively.  However, the good thing is that even if he doesn’t, Ekblad could still add 10+ points playing with Yandle on the first power play unit.  Ekblad had only 9 PPP last season and it would be a surprise if that total doesn’t double. He should also be a #2 D this season putting up above average numbers across the board.

Jason Demers was also added to the blueline and has an outside chance of being 12’er worthy.  He’s put up 22 and 23 points in 61 and 62 games in Dallas during the previous two seasons along with elite penalty minutes.  Demers could wind playing on the second power play unit so if he could get that total to 35 points over 82 games, I could see using him in 12’ers as your 5th D if you’re short on PIM.  For now, leave him for 14’ers or deeper.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Mark Pysyk who the Panthers acquired from the Sabres in an offseason trade.  However, it doesn’t look like he will have much opportunity to put up points on Florida.  Same goes with Alex Petrovic and Jakub Kindl.

FORWARDS

Aleksander Barkov established himself as one of the premier forwards in the game last season.  Barkov broke out in a big way scoring 28 goals and adding 31 assists in 66 games.  His shot rate took a massive step forward and he tallied 18 special teams points, a total that could go up with Yandle’s arrival.  The two worries here are that Barkov had missed 11+ games in all 3 seasons he’s been in the NHL and his career high is 16 PIM.  That said, 70+ point potential can’t be ignored.  He will probably slide just inside of the top 50.

Swap out a handful of goals from Barkov with a handful of assists and you end up with his linemate Jonathan Huberdeau.  Huberdeau had 59 points in 76 games with a career high 43 PIM.  The shot rate is right around average and his power play totals should also see a boost.  Huberdeau won’t be too far behind Barkov in my rankings but he will be behind him since I put a preference on goal scorers.

Amazingly, neither Barkov or Huberdeau had the most value among Panther forwards.  That honor goes to the third member of their line, the ageless wonder and legend himself, Jaromir Jagr.  Jagr had a whopping 66 points (27+39) while being +23 and tallying 48 PIM.  The big issue for this year is that Jagr shot an unsustainable 18.9% last season; that was his highest in almost 20 years and by quite some margin.  His shot rate also dipped to below two per game.  Like the rest of the Panthers, his totals on the power play should go up to counterbalance his inevitable regression.  Since the Panthers are loaded, I think they’ll carefully watch Jagr’s minutes this year so he doesn’t burn out.  I can’t see him repeating last season’s number; if I drafted Jagr, I’d be hoping for 20+35.  He’s going to be around 100th overall in my rankings.

Vincent Trocheck took off in a big way in the second half of last season.  Once he moved into the top six, the 23 year old exploded onto the scene finishing the year with 25+28 with above contributions across the board.  Repeating those numbers will keep him inside of the top 100 and I don’t see any reason why he can’t repeat or improve.  With how well the first line did, Trocheck didn’t get the attention he deserved making him undervalued going into drafts this year.

The biggest surprise on the Panthers in my mind was Jussi Jokinen‘s revival.  Jokinen had the second highest point total of his career finishing with 60 points and was a +25.  He’s consistently been a strong source of assists but last season’s 42 was a career high.  I expect him to take a slight step back but Jokinen should remain a hold throughout the season and be picked in the middle to back end of 12 man drafts.

Reilly Smith‘s first season in Florida saw him receive an increased role compared to what he had in Boston.  Smith delivered scoring 25 goals and 25 assists with a career high shot rate.  He deserves to be drafted towards the end of drafts but Smith is extremely streaky to the point where you decide to drop him.  If Smith does get dropped in your league, be prepared to snag him before he takes off on another hot streak.

The one Panther who was a disappointment last season was Nick Bjugstad.  He looked poised to have a season like Smith just had but instead scored 15+19 in 67 games.  While he still has 30 goal upside, Bjugstad looks to be centering the third line limiting his opportunity.  If Barkov or Trocheck were to go down, Bjugstad would be a must add in 12’ers because of his goal potential and shot rate.  I can see taking him as your last pick or two to see how he does to start the season but if he goes undrafted in your league, Bjugstad should be one of your top streamers.

Jared McCann and Jonathan Marchessault are the two Panthers I can see taking a late flier on in deep leagues.   McCann was brought in from the Canucks as the main piece in the Erik Gudbranson trade after showing some signs as a 19 year old rookie.  Marchessault scored 18 points in 45 games for Tampa Bay last season despite averaging only 12 minutes of ice time per game.  When Tampa was hit with injuries, Marchessault filled in admirably.  If Florida was hit by the injury bug, I could see both of these guys becoming relevant in 12’ers; for now they are potential waiting for their chance.

TOP 5 PROSPECTS

1) Lawson Crouse

2) Mike Matheson

3) Rocco Grimaldi

4) Henrik Borgstrom

5) Jayce Hawryluk

That’s all for now guys. Now that the Atlantic Division is wrapped up, I will move over to the Metropolitan starting with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.  Ugh Torts!  I’m also going to get working on putting together my overall rankings for everyone; hopefully I can start releasing them in parts in a couple weeks.  As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below.  Take care!