The Florida Panthers were the biggest surprise of 2015-16 as they went from near the bottom of the league to winning the Atlantic Division. They entered last season with lofty expectations but an injury-riddled season saw them miss the playoffs. Despite last season’s disappointment, the Panthers enter this season as a favorite to get back into the playoffs. Their young core remains intact but there are plenty of new supplementary pieces around them instead of Jonathan Marchessault and Jaromir Jagr. They have no superstar fantasy players but there are plenty of top end talents and intriguing pieces. Let’s take a look at the Florida Panthers roster for the 2017-18 NHL Season:
Elite Talents – I debated whether or not Aleksander Barkov should be considered an elite fantasy talent or not. On one hand, Barkov had 52 points in 61 games last season at 21 years old. On the other, he’s missed at least 10 games every season in his career and gives you next to nothing in penalty minutes. The shots dropped quite a bit last season too bringing his rate to around average instead of above. Barkov is an incredible player in real life but in fantasy, he falls just outside of my top 50 for redrafts.
Must Drafts – The first injury for the Panthers happened in preseason when Jonathan Huberdeau had his Achilles tendon cut by a skate. He was outstanding when he returned scoring 26 points (10+16) in only 31 games and produced a career-best shot rate. Huberdeau is still only 24 years old so it’s no surprise that his game continues to grow. He’ll fall somewhere in the top 100, probably in the 60-75 range.
Evgenii Dadonov is the latest Russian to come back to the NHL. Dadonov signed a three year deal with the Panthers and should step right into the top line. There’s a good chance that I’m going to be extremely high on Dadonov, possibly even top 100. Dadonov scored 30 goals and 36 assists last season over 53 regular season games in the KHL and 19 points in 18 playoff games. His offensive ability is through the roof and the only downside is his lack of penalty minutes. There’s a really good chance he tops 60 points this year.
I was hoping Vincent Trocheck would take a step forward after a massive second half in 2015-16. That didn’t happen but Trocheck still put together a solid season with 23+31, 43 PIM and almost three shots per game. There is still some upside here because Trocheck had only 13 STP each of the last two seasons. If that creeps up to 20, now we are looking at a 60 point player. I’m taking him later in drafts for the shot volume and his safety.
Streamers with Upside – I came very close to putting Radim Vrbata in the must draft list. He had an excellent season with Arizona last season with 20+35 and an elite shot rate. The reason I didn’t if he was any worse, he wouldn’t be a hold because of the lack of PIM. If it looks like Vrbata will be on the first power play unit, I will be taking him late in drafts for the same reasons as Trocheck. If not, then I’ll still stream him regularly but won’t be that excited about him.
The other new face for the Panthers is Henrik Haapala. The Finnish player was a former second round pick who just had a massive season for Tappara, scoring 15 goals and 45 assists in 51 games. He’s a small player but he has solid offensive ability. I want to see how he looks in the preseason because he could be a late mover up my board. For now, I’ll leave him undrafted in 12’ers and see how he’s in the top six and how he looks in general.
Possible Streamer – At this point, I’ve basically given up on Nick Bjugstad. Last season was horrible as Bjugstad scored only 7 goals and 7 assists in 54 games. Would it shock me if he becomes a viable streamer again like two and three seasons ago? Not really, but I’m not counting on it.
Must Draft – I was the lowest expert on Fantasy Pros for Aaron Ekblad last season but even I didn’t envision anything like this. Ekblad had an elite shot rate and contributed nicely in penalty minutes but was a disaster everywhere else. In 68 games, Ekblad had 10 goals and only 11 assists. Add in a -23 rating and only 9 STP and yeah, it honestly couldn’t have been any worse. That said, he’s still only 21 years old and that shot rate is outstanding. I’m still willing to gamble on him but I’m not expecting a huge breakthrough.
If you’re looking for assists, let me talk about Keith Yandle. While he wasn’t as good for Florida as he was in Arizona, Yandle was still solid last season with 5 goals and 36 assists. That came with 39 PIM and an average shot rate. My thought going into last season was that Yandle was going to be a #2D in fantasy but now he looks like more of a #3/4 type. He’s incredibly safe but at 31 years old, I think most of the upside is gone.
This situation is bit murkier than it has been. Roberto Luongo and James Reimer both remain with Luongo being 1A to Reimer’s 1B. Reimer’s numbers were slightly better last season with 2.53/.920 to Luongo’s 2.68/.915. While I don’t particularly like either of these guys individually, I’m intrigued at the possibility of pairing them, especially in roto leagues where your starts are capped anyways. Florida should be a much improved team assuming better health giving Luongo and Reimer better support defensively. I’d be shocked if either Luongo or Reimer get more than 2/3rds of the starts barring an injury which will lead to a lot of frustration if you own one of them. I’d have them both as bottom end #2’s or solid #3’s but think they could combine to give you a bottom end #1 or elite #2.
HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES
I’d be more likely to take a chance on Michael Matheson in a league that includes hits and blocks. The former first round pick is solid in both categories and should play with Ekblad at even strength. If he could get any power play time, Matheson wouldn’t be a bad option in 12’ers but it looks like Jason Demers will be on PP2. Demers is solid everywhere but shots where he’s a complete disaster. If your league doesn’t include shots, he becomes ownable. Yandle and Barkov get downgraded for poor hits.
Edit: I somehow skipped over Trocheck getting a massive boost (thanks Saints!). He’ll probably drop a little bit since he averaged almost 21 minutes per game last year but even still, Trocheck is great in all three categories. He has arguably the highest floor of any non-elite center in this format.
Barkov moves up into the third round or so given his age. It’s hard to move him up any higher just because it would take him scoring a point per game to give top 25 value. Huberdeau also moves into the top 50 while Ekblad gets a large boost. Matheson also becomes a viable option. Reimer gets a massive boost since he is the goalie of the future and partial goalie of the present.
Blue Chip – You can make a case for Owen Tippett being the best pure goal scorer in the 2017 draft. Tippett scored 44 goals in 60 games for Mississauga last season. He has compared himself to Phil Kessel and I think it’s a great comp. I can definitely see Tippett becoming a perennial 25-35 goal scorer in the future (my guess is he spends this year in the OHL and then cracks Florida in 18/19). For that, he deserves your attention in prospect drafts.
Henrik Borgström is arguably their best prospect in real life. The Panthers’ 2016 first round pick was terrific at The University of Denver last season scoring 22 goals and 21 assists in 37 games. While he’s not the pure sniper Tippett is, his offensive game is extremely well-rounded. The only thing Borgström needs to do is bulk up. I suspect that he declares pro once Denver’s season ends this year. There’s elite potential here if everything clicks.
Shoot The Moon – Adam Mascherin is a couple years away from reaching the NHL but his upside is tremendous. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he leads the OHL in scoring this year. Mascherin had 35+65 in 65 games for Kitchener last season. He’s a pure sniper whose unique release frequently fools goalies. Mascherin has all of the tools to be a top six forward and possibly more in the NHL. His defensive awareness is poor because he chases the puck too much but from a fantasy perspective, all that means is he probably ends up as a winger. Mascherin is another high upside play.
Potential Goalie – Samuel Montembeault is the first goalie that I’ve mentioned in my team previews. The former third round pick is done with juniors and will play in Springfield this coming season. He’s still only 20 years meaning he’s far away from having an NHL impact but with Luongo’s career approaching the end and Reimer turning 30 this year, there’s a chance Montembeault is the Panthers #1 in 3-4 years.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back on Friday with a preview of the Detroit Red Wings. As always, feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Thanks for reading, take care!