Saturday, September 3, 2011

Florida Panthers 2011-12 Preview

Will the Panthers’ infusion of talent gel quickly and make noise in the East?

Can a new nucleus form in Florida?  Eternal optimism for mediocrity in Florida reigns supreme, or does it? Years of rebuilding (after rebuild, after rebuild) led to GM Dale Tallon blowing things up this year. Aside from a glut of ex-Blackhawks, the Panthers went out and signed almost everyone they could—and to big contracts.

Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski on defense, Scottie Upshall, Kris Fersteeg, and Tomas Fleischmann at forward are among the new faces.



So what can be expected of the Panthers this year? Well, it will likely take some time for them to gel, and they’ll probably be behind Washington and Tampa Bay in the Southeast. Expect for them to duke it out with Winnipeg and Carolina for third spot. Overall, that will not be good enough to make the playoffs, as there are too many better teams elsewhere in the Eastern Conference.


That prediction may not be what Panthers fans are hoping to hear, but for the first time in a long time, they is enough significant change to suggest an emphasis on trying to move up in the standings, and spend some money to make the team competitive this year, and in the future.






Forwards

The Panthers have overhauled their line-up. Many spots will be up for grabs this year, which makes it difficult to predict.

Stephen Weiss

One of the few returning Panthers on this list, Weiss has never lived up to his Steve Yzerman-like hype, but he’s a solid two-way player nonetheless. 60 points are probable, especially with Brian Campbell rushing the puck up the ice.

David Booth

Hoping that Booth has put his concussion troubles behind him after the Mike Richards hit, Booth could return to the 30 goal level. The talented winger had a great career trajectory and should take further steps to getting that back on track this year.

Tomas Fleischmann

An odd end to last season halted a very noteworthy campaign. After moving to the Avalanche, he recorded nearly a point-per-game pace before injury. The talented winger should rebound and record about 50 points if he winds up on a scoring line as expected.

Scottie Upshall

Upshall blossomed as a player in Phoenix and looks to ply his trade in Florida. With a couple of solid goal-scoring campaigns under his belt, he’ll hope to net 25 in a new environment in the sunbelt. More talented linemates could yield 25 goals and 45 points.

Mike Santorelli

The versatile forward arrived on the scene in a big way last year. With 41 points in a full season, even more could be expected from him this year. 45 points are within reach, as are 20 goals.

Kris Versteeg

Versteeg struggled in Toronto and Philadelphia after his departure from Chicago. Rebounding in a new environment should not be a big problem. Versteeg is skilled and is a great top-9 forward. 40 points are within reach, especially with new linemates and several options up front.

Evgeni Dadonov

Dadonov showed flashes of offense last year and will likely improve upon his totals this season. The under-sized forward averaged 14 minutes of ice time last year and will be looking for a top-6 role this time out. Odds are he’ll start on the third line, but may move up from there.

Jack Skille

Skille struggled in Florida after injuries slowed his progress. Being buried on a deep Chicago team did not help. Skille still has potential but will have to show something sooner rather than later. 35 points would be a reasonable expectation if he acquits himself well.

Defence

Brian Campbell
Traded in the off-season, Campbell will anchor the Panthers’ defense corps this year. A skilled puck-mover, Campbell should see plenty of power play time and log big minutes all around. If he manages to stay healthy, expect 50 points.

Dimitry Kulikov The talented defender posted decent numbers in his second season, and more could be on the horizon. Learning from Campbell and playing with a better defence corps could mean better opportunities to score. Expect a mild breakout—35 points.

Goaltending

Jose Theodore
Jose has been hot and cold the past few years. Florida may be his last chance to solidify a starting role. After squandering that chance in Colorado and Washington, Theodore finds himself looking to impress with a new team. Expect some bumps in the road, but a solid season by his standards.

Prediction - 24 Wins


Scott Clemmensen

Clemmensen played a lot last year after a serious injury to Martin Brodeur. This year, he may get a chance for more action if Jose Theodore struggles.
 

Prediction - 13 wins

TOP SLEEPER

Stephen Weiss
Weiss could be considered a hidden gem and under-rated player, or an under-achiever. It all depends on how you view his time in Florida and the amount of talent surrounding him in past years.


Weiss is a solid two-way player who has shown some solid offensive numbers in the past, He dipped to 49 points last season, but he is still relatively young and there is reason for optimism with the Panthers hopeful revival this year.


60 points is a modest guess, with an outside shot at 70 points if all goes well.


TOP ROOKIE

D-Erik Gudbranson

The 6’4” defender nearly made the team out of training camp last season were it not for some contractual issues.


This time out, expect Gudbranson to make is professional debut and perhaps be playing full-time by year’s end.

The first-rounder will be a mainstay on the Panthers blueline for years to come.


Potential Breakout Player

Dimitry Kulikov
The Russian defender really picked up his play in the second half of last season.


If he finds himself playing alongside Brian Campbell or Ed Jovanovski, his stock could rise along with his production. His 25 points last year just scratched the surface, and he is in a good place. An infusion of talent should augment the skill set of his teammates, but not demote his role on the team all that much.


If you are in a keeper league, he is someone to keep an eye on. There are better defenders out there, but Kulikov offers potential for offense for years to come.





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