Okay, I’m stretching things a little. The Florida Panthers aren’t based in Miami but in Sunrise Florida which is located a few miles north of Miami, reminiscent of how the former Phoenix Coyotes were actually based in Glendale Arizona (with pretty much the same results in attracting a fan base.)
Sunrise was actually going to be named Sunset Village but the retirees who lived in the area apparently thought that name a bit too “final” and Sunrise it was.
What prompted this post was that I watched the FLORIDA (see, just like the ARIZONA Coyotes) entertain the Montreal Canadiens last night. It was the first sellout of the season for a team that normally draws less than 10 thousand but the stands were filled with Habs fans vacationing in Florida so it was, in effect, an away game for the Panthers.
I also note that, after the game, the Panthers signed their best young player to a 6 year contract extension:
Tuesday was one heck of a night for Nick Bjugstad.
Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal, the Panthers’ center was signing a six-year deal with the team sources told The Miami Herald.
Bjugstad, a restricted free agent following this season, will get $4.1 million annually.
“He’s a cornerstone piece to the franchise,” the source said.
Now, anyone who has been following closely will know that I am a big fan of Dale Tallon who built the Chicago Blackhawks into a cup winner (and they gave him a ring for his efforts even through he was ousted in the Bowman coup).
Despite changing owners several times, operating on a severely restricted budget and being forced to spend just to reach the salary cap floor, Tallon has been building a young, big talented team from the backend out and it’s starting to pay dividends with the Panthers challenging for a playoff spot despite being one of the youngest teams in the league.
The laundry list of young talent keying this run is something to behold: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad are something of a ‘big five’, all at or under the age of 22. The amazing thing? Every one of these players is in the black as it pertains to Corsi%. In a league where being successful at an extremely young age is quite difficult, the Panthers are making it look relatively easy.
The play of these youngsters is one of the big reasons why they’ve picked up 40 points in 33 games,
None of this comes as a surprise to me since I’ve been touting the rise of the Panthers for several years.
So let’s take a closer look.
The Panthers solidified their goaltending when they picked up Roberto Luongo in the offseason. All he has done is sport a .923 save percentage and his backup, Al Montoya is cruising along at .915 which I believe is the floor for a good to great goaltender.
Tallon has a couple of seasoned vets to mentor his young D, Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell, but I want to highlight the young D he has drafted and acquired. I’m going to include their vital statistics here because it’s important to note that Tallon has been going after skill AND size.
Aaron Ekblad – 6’4″ 220 18 years old!
Dmitri Kulikov – 6’2″ 205 24 years old
Erik Gudbranson – 6’5″ 220 22 years old
Dylan Olsen – 6’2″ 225 23 years old
Coby Robak – 6’3″ 195. 24 years old
As you can see, this young D, led by phenom Ekblad, hasn’t even entered the prime years for defensemen but is far and away the best young D core in the league and will be dominant for a decade.
Any Oiler fan getting his or her knickers in a twist over Nurse, Marincin and Klefbom need to take gander at “Miami Vice”.
But, Tallon didn’t stop there.
He has loaded up his team with big, talented centres too….although his stunning C depth has a few little guys too.
Nick Bjugstad – 6’6″ 220 22 years old
Alexsandr Barkov – 6’3″ 19 years old
Brandon Pirri – 6’0″ 185 23 years old
Vincent Trocheck – 5’10 182 20 years old
Dave Bolland – 6’0″ 185 28 years old
The Panthers also have two blue chip centre prospects, Drew Shore and Rocco Grimaldi, toiling in the minors but it wouldn’t be surprising if Tallon used some of his depth at the position to go after some scoring wingers.
Speaking of wingers….the Panthers have a surplus of older veterans in those roles…Boyes, Bergenheim, Upshall, Fleischmann, Kopecky but they also have another young monster, Jimmy Hayes (6’6″ 225) scoring at a 25 goal pace and Jonathan Huberdeau still developing but Tallon now has the assets and cap space to turn some of those vets into young scoring wingers.
I expect the Panthers are a couple of years away from being true contenders but they are built the right way with strong fundamentals in goal, on D and at centre.
They are big enough and skilled enough to compete with best in the east AND take on the big boys in the west.
Watch out for these guys.