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Previewing the East: Florida

Youth movement is well under way in Miami

Wednesday, 07.24.2013 / 6:00 AM / Features
By Bill Roose  - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com
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Previewing the East: Florida
DETROIT – The Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference next season where they will be reunited with a trio of Original Six rivals (Boston, Montreal and Toronto) in the new Atlantic Division that also includes Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa and Tampa Bay.

Throughout the summer, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose will take an analytical look at a different Eastern Conference team. This week it's the Florida Panthers:






FLORIDA PANTHERS

2013 Record: 15-27-6
Head Coach: Kevin Dineen (third season)
Home Rink: BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.





Pending Unrestricted Free Agents: Goalie Jose Theodore and right wing Peter Mueller.
Pending Restricted Free Agents: None.
Free Agents Lost: Defensemen Tyson Strachan and Nolan Yonkman, and center Stephen Weiss.
Free Agents Gained: Center Jon Matsumoto, defensemen Matt Gilroy and Mike Mottau, and right wing Joey Crabb.
Red Wings All-Time Record vs. FLA: 14-2-5-2

Erik Gudbranson is one of the young defensemen that the Panthers hope shows improvement this season. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

After several up-and-down years, the Panthers seem committed to a full-fledged youth movement in hopes of putting a stop to the club’s recent see-sawing in the standings.

Don’t expect Florida management to overpay for free agents this summer or even as training camp nears as they plan to go in a new direction beginning with a strong foundation built on the draft and development of its prospects. The Panthers finished last season with 10 players on the active roster who were 25-years-old or younger.

An obvious concern for the Panthers in 2013-14 is consistency. Two seasons ago they went from worst to first in the Northeast Division. Last season, with an influx of injuries, Florida took a gigantic fall to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

While the Red Wings could lay claim to operating out of a M*A*S*H unit last season, the Panthers had similar issues with as many as 10 regulars out of the lineup for much of 2013.

Certainly, an important key for the Panthers will be returning to health, something they struggled with last season with season-ending injuries occurring to guys like forwards Kris Versteeg (knee surgery) and Scottie Upshall (ankle), center Drew Shore (wrist surgery), defensemen Erik Gudbranson (shoulder/hand) and Dmitry Kulikov (shoulder surgery). The Panthers had more than 270 total man games lost to injuries.

Success in the NHL is built from the back-end out, and the Panthers believe they have the building blocks in goalie Jacob Markstrom, who signed a new two-year deal this month. He has a world of potential, but Markstrom’s downside has been inconsistency, which has prevented him from playing a full season in the NHL or in the minors. However, the Panthers hope the 6-foot-6 Swede is their goalie of the future, and they will give him every opportunity this season to be the No. 1 netminder in front of backup Scott Clemmensen.

Defensively, the Panthers will lean on veteran leaders Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski to help out the young crop of blueliners expected to get bigger roles this season. The Panthers passed on taking defenseman Seth Jones in the draft, which says a lot about the faith they have in upcoming sters like Grudbranson, Kulikov and Alex Petrovic, who played in six games last season.

To compete in the East, strength up front and down the middle are imperative qualities, and the Panthers certainly have some big-bodied centermen with 6-3 Shore, 6-6 Nick Bjugstad, 6-4 Shawn Matthias, and 6-2 Quinton Howden. They’ve also signed recently drafted 6-3 center Sasha Barkov to a three-year entry level contract. The second overall pick in this year’s draft is loaded with talent and the Panthers hope that he can quickly become an impact player.

Another young star that the Panthers are quite high on is 5-10 center Vince Trocheck, who was player of the year in the Ontario Hockey League, producing 50 goals and 59 assists with a plus-49 rating in 63 games split between Saginaw and Plymouth.

FEEL GOOD STAT
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– Jonathan Huberdeau tied for the rookie lead in points, and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year. The left wing, who was the third player drafted in 2011, played in all 48 games for Florida and ranked second on the team and tied for first among NHL rookies in points. His 14 goals were third among rookies, and his average ice time of 16:55 led all first-year forwards. He was also the first player in team history and the only one in the NHL last season to score on two penalty shots, and he set a team record for points by a teenager, breaking the mark of 27 set by Radek Dvorak in 1995-96.

TROUBLING STAT
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– The Panthers surrendered the most first-period goals in the league last season, eight more than Colorado, who allowed the second most in the NHL. Florida led after one period just 11 times and posted a 3-22-3 record when trailing after the first 20 minutes. The Panthers also had the dubious distinction of giving up a league-high 58 second-period goals. All combined, the 256 total goals allowed led to the Panthers producing a 3.54 goals-against average, which set a new single-season franchise low.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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