Where does the time go? It’s hard to believe that October is already well underway, and with it, the beginning of hockey season. Florida is set to embark on the 2015-2016 season with its home (and season) opener against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at 7:00 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. But before the puck drops, and the season officially begins, here are a few key things to keep in mind:
Ekblad the X Factor
Aaron Eklbad’s franchise record breaking season was one for the ages. He broke nearly every offensive statistical category for a Panthers’ rookie defenseman, and was near the team lead in time on ice per game night in and night out. To the surprise of some, he beat out fellow rookie standouts Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators for the title of Rookie of the Year, bringing home the Calder Trophy at this past summer’s annual NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas. This of course does not come without a cache-22 however, as the dreaded phrase “sophomore slump” is bound to be on the lips of hockey analysts everywhere in the early goings of this season. Many rookie stars fall prey to complacency in their second season, and Ekblad is by no means immune. If the Panthers are going to have a successful season and find themselves competing for the Stanley Cup this season ,number 5 will not only need to avoid the pitfalls of many of his predecessors, he will need to continue to build on the stellar effort he put forth last season.
Out with the Old
Although Florida GM Dale Tallon has kept a strong veteran presence on his roster with the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, and Roberto Luongo, it is clear that youth is the name of the game in south Florida. Gone are the likes of veterans Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, and Thomas Fleischmann. In their stead, fans will likely see a number of young hopefuls, who are being given a chance to prove themselves worthy of a full-time roster spot. Florida’s official opening day roster includes the likes of Rocco Grimaldi, Vincent Trocheck, Quinton Howden, and Connor Brickley. With so many players competing for only a few spots, these kids should come out swinging. Hopefully, they find chemistry with their fellow line mates early on and bring the fans some fast-paced and exciting hockey.
4 is better than 3
The powerplay was a sore spot for Florida last season. Although its powerplay did finish 24th overall in the league, Florida started to find its way in the latter half of the season. Following the all-star break, the Panthers switched from a 3 forward, 2 defensemen setup, to 4 forwards and one lone defender. The results were immediate. Although a 24th place finish doesn’t seem like much, the Panthers found themselves in dead last in powerplay efficiency prior to the switch, so a six spot jump in a short amount of time is worth noting. The question remains whether or not they will continue with the 4-1 setup, and if a full season of it will pay dividends.
The Road Ahead
The Florida Panthers will play game 1 of 82 in just a few short hours. Every season seems to start with renewed optimism, only to end in bittersweet disappointment. Hopefully, the success, and chemistry that the team found in the latter half of last season will push them over the hump, and back into the playoffs. Strap yourself in, because it should be an exciting year of Panthers hockey. Let’s go Cats!