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!
The 2015 NHL entry draft is just days away, and the Florida Panthers have the privilege of playing host to one of the most anticipated drafts since Sidney Crosby was selected first overall by Pittsburgh in 2005. Another superstar is about to emerge, with center Connor McDavid being touted as the obvious first choice by the Edmonton Oilers. Of course, as most people know, there is a lot more to the draft than just young men realizing their lifelong dream. The following is everything fans need to know to prepare themselves for the festivities that will take place on Friday and Saturday.
The Top 30
First, let’s talk about the prospects. McDavid is already a household name, but what about the other 29 prospects that could hear their names called in the first round? Here is the complete list of the top 30 North American skaters available:
To see the full list of skaters and goaltenders from North America and Europe, click here.
Round 1 Draft Order
One of the most exciting parts of any draft day are the trades. Every year at least one team pulls the trigger on a blockbuster deal in hopes to improve their team. Last year it was Anaheim who bolstered their lineup on draft day by acquiring Ryan Kesler from Vancouver. His contributions helped his new team reach the Western Conference finals before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fast forward to this weekend’s draft and there are plenty of big names available for the taking. The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to unload their two biggest stars, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, while the Chicago Blackhawks need to shed salary, and they may look to do so by trading Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell. Other names being mentioned in trade talks include Cam Talbot (NYR), Milan Lucic (BOS), and Eric Staal (CAR). TSN has compiled an entire list of players that are rumored to be up for grabs this weekend, which can be seen here.
Schedule of Events
Finally, the Florida Panthers are doing their best to provide a fantastic weekend for everyone attending the 2015 NHL entry draft. From autograph signings to trading card shows there will be something for everyone on Friday and Saturday. For the entire schedule of events just look below.
For any other questions about the draft fans can refer to draft central, a web portal created by the Florida Panthers. Round one of the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft takes place this Friday, June 26th, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL.
Today the National Hockey League announced finalists for the 2015 Calder Memorial trophy. Among the three individuals chosen is Florida Panthers rookie Aaron Ekblad. The 19 year old defenseman recorded 39 points for Florida during his first NHL season.
Ekblad will face some stiff competition for the award. Also nominated are forwards Johnny Gaudreau from the Calgary Flames and Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. Gaudreau and Stone tied for the lead in rookie scoring with 64 points.
The 2015 NHL Awards show will take place on Wednesday, June 24th, live from the MGM Grand Garden arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
That’s a wrap!
Not bad, boys. The 2014-2015 regular season has officially drawn to a close for the Florida Panthers, and unfortunately it will not involve them chasing Lord Stanley’s chalice. While you are not alone if you are disappointed by the fact that the Panthers will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 13th time since the century’s turn, you cannot help but be optimistic about what they will do next year. While the phrase “there’s always next year” has been used ad-nauseam in the better part of the last decade, even detractors are forced to admit that this team is on the cusp of something big. Florida’s 91 point campaign was not only a 25 point leap over last year’s dismal 66 point effort, (or a 38% increase in point output if you want to get technical) it was the biggest improvement by any team this season. Period. There is a lot of work to be done, but the Panthers are in great shape heading into the offseason.
Consistency is key
Florida general manager Dale Tallon addressed several needs last season starting with the acquisition of Roberto Luongo at last year’s trade deadline, and capping things off by adding a cornerstone on defense in budding star, and Calder Trophy hopeful Aaron Ekblad. He added a key cog in the machine in Jaromir Jagr, who defied expectations and father time himself in his 20 game appearance at the tail end of the season, but in spite of all this one need stood unfulfilled: consistent offense. I’m not lobbying for a blockbuster for a superstar like Stamkos, Ovechkin, Crosby etc. Though the Panthers have not had an electrifying presence on the ice since the days of the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure himself, the answer to their scoring conundrum might not lie in putting all of their eggs into one basket. At the risk of sounding like an armchair gm, I do believe that the team lacks a strong scoring presence on the wing, a void which they are rumored to be looking to fill this summer. Jaromir Jagr, as previously mentioned, was worth his weight in gold in the 20 games he played since being picked up just days before the trade deadline. As stoked as I am to see him in a Panther jersey again next season after signing a one-year contract earlier this week, one can only defy time for so long. At 43 going on 44, whether he can sustain the pace he set over a 20 game span for a full 82 remains to be seen. The real question lies in whether young forwards like Brandon Pirri (22 goals in 49 games) Nick Bjugstad (24 goals in 72 games) Jimmy Hayes (19 goals in 72 games) can add to this year’s totals. If they can each increase their output to 30 or more goals, Florida will not want for a 50-goal superstar.
The Florida Panthers had some defining moments this season as a team. Most nights it took everyone pulling on the rope to get them over the hump, but sometimes one player stood alone as the difference maker. It was difficult to pick one MVP, so here’s a list of my three stars of the season, starting with star number three:
Jaromir Jagr: 20GP 6G-12A—18P +/-: +7
Man. Myth. Legend. One can only wonder what Jaromir Jagr could have brought to the table had he been acquired sooner. His impact both on and off the ice was evident from the moment he landed in south Florida. Through 20 games, he posted a +/- of +7 and contributed nearly a point per game. His incendiary chemistry with and continued tutelage of young and impressionable line mates Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov proved invaluable as both found their game in the latter half of the season. At 43 years-young, he will likely see a dip in production over the course of a grueling 82 game season, but should be no less effective off the ice.
Aaron Ekblad: 81GP 12G-27A—39P +/-: +12
Florida has drafted some solid players in its past few entry drafts, but few have entered a season with such high expectations placed upon them as rookie defender Aaron Ekblad. As the number one overall pick in last summer’s draft, he was expected to not only be a key piece of the team’s defense, but step in and make an immediate impact as an 18 year-old in arguably the hardest position to play in the NHL: defense. Aaron Ekblad shattered everyone’s expectations, along with a few franchise records for a rookie defenseman. His goals, assists, and points all stand as the new mark to beat for a rookie defenseman, and his games played and plus-minus rating were not too far behind. His two-way game grew with every shift, and he was rewarded for it; his 21:48 average ice team was second on the team. So long as number 5 is manning the blueline, Florida’s defense has a bright future ahead of it.
Roberto Luongo: 61GP 28W-19L-12OTL 2.35 GAA .921 SV% 2 SO
Defense wins championships. That defense begins and ends in net, and Roberto Luongo is about as solid as you can get between the pipes. Much like Jaromir Jagr, Luongo’s impact was immediately felt when he was (re?) acquired from the Vancouver Canucks at last year’s trade deadline. A full season with Luongo back in net proved just how valuable he is to the Florida Panthers. He gave the team a chance to win almost every night he was in net, and was one of the main reasons Florida was part of the playoff conversation for 79 games. While third stringer Dan Ellis filled in admirably when both Luongo and back-up Al Montoya went down to freak injuries during a March 3rd matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, you just can’t replace Bobby Lu. As the defense in front of him continues to grow stronger, he will only look better and better. Here’s to hoping when he hoists the Cup above his head, that he’s doing it in a Panther uniform.
The Road Ahead
Though the offseason is officially underway for all but a lucky 16 teams, we haven’t reached the dog days of summer just yet. The NHL draft lottery (aka the McDavid Derby) is just days away and is set to take place this Saturday at 8:00pm est. Florida, being a non-playoff team, is a longshot with a scant 3% chance of obtaining the top pick and getting a crack at one of two uber prospects in OHL phenom Connor McDavid or NCAA standout Jack Eichel. Can Florida go two for two? The hockey gods may just show them favor. I know I’ll be watching. I hope you all enjoyed the season as much as I did. Here’s to next year. Thanks for reading!
The Florida Panthers had a rough 2013-2014 campaign, finishing second to last with 66 points. While losing is never fun, and greatly frowned upon, the reward Florida received for their bad season was well worth it. The Panthers won the draft lottery, giving them the first overall pick in the draft. General manager Dale Tallon kept the selection and drafted defenseman Arron Ekblad, and the rest is history. The soon to be named Calder trophy finalist has been outstanding, and his offensive production is a big reason for Florida’s major improvement this year. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for Ekblad that was on November 1st, 2014.
#3 – Ekblad’s First NHL Goal
Instead of writing a long detailed post about Aaron Ekblad’s first goal in the National Hockey League why not let Panthers play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein do what he does best. The important detail to know about the goal is that not only was it Ekblad’s first career goal, but it was also a game winning goal for the Cats against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Photo Credit: USA Today, TheScore.com
Video Credit: NHL Youtube