Now is going to have to be the time for their top potential talent to really step up and be the players that they have been projected to be and then we might have them in better conversations at the end of the season. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad are now the four that need to carry this team on their shoulders and do all the heavy lifting. Sure, they have some quality help on the back end, but the blueline isn't going to be counted upon to score most of the goals.
The Panthers added and subtracted veteran talent in the off-season, replacing Jaromir Jagr with a much younger Radim Vrbata, which seems like a bit of a wash, except for Jagr's experience and character not being around the team anymore.
How much does Roberto Luongo still have left in the tank at 38 years old and will James Reimer be ready for that number one role, if he's not?
I think a good number of us all felt that the Panthers were just about to turn the corner, only a couple of years ago and now with injury setbacks and some management directional concerns, the Panthers have almost seemingly gone backwards again, still looking for footing for that next big push.
Table last updated on August 11th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
Is this finally going to be the season where we're going to see Jonathan Huberdeau finally break out and be the guy that the Panthers wanted, when they drafted him 3rd overall in 2011?
It was an injury plagued 2017 season, which limited his action to only 31 games, but in those games, he was still able to post 26 points, so there is certainly a move in the right direction. The trick will be to start stringing healthy seasons together and that will help build on his totals.
Maybe more interesting to watch in Florida will be how the seriously top heavy lineup gets distributed in their lines, especially with Huberdeau, as he spent a lot of time with the now departed Jaromir Jagr last season. If Huberdeau is going to break out, he'll probably have someone new riding shotgun for his game.
First Round Picks
Currently, I don't have the Panthers as having an opening round pick in this year's pool draft and I don't think there is anyone to really rush out and get. Huberdeau could very well be a 2nd or 3rd round pick, if he ends up being the top pick for the team. If he can get his act together, he could make himself into a bargain pick, worthy of a 1st rounder, if we redid the draft at the end of the year.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
There are quite a few new faces in the projected roster, which makes some of the projections a little harder to judge at the start of the summer. Still, there are a few names worth concentrating on, like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Radim Vrbata and Evgeny Dadonov. Dadonov, a Panthers draft pick back in 2007, has spent the last few years in Russia and now 28 years old, he'll bring some more experience to the table and he could be a better sleeper than just 35 points.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
The Panthers certainly have a strong leg to stand on, when it comes to their blueline, as they are one of the few teams that will boast a full compliment of six pool worthy defenders. Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, Michael Matheson, Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk should all be consistently hitting the scoresheet, if these projections are any indication. This core group is still growing and still has some room to improve and they will.
The Panthers will be going with the same duo as they did last year, with Roberto Luongo and James Reimer occupying the crease. The 38-year old Luongo still has some fight left in his game, but it's only a matter of time before Reimer starts taking a better portion of the reps, one way or another. If I had to pick from the two to start the season, I would say Reimer is the better bet to appear in more games.
Team To Pick From Late?
All of those new names on the list are real sleepers and I somehow, I don't think anyone is going to wake up to these picks, teams will likely hit the snooze button over the Panthers' depth, waiting until the puck drops and the mid-season swaps come around. One name that didn't quite make the cut on my projections, who does have a good chance of making it in, when it is all said and done, is Nick Bjugstad, but his last two seasons have been mired in injury and it's hard to project against that.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Panthers finished up all of their restricted free agents relatively early in the summer and they have been standing pat ever since. Their projected roster could have been one of the hardest ones to put together, with so many new names on it, one would have to think that there is a lot more play in it, when training camp rolls around. Nevertheless, the Panthers have opened up a lot more cap space and flexibility, currently working with $6.5 million in unused space today.
A key back injury to Aleksander Barkov ended his 2017 campaign prematurely, but the scoring forward was able to avoid any surgical procedures in the off-season and he should be ready for training camp next month. Aaron Ekblad finished the season on the shelf as well, as he had some serious concussion issues at the end of the year, not to mention some neck problems at the same time. Keep a close eye on this, as this injury can resurface easily. Finally, Roberto Luongo also couldn't finish the 2017 season, thanks to a nagging lower-body injury, but it sounds like he avoided surgery as well and is looking forward to the coming year. Be weary here.