The Panthers were the overall winners in the game of musical chairs for forward Mike Hoffman, as he was added to a capable offensive club as it is, and adding a potential 30-goal scorer to this team should certainly help their chances at one of those wild card spots or better.
The core group of players for this team, along with a couple of veteran goalkeepers, should make for a really good place to pick up some hockey pool points, if everything goes according to plan. This team on paper does seem to have a lot of those good tools in place, but they will have to rely on the collective, according to the projections I have for them below. They do have players that could develop into that elite talent of 90 points or more, but I'm not sure I would be willing to gamble on them to do so this season.
I like what the Panthers have going into this season and I like them more as a bargain team, since their popularity level may not be as high as their division rivals in Tampa or Toronto. They could be sneaky good this year.
Table last updated on August 10th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
It's got to be the new guy here, right? The Panthers adding Mike Hoffman has to be considered quite the coup, as he fit snugly into this roster and the team still has some wiggle room to improve with some salary cap space as well.
It will definitely be interesting to see where Hoffman slots into this lineup, but you can be assured that it will be in the top six somewhere. There are plenty of play-making options for his finishing talents, which makes him an intriguing option in the first few rounds of the draft.
First Round Picks
This could be the year that the Florida Panthers see one of their most talented forwards make the leap into the upper echelon of the scoring rankings, but if it isn't, it will be damn close. The top four guys on the list could possibly run a pretty good race to see who finishes atop the team scoring standings and that would be a fun race to watch all season long. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, along with the newcomer Hoffman, could make for a couple devastating pairs, so stay tuned.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
Last summer, Evgenii Dadonov came over from the KHL with some high hopes and expectations and for the most part, he didn't disappoint. A solid 65-point season, which he could certainly replicate this coming year, making him more than pool worthy at the draft. The other notable forward on my list this year, Nick Bjugstad, the power forward. He was finally healthy last year and it paid off, so we're hoping for much of the same from him.
Other Pool Worthy Defensemen
The Panthers have a solid trio of scorers on the blueline as well, Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson. Yandle really put on a good year in 2018, while Ekblad continues to grow into his role as a cornerstone player for the franchise and Matheson will start his third year with the club, possibly in line for a good breakout season.
It will be year number three for the tandem of James Reimer and Roberto Luongo and it was hard to pick one over the other for big minutes, as neither has really seen those big minutes in their first two seasons as the tandem. The split, when healthy, has leaned towards Luongo, but his health tips the scales back in Reimer's favour. I think the Panthers can be quite good this year and they do have two capable guys that could do the job, but I still see it as a split right now.
Team to Pick From Late?
I can see the Panthers as a team that could really do some damage on the scoresheet this year, which makes them a good candidate for finding some sleepers, either in the draft or later on when the player swaps happen. Jared McCann is inching closer to a pool worthy spot, while a few of the lesser known European names, Henrik Borgstrom, Maxim Mamin or Henrik Haapala could jump up and surprise some.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Panthers don't have much in the way of outstanding free agents to look after, not in terms of the hockey pool, anyways. Their team is looking financially solid, still with $4 million of cap space below the ceiling. A strong season could mean that they could be big buyers at the trade deadline with that kind of cash lying around.
The latest check on the Panthers is that they are looking fairly healthy and ready to go. No lingering reports out there about tired or aged bodies there.