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Mixing and Matching on the Blue Line

Who will Kulikov pair with on the back end? Abelimages/Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, the Florida Panthers will go into training camp with some serious depth on the blue line.  Over the summer, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, and Nolan Yonkman were all brought in to shore up the Panthers’ defense.  Now, though, the defense looks glutted with NHL-quality talent.

Combining the free agent signings, last year’s previous players, and the up-and-comers from draft picks creates a serious stalemate among all defensemen.  It’s a good problem to have too much depth in a position and to not know who to start, but some controversial decisions will have to be made to field an NHL defense.

Of course, certain players will be given the benefit of the doubt during training camp.  Others will have to earn one of the six spots on the blue line.

Campbell, Jovanovski, and Dmitry Kulivov should be safe to start this year in the NHL.  Tallon is shelling out a lot of money to Soupy and Jovo Cop, so they should be up all year if possible.  Kulikov is arguably our best defenseman on the roster going into this year.  In my opinion, reports of a sophmore slump were overblown.  He should be good to go in year three.

The Panthers seem to want to give Erik Gudbranson an NHL job this year.  He appears ready, so his name will most likely be penciled in to one of the slots.  The smart money has him paired with Jovanovski: the Panthers would love for Gudbranson to develop into that type of player.  He could learn a thing or two from the wily veteran.

Mike Weaver, Jason Garrison, and Keaton Ellerby appear to be on the bubble.  Their performances last year were good, especially Weaver’s, but their spot is not guaranteed for this year.  Of the three, Ellerby seems the least likely to make the roster.  Garrison and Weaver were a great tandem at the end of last year, so they should be able to take the third line roles.

Nolan Yonkman appears to be the one remaining player who could reasonably make the roster, but it would take a helluva training camp to even get him on the third line.  I predict he will be a healthy scratch most of the year, and be activated to serve as our enforcer for chippy games.

Other youngsters like Alex Petrovic will get a look at rookie camp and maybe training camp, but their is no reasonable shot of them sneaking onto the roster.  Next year, they’ll get a more serious look.

So, when you watch rookie camp this weekend, don’t expect anyone from the farm system other than Gudbranson to be added on to the NHL roster.  The depth of defensemen this year assures us that.

So there’s my two cents on the matter.  In case you missed it and want a little more detail about the players at rookie camp, read David Lasseter’s post on the subject.

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