The success of the Florida Panthers this season will be dependent on a number of things. Consistency, hustle, and a never give up attitude. After only playing two games it’s obvious that we still have some work to do, but with 80 games left to play hitting our stride shouldn’t take very long. We aren’t blessed however with a 40 goal scorer, or a top center that’s a playmaking machine, but we do have a group of players that if they click on all cylinders, have the ability to get us where we need to be.
In looking at the roster as it stands today, everyone has to do their part, however I personally hand picked five players that need to rise above the others and exceed expectations. We know the talent of Brian Campbell, and Steeger and what they bring. Some people though worry about the consistency of Jose Theodore, while others are concerned about the amount of games that Jovo Cop plays. All these concerns are certainly valid, but these five players will play a definitive role in the success or failure of Florida’s season:
Sean Bergenheim: A former first round draft pick of the New York Islanders in 2002 (22nd overall) Bergenheim has “bounced” around a bit if you will, and hasn’t had what you would even call marginal success in the NHL. Last season he put up 29 points on 14 goals and 15 assists, but it was his playoff performance where he scored nine goals in 16 games that caught everyone’s eye. Bergenheim who
played very well for me in NHL 2k 2006 even spent time in Europe between his stints with the Islanders, needs to show improvement on his totals from last season. As it appears now, his role is on the third line, however his production must in the 45-5o point range or higher for the salary and commitment that Dale Tallon awarded him with to match.
Mike Santorelli: Last season was Mike’s first full NHL campaign after assistant GM Mike Santos grabbed him from the Nashville Predators. In what was a sleeper of a deal, Santorelli was more than just a pleasant surprise, he actually exceeded expectations. His performance of 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points after settling in as a second line center, made the young forward a fan favourite. Currently out with a shoulder injury, Santorelli is one of the keys to the Panthers success this season and is needed on the second line. I would look for Mike to hit 55 points this year with relative ease just because of the talent around him. If he does that, it will be a solid season for him.
Shawn Matthias: Maybe a bit of an unusual choice here, but we have all been waiting for something from Shawn. Since being more than a point per game player in the OHL, Matthias who came over form the Red Wings in the Todd Bertuzzi trade has struggled to find his place. We were teased with two goals by Shawn in his first NHL game, and the goals have been far and few between since then. If he’s not going to be a scorer, fine, then he’ll have to be a checking and grinding defensive forward. Either way, this is a very important year for him and whether he sees time on the third or fourth line, we need him to be productive. The days of waiting for players like Pierre Dagenais and Eric Beaudoin to produce are long gone. Shawn has to break out. Now.
Jose Theodore: You all know where I stand on this. I think very highly of Jose, and have been pleased with his regular season performance so far. While that’s not a benchmark for the year, Jose has a lot to prove. To himself and to some of you. The wrap against him is consistency and I get that. He’s played some very good hockey, and he’s played some very below average hockey at times. Don’t expect him to be Tomas Vokoun or Roberto 7uongo. He’s Jose Theodore, a very good NHL goaltender who has the ability to win between 28 to 32 games this year if he gets 55 starts. Once our defence settles down, and the communication is worked out, you’ll see how good he is. But make no mistake, he was brought here to carry the load, and he can.
Stephen Weiss: I don’t know if Weiss will ever “break out”, but he must get back to the 60 point plus range for this team to be in the playoff race. With Flash and Steeger as his linemates so far, it should be an easy task for him to achieve. Staying away from nagging little injuries will be one of the most watched things about him. He has to be 100% healthy all year, and he has to play the best hockey of his life. Why so much pressure and why so much expected? He’s our number one center, he has to play like one. For 82 games. This year!
So Panther fans, who’s your five?
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