When the Florida Panthers took on the San Jose Sharks last night, they could very well be looking into the mirror of tomorrow.
The Sharks have a power house of centers, and others that have the ability to man the pivot, not unlike the young Panthers team.
While Joe Thornton was acquired via trade, the rest have of the team’s centers were added through the draft.
Patrick Marleau - 1997 2nd overall pick
Despite riding shotgun along with Thornton since he arrived in San Jose, Marleau has the skill to stand on his own. Thornton and Marleau went first and second overall in the ’97 draft, and with new contract extensions they signed during the season they will end their careers together together.
Mostly playing on the wing, Marleau has the defensive awareness to play the pivot and is no stranger to taking faceoffs – averaging 409-draws a year the past five seasons (one year he had 150-due to the shortened season).
Joe Thornton – 1997 1st overall pick
Thornton was the only player taken ahead of Marleau in their draft year, and has lived up to his billing as a first overall pick. One of the game’s best big forwards, he is a magician with the puck – remaining at the top of the assist leaderboards year in and year out.
Over his last five full seasons, Thornton has nearly 300-helpers (297) – an average of 59 per season. Despite him taking a backseat to the team’s young guns, Thornton is just as important as ever to the team’s success.
Joe Pavelski – 2003 205th overall (seventh round) pick
Pavelski is enjoying a breakout season, being among the league leaders in goals and points – while leading the team in both. Originally taking the role as the team’s shutdown center, Pavelski has seen his offensive game explode, already surpassing his career highs in goals, assists and points.
Logan Couture – 2007 9th overall pick
Had he not missed time to injury, it is likely Couture leading the team in points and don’t be surprised when he lands in the top-five in scoring for the years to come. Couture is one of the most explosive young players in the game, and still has room to grow.
Tommy Wingels – 2008 177th overall (sixth round) pick
Though he isn’t one of the first few names to come to mind when you start reeling off players for San Jose, Wingels has had as much success as any of the top players. Currently fifth on the team in points, Wingels is enjoying a great first full season with the club.
With just 22-points in his first 80-NHL games stretching across three seasons, Wingels already has 36-points in just 64-games this season.
Tomas Hertl – 2012 12th overall pick
Could potentially be the most dynamic player of the bunch, saw early on this season with his performance against the New York Rangers. His great rookie campaign was derailed by a knee injury, but the upside remains.
Now if you look at the Panthers’ roster, you see a familiar build-up at the pivot.
Drew Shore + Brandon Pirri – 2009 2nd round picks
Pirri was added via trade, where-as the rest were drafted by the Panthers (sound familiar?). He started a bit slow, has been on a tear as of late, showing the offensive upside that the Chicago Blackhawks saw when they drafted him in the second round.
We saw that offensive upset last night, as in 17-seconds Pirri made an impact that won the game for the Panthers. Pirri made a move around two defenders and fired a shot that eventually trickled behind goaltender Antti Niemi to tie the game.
Right after the rebound off his shot on net was put in by Quinton Howden to put the Panthers up for good.
Shore is a lot like Wingels as he has offensive upside that may never be needed to be tapped into due to the already deep center position and could settle in a shutdown role on the bottom-six. Shore scored 45-goals in a two-year span at the University of Denver.
Nick Bjugstad – 2010 19th overall pick
Bjugstad has shown the potential to be one of the better power forwards in the game. Not only does he have the brute force and grit due to his size, but he has the skill set of a player smaller than him.
He is starting to look like a steal as a second pivot.
Vincent Trocheck – 2011 164th overall (3rd round) pick
Every winning team needs that scrappy, no fear kind of player that can contribute in both ends while playing with that high energy. Trocheck is that kind of player. Trocheck doesn’t play like a player with his sub-six foot frame.
He won the scoring title his last year playing in the Ontario Hockey League and has shown that the scoring can more than certainly translate to the next level.
Alexsander Barkov – 2013 2nd overall pick
The building block, the player who the Panthers’ brass decided they would build their entire team and future behind. Despite having Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin still available, Florida went with Barkov.
That’s not a slam on Barkov, if he was in any other draft class – he would likely be the hands down first overall pick. Not only with the size of a grown man, he has the experience against them. Before coming to America to play, he was playing in Finland’s top professional league and was among the league’s best.
The Sharks are built to compete due to the best core of centers in the league, as well as a strong defensive core and a goaltender who has won the Stanley Cup.
While Florida are still missing pieces to truly compete you can’t help but look at the crop of young, talented centers that they have collected through the draft and by trade, and think about the future.
It gets you even more excited when you watch them play a team like San Jose who built their team exactly the same way.
Someday another team will have a young crop of centers and this article will be relevant from a different perspective.
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