Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers: Building strong fourth line just as crucial

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When your team gets the first overall pick that means your team didn’t fare well that season as was the case with the Florida Panthers. Highlighting their struggles was their inability to put the puck in the net, especially on the power play.

No team in the history of hockey had a worst power play than the Panthers, who scored fewer goals over a full season than 17-teams did during the lockout shortened season last year.

So obviously when looking ahead to the draft, and free agency the biggest priority should be adding some offensive fire power to skate with the young guns of Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.

But what can’t be forgotten when they begin to build their needs list and free agents they plan to pursue – building a solid fourth ‘energy’ line to combine with the skill they will have a top of their depth chart.

For every Barkov, a team needs players like Jesse Winchester on their fourth line to bring energy and shift the tides of games when it isn’t going their way.

Watch a big goal scored these playoffs, then watch the few shifts before – generally you will see a big hit, or extended shift in the offensive zone where the team cycles the puck, wearing down the opponent.

Your fourth line can bring energy to the game in ways that your top end players usually don’t. They sacrifice their bodies blocking shots, throwing big hits, and diving for pucks to clear the zone. In turn, the skill players use that energy to put goals on the board.

Winchester was a perfect example of that last season. Playing mostly on the fourth line, Winchester brought a combination of skill and physicality that the top lines were not able to provide.

In 56-games, Winchester was still able to post nine goals and over an 82-game stretch that would have equaled 13-goals – a good total for a fourth liner – but still be a physical presence both in the offensive and defensive zone.

Players like Winchester are the silent difference makers that don’t show up on the score sheets as often as others, but when building a team, it is sometimes as crucial to have as an impactful bottom-six as their top-six even if it is in different ways.

In 2009, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth line center who turned the tide and sent them on their way to winning the Stanley Cup (Max Talbot). When the Washington Capitals upsetted the Boston Bruins as an eighth seed, it was the play from their fourth line that gave them the edge.

Even recently, the 2012 Los Angeles Kings had Dwight King and Jordan Nolan play a big part in their success.

See the pattern?

Winchester, along with fellow fourth liner Krys Barch are upcoming unrestricted free agents and General Manager Dale Tallon has at least thrown out the idea of bringing one or both of them back. They have both earned a contract somewhere with their play, but will it be with Florida? Should it be?

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Tags: Florida Panthers Jesse Winchester

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