When Will Florida Panthers Youth Be Served?


The Florida Panthers have a unique and enviable problem. On one hand, Dale Tallon put together an entirely new veteran roster last July 1st which resulted in the club’s first Southeast Division championship and its first postseason berth in over a decade. And on the other hand, they possess one of the most highly thought of prospect systems in all of hockey (Hockey’s Future is the latest that say the Panthers are #1 in prospects) that’s waiting in the wings to take over this franchise.

So where’s the problem? Well, the Panthers now have to make the decision of when to part with veterans to make room for the kids. For one prospect, Jonathan Huberdeau, the answer is easy. He was good enough to make the team last season but management decided he needed another year to prepare his body for an 82 game season plus playoffs. With him signing his entry-level contract before returning to the QMJHL, there is no doubt he will be on the active roster on opening night barring injury.

But outside of the completely obvious in Huberdeau, at what point do flip the keys of the T-bird to the kids and say “It’s all yours”? Tallon signed many of the veterans to four-year contracts so one could make the conclusion that he already knows when but, at what point does giving prospects ‘time to develop’ become wasting years where they can contribute on an NHL level? It’s an imperfect stew and, historically, the Panthers have been the ones serving the meal before it’s fully cooked so the problem of having too many players who can contribute at the NHL level is a new one.

Case in point in goaltender Jacob Markstrom. It’s a reasonable assumption that Markstrom would have been a full time NHL netminder last season under previous team general managers. But, instead of possibly rushing the young Swede into an everyday NHL role, Tallon went and signed Jose Theodore to a two year deal to at least give him a full year of American Hockey League time. With Scott Clemmensen’s contract expiring after last season, most figured that would leave Markstrom as Theodore’s backup for the 2012-13 season. But, management has expressed interest in keeping Clemmensen around with Markstrom back in San Antonio for the start of the season. And while, it’s great to have that luxury, you have to wonder is too much time being taken.

And what happens if someone like Quinton Howden or Nick Bjugstad (assuming he signs an entry-level deal before September) outplays one of the veteran forwards in training camp? Will their youth serve against them in the process of putting together a team?

It should be said that Tallon and Assistant GM Mike Santos have earned every benefit of every doubt as they have hit a home run on just about everything they’ve done since arriving in Sunrise. And it’s stands to reason that they might be handling this perfectly. But, as a fan, that is anxious to see the real future of this team (ie, the prospects acquired over the past few drafts) begin to get some NHL experience. While, it’s nice to have a veteran team that had success this past season, the ceiling for many of those players has already been hit and, at some point, taking a gamble on youth is worth the risk considering the possible rewards. The young players are going to need to gain some experience before they are really ready to compete so, for some of them, there’s no time like the present.

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