Florida Panthers Must Avoid Injuries To Succeed


Oct 3, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie (17) celebrates his goal in the first period of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers surprised a few pundits and even a few fans with their 91-point season in 2014-2015.  The season, the expectations are higher from everyone: the fans, the media, the players, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the lawn guys, and everyone in between.  The Florida Panthers are shooting for the playoffs, but they’ll need something close to a full squad to get there.

The Panthers have a good amount of depth on their roster, especially at the forward position.  However, some guys will be crucial in a race for the postseason, and Gerard Gallant can’t have them sitting in the press box.

These guys are Roberto Luongo, Aleksander Barkov, Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad.

Luongo is the only guy the Panthers can trust in net for an extended amount of time.  That might change if Al Montoya breaks out from last season’s slump and asserts himself as a solid backup, but there is no mistake that Luongo is the guy in South Florida.  His 36-year old shoulders will carry the team when he is in the lineup.

Barkov, Jagr, and Huberdeau are simply too dynamic on a line together.  If any of these guys are injured for an extended period, they risk losing their rapport.  Just like when Weiss, Fleischmann, and Versteeg carried the offensive load for the Panthers in 2011-12, Florida will need the same sort of production out of last year’s most explosive line.

Aaron Ekblad proved last year he could do it all for the Florida Panthers, and Gallant will need him to do it all once again.  His shot will be needed from the point.  His puck control will be needed to break out of the defensive zone.  His physicality will be needed on the boards.  His leadership will be needed in the dressing room.  His handsome face will be needed to sell tickets.  Ekblad can’t take a step back in his development or with his health if the Panthers are going to compete.

These aren’t the only players the Panthers would prefer to keep healthy, of course:

Nick Bjugstad underwent back surgery at the end of last season and is now fully recovered.  Nobody else on the team could easily fill into his second-line center spot.

Willie Mitchell is the team’s captain, and it’s easier to lead on the ice and bench than solely from the locker room.

Erik Gudbranson is a defensive monster, and pairing him with Mitchell will hopefully be the shutdown against other top lines.

Even having a guy like Brandon Pirri injured is a blow to the Panthers.  He often sets the tone in the offensive zone with his aggressive shooting and finishing mentality.

Brian Campbell will once again eat minutes from the blue line.  He is still the best quarterback on the power play for the Panthers.

Dmitry Kulikov is really developing as a two-way defenseman; losing him in the lineup would subtract from both sides of the puck.

But injuries happen in hockey, and we can’t expect all these players to lace ’em up in all 82 games.  The depth must shine if it’s called upon.  Quinton Howden and Rocco Grimaldi must produce if given top-six responsibilities.  Dave Bolland will have to pick up his offensive game to prove his contract.  Vincent Trocheck showed flashes of excellence last season, but needs to develop that consistency.  Alex Petrovic has to be ready for action in his seventh-defenseman role.

The obvious point is this: the Florida Panthers have depth and talent.  The injury bug could eat both of those away if the Panthers are unlucky this season, but luck happens to favor those who are prepared.

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