Florida Panthers defense might be the NHL’s most dangerous

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 18: Aaron Ekblad. Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 18: Aaron Ekblad. Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) /

There are at least two requirements to building a successful hockey team that General Manager Dale Tallon and incoming Head Coach Bob Boughner agree on;  Strength up the middle and on defense.

The Florida Panthers are now poised to ice the most offensively productive defense in the NHL next season. Last summer, the Panthers, with Tom Rowe at the forefront, made some serious waves through the league with a substantial overhaul on defense: Seeing the departures of Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson.

While Jared McCann’s effectiveness at the NHL-level remains to be seen (considering he, plus a draft pick, cost the team a future captain), Mark Pysyk proved to be a strong return for an unproductive and over-valued Kulikov.

The value placed on Psysk’s reliability has been no secret in the organization. Tallon protected the 25-year-old defenseman in the expansion draft before inking him to a three-year deal.

The quality of the Panthers’ defensive core is apparent in their bottom pairing — presumably, Psysk paired with friend and physically imposing (to everyone but Evander Kane) Alex Petrovic.

The two blue-liners both boasted Corsi-For percentages (CF%) above 50 percent while putting up respectable point totals (17 for Psysk and 14 for Petrovic).

With the defense’s bottom pairing solidified well enough to shut down opposing top lines, the Panthers top two pairings will be expected to contribute significantly to the team’s offensive production. It’s time for Aaron Ekblad to lead this team.

Rumors swirled that a neck injury in last year’s World Cup of Hockey might have plagued Ekblad’s lackluster season (that still saw him pot 10 goals).

Additionally, Ekblad opened up about his mental struggles for fear of taking another gruesome hit, but it seems a horrendous shooting percentage might have played a big role in last year’s ineffectiveness, as well.

In 68 games played, Ekblad fired 225 shots on net (second only to Vincent Trochek’s 230, who played the full season). That led to a dreadful 4.4 shooting percentage.

Head coaches Gerard Gallant and Rowe paired just about everyone they could with Ekblad, but nothing seemed to work. At one point, Rowe resorted to putting Jakub Kindl alongside the Calder Trophy winner. Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse.

This year, the Panthers will look to the 7.5 million dollar man to either succeed alongside Michael Matheson or Keith Yandle.

A top four consisting of Ekblad, Matheson, Yandle, and Jason Demers should bring consistent offensive production — and in theory, be capable of moving the puck quickly out of the zone, up-ice for scoring chances with a speedy forward group.

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Another team that chose to protect a promising defensive core over productive wingers is the Nashville Predators. Boasting names like Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Mattias Ekholm, the Predators more mature defense group — and their ensuing success — might be a positive indicator for Panthers fans.

Just like last season, the expectations for the Panthers’ defensive core will be lofty, because fans can see the talent the team has hoarded up on the back-end.

The argument has been made to move Jason Demers, but thankfully, he axed that plan by exercising his no trade clause.

And while the good-humored defenseman serves as a convenient 5.5 million dollar scapegoat to get a beloved memory back from Vancouver, the Panthers will undoubtedly benefit from a consecutive year of continuity.

The biggest drawback visible in Panthers games last season was confusion and lack of communication between the defensive group. One more year playing beside each other will only make them closer and more effective.

In addition to the starters, having young, promising prospects like Ian McCoshen and Mackenzie Weegar eager to step up when the inevitable injury bug hits the locker room is a comfortable situation to be in.

If they can succeed in moving the puck out of their zone and start racking up the assists, look for the Florida Panthers defense to be one of the most offensively potent defensive groups in the NHL next season.