Florida Panthers: Is Derek MacKenzie Holding Back Prospects?

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 20: Owen Tippett
SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 20: Owen Tippett /

The Florida Panthers’ fourth line is total wear and tear, a line only put out to play more physical hockey, while going after their opposition.

As someone who is a loyal follower of the team, each player that goes out and represents South Florida and represents my hockey team is deserving of my respect, but what has Micheal Haley done to deserve a two-year deal? Haley has more fights (18) this season than double his point tally (7) and some more, albeit Haley is put on this hockey team to be aggressive, not be Aleksander Barkov and win NHL 3rd star of the week.

Haley, however, isn’t the first guy brought in by the Panthers to play the enforcer role. Shawn Thornton, who now works for the Panthers in Business Operations, had a consistent roster spot from 2014-2016, combining for 14 points in 3 seasons. Again, Thornton was brought in to play enforcer and can’t be discredited for this.

Players like Peter Worrell and Paul Laus played when the enforcer roles were common on every team, but nowadays, this isn’t the case. Use the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins as an example. They don’t have any players that would classify as enforcers. Ryan Reaves was the closest thing to an enforcer on the Penguins, and he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Derek Brassard deal.

So why do the Florida Panthers, a team that can finally be classified as a playoff contender after their 6-0 home stand and are within a couple of points of the wild card with three games in hand, still accompany players like Thornton and Haley in this day and age? The 4th line is a total outlier, it plays with no pace and skill whatsoever. The missing link to this is the line mate of both enforcers, Derek MacKenzie.

Derek MacKenzie is the two-time captain of the Florida Panthers, rewarded the C for his leadership and locker room presence. MacKenzie has averaged 13 points per season as a Panther, not very thrilling numbers, and not exactly a true leader. Sure, Mackenzie is vocal and will stand up for his teammates, but Vincent Trocheck does the same thing with bundles of talent more than MacKenzie.

As a captain, MacKenzie is an everyday player for the Cats, and due to lines needing to have chemistry, has Haley and Colton Sceviour next to him complement his brutality and force? That’s great and all, but what does it mean for the players working below the Panthers?

The Panthers’ prospect pool isn’t anywhere near the NHL’s elite; however there are some individuals that have impressed this season in their respective leagues:

This isn’t a one time affair either. Owen Tippett, the team’s first round draft pick in 2017 might not have been ready then, but is certainly ready now. He’s above a point-per-game average with 33 goals on the year, showing the deadliest shot that enticed enough teams to allow him to be a top ten draft pick at 18 years of age.

Adam Mascherin, a second round pick 2016, has completely exceeded expectations, with 261 points in three seasons (not including playoffs) and is 7th in the OHL in scoring at just 19. Those two could easily turn the 4th line from a grinder line into an agile, deadly pace line to fit the rest of the team’s theme.

Not just those two shown above, but there are plenty of prospects down the line which haven’t been given much of a chance either. Henrik Borgstrom, the club’s first round pick last season, is yet to play his first game as a Panther attending the University of Denver.

At 20, he already encompassed last season’s point tally in four fewer games and has one of the quickest releases in the NCAA. Jayce Hawryluk would fit the 4th line theme at the moment. The 22 year-old isn’t known for his playmaking but uses his speed to win pucks up and down the ice.

Finally, a Finnish prodigy like Barkov and possibly Borgstrom, even born in the same Finnish city as Barkov, Aleksi Heponiemi is averaging over two points per game for the WHL’s Swift Coast Broncos, which is among the league’s best. These kinds of players can easily crack the team over players like Haley and MacKenzie with their playmaking skills, vision and quickness.

Next: How they’ve gone from the draft lottery to the verge of the playoffs

Despite their talents, chemistry on each and every line is crucial to a team’s success. Placing Heponiemi and Tippett next to a slower, older and more defensive center will limit their talents. However, as captain, Derek MacKenzie will always be one of the first names in the lineup, but how healthy is that for a team that is so fast and young?