In a transitional season for the Florida Panthers, a lot was riding on how Evgeni Dadonov would contribute. Needless to say, he didn’t disappoint in his NHL return.
The summer of 2017 was one of the most tumultuous off-season’s in the short history of the Florida Panthers’ franchise. The team decided to part ways with important pieces such as Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. Jagr and Jokinen had provided veteran leadership to the Panthers for years, while Marchessault and Smith were reliable goal-scorers.
In fact, those four departing players accounted for 72 of Florida’s goals in the 2016-2017 season. The Panthers brought in Micheal Haley to help with experience, Radim Vrbata to help with scoring, and were counting on their younger players to take on a larger role with the team.
That’s where Evgeni Dadonov came in to play. Perhaps the biggest splash of Florida’s season, Dadonov was a combination of leadership and numbers. He also had a lot of questions to answer, having not played in the NHL for years. Dadonov was drafted by the Panthers in the 3rd round with the 71st overall pick back in 2007.
At the time he was playing in his native Russia, Dadonov received his first chance at North American hockey in 2009-2010, playing 4 games with the Panthers and the rest of the year with the AHL Rochester Americans. Evgeni split time between the Panthers and the AHL for the next two years, but was never able to stay in Sunrise for a full season.
In 2012, Dadonov returned to Russia and refined his craft for five years in the KHL. His numbers steadily increased each year until he tallied 66 points (30 goals and 36 assists) in only 53 games in 2016-17 with St. Petersburg SKA.
The Panthers had watched Dadonov improve each year in the KHL and saw an opportunity. They needed a forward to play on the first line and help create scoring chances with Aleksander Barkov. They also wanted a player with some experience for young players like Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom to learn from.
Dadonov has years of experience as a professional hockey player, including his brief stint as a Florida Panther. He also was available at a relatively inexpensive price for a first line forward. Had someone with his talent and numbers played in the NHL his whole career, he more often than not would’ve commanded an expensive contract. But, in Florida’s favor, the Cats signed him for $12 million over three years.
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The question that remained over Dadonov’s head was whether his success would translate over to the NHL. He had drastically improved during his time in the KHL, but he had also aged. The NHL had changed a lot since 2011-12, which was Evgeni’s last year with the Panthers. None of his teammates from that year were in Sunrise when he returned, and few were still in the league. The Panthers and Evgeni Dadonov both had a lot riding on the hope that he would quickly adjust to life in the NHL and make a difference on the first line.
Quickly adjust is exactly what Dadonov did! He got his first point of the season in his first game back, and picked up his first goal the next night. After playing 11 games in the month of October, he racked up 14 points.
Dadonov’s best game came on February 24th when the Panthers hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead, a 5-3 lead, and scored the game winning goal with two minutes remaining in the game. His first career NHL hat trick lifted Florida to a thrilling 6-5 victory.
In closing, Evgeni Dadonov’s return to the Panthers was a success. He stewarded his first line position very well, tallying 28 goals and 37 assists (65 points) in 74 games. He built good chemistry with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, as that connection was at its best for Florida’s playoff chase.
With his offensive production and veteran savvy, signing Evgeni Dadonov was likely the best move Florida’s front office made in the off-season.