Florida Panthers: Ideal Line Combinations for the 2018-19 Season

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 12: Jonathan Huberdeau
EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 12: Jonathan Huberdeau /
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The issue that the Florida Panthers face this season is one that is a welcome change. A team that is usually struggling to find depth now has a surplus of it, especially at the forward position.

The top-six forwards are set barring change or injuries. How those six will be organized into two lines is a task of which coaches can only dream.

Even if one player in the top-six gets hurt, there are other players who can easily step in and fill their spot. Additionally, the top three on defense is also pretty clear. So what about the bottom-six and the rest of the defense?

First, let’s list the lines that we saw throughout the majority of the second half of last season (2017-18):

Forwards:

BjudstadBarkovDadonov

Vatrano/Malgin/McGinnTrocheckHuberdeau

Vatrano/Malgin/McGinn-McCannMamin

HaleyMacKenzieSceviour

(*Borgstrom not included – played in 4 games*)

Defense:

YandleEkblad

MathesonPysyk

PetrovicWeegar/McCoshen

Goalies:

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer

Harri Sateri

Now, let’s examine the new additions and rookies who may crack the roster this year. Clearly, the Panthers made roster moves this summer to round out their depth around the roster.

Mike Hoffman

Hoffman is a great addition that adds scoring depth to complete the top-six. The Panthers got him at a sliver of his value (likely in part) due to personal issues in Ottawa.

Hopefully, he can keep his fiancée on the beach and distracted in Florida. Acquiring Hoffman hopefully secures a 25-goal scoring presence to add the cherry on top.

Bogdan Kiselevich

The 28-year-old Russian is the other major outside addition made this offseason. With the Panthers still searching for answers in defensive spots 4-7, Kiselevich should add a much-needed physical aspect to the blue line.

While Kiselevich may not be the biggest player on the ice by any means (6’0”, 207lbs), his physical play should swiftly transition from the KHL to NHL speed.

Although many fans hope that the addition of Kiselevich will prompt HC Boughner to break up that Yandle-Ekblad pairing, it’s unlikely that it happens. However, Bogdan may have a chance to play alongside Michael Matheson giving the Panthers two pairs that should each play between 20 and 22 minutes per game.

Michael Hutchinson

Drafted 77th overall in 2008, the 28-year-old goaltender has spent most of his NHL time as a backup for the Winnipeg Jets. Hutchinson had a fantastic year in the AHL with 26 wins, a 2.08 GAA, and a stellar .935 Save%.

He adds goaltending depth and can fill in if both Luongo and Reimer go down with injuries like they did last season.

Ideal lines For The 2018-2019 Season:

Adding the new additions and upcoming rookies into the mix, the Panthers should have a strong all-around lineup. Here’s the ideal way I’d like to see us start this season:

Forwards:

Huberdeau-Barkov-Dadonov

Hoffman-Trocheck-Bjudgstad

Vatrano-Borgstrom-Tippett/Malgin

Sceviour-McCann-Mamin

Extras: McGinn, Haley, MacKenzie

Defense:

Matheson-Ekblad

Yandle-Kiselevich

Petrovic-Weegar

Extras: Pysyk, McCoshen

Goalies:

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer

Michael Hutchinson

There are a few noticeable changes made throughout the lineup. First, slotting Huberdeau back into his rightful spot on the first line with Barkov and Dadonov is a move that needs to be made purely on sight.

In watching this line play at the beginning of last season, you could see the chemistry and dominance forming. Hoffman should be able to support Trocheck on line #2, so rebalancing the lineup is a move needed to be made, especially with Bjugstad being such a gifted passer.

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Filling out the third line would be Frank ‘the tank’ Vatrano, Henrik Borgstrom, and Owen Tippett.  While Tippett (and Borgstrom for that matter) has yet to prove that he is ready for the full-time transition into the NHL game, I believe that his style of play would fit in well with a playmaker such as Borgstrom and a grinder like Vatrano. Malgin could also slot in very nicely on that line to keep the legs fresh.

Lastly, Maxim Mamin, Jared McCann, and Colton Sceviour fill the mold of a perfect 4th line. Each of them plays with an extreme level of intensity every time they touch the ice. On top of that, these three together would add a true scoring threat from all four lines which is a necessity in today’s NHL.

The big question is whether Boughner is ready to do what is so obvious to everyone in the stands, which is to sit down or cut ties with either or both of Haley and MacKenzie. Unfortunately, I fear the answer is no.

On defense, I’ve broken up the dreadful pairing of Ekblad and Yandle. Hopefully, at this point, Boughner has seen that those two are not a balanced enough 1st defensive pairing, often trading off (although more often the turnover-prone Yandle) who is going to gift wrap a breakaway for the opponent.

I’m hoping that Ekblad will make another stride towards his Calder-winning caliber season next to Mike Matheson who’s been the Panthers’ most consistent and balanced defenseman since joining the team.

On the second pairing, Yandle will play alongside Kiselevich who’ll balance out Yandle’s aggressive offensive play with his stay-at-home defensive style. Hopefully playing with Kiselevich will bring up Yandle’s defensive play to the level necessary to compete on the NHL stage.

The last pairing features Alex Petrovic who’s made strides every year to becoming a staple on the Panthers’ blue line but continuously instills doubt into his supporters with long stretches of unproductive and negative play.

The other side will be a combo of either Mark Pysyk, Ian McCoshen, and MacKenzie Weegar who also split play last year. I’m hoping that one of them will break apart from the other to provide stability at the back, while it’s likely that one of these contracts will be moved during the season.

The Panthers have all the potential as well as the pieces to be a viable Stanly Cup contender this season. The team is deeper than any year in recent memory and short of a goaltending disaster, should be a 110-point team.

The biggest question may be coaching. Coach Boughner overplayed his top lines last year and even if the team had made the playoffs, players like Barkov, Trocheck, and Ekblad were all gassed from playing extreme, heavy minutes.

Finally, Boughner mustn’t replicate his habit last year of playing young players for 4-6 minutes a game or leaving them on the bench, especially with Borgstrom and Tippett in the fold.

If we see lineups littered with McGinn, Haley, and McKenzie again and Barkov, Ekblad, Yandle, and Trocheck all play 24-26 minutes per game, this team will not pass the first round of the playoffs (if they even get there).

Next. Did the Florida Panthers Do Enough During the Offseason?. dark

If Boughner can put aside personal favorites and play the right players and allow the younger players in the organization to develop, there’s a very bright future and season ahead for the Cats.