As the Florida Panthers get ready to kick off another season, it remains to be seen who’ll play on the third line. Who fits the third line the best?
For the past few seasons, the Florida Panthers have struggled to find a steady third line. While it’s important for every team to have a really great top-six tandem, it’s equally important to ensure that they have productive players on the third line.
Not only can third line players produce on any given night, but they can also pick up some of the slack if some of the players in the top-six struggle. If the Panthers want to make a deep run in the playoffs, they’ll need to establish the best third line possible.
Last season, we saw how the Cats really lacked depth in the bottom-six. Jamie McGinn, a third line player at best, was normally slotted into a second line role.
The Panthers simply didn’t have the depth to construct three solid lines. Although it wasn’t the only reason why the Panthers missed out on a playoff spot, it definitely contributed (massively) to the slow start that ultimately held the Panthers back from the last playoff spot.
During this year’s offseason, the Cats went out and acquired another top-six forward to add to the mix: Mike Hoffman. With Hoffman locked into a top-six role, it leaves the Panthers with a ton of both young and veteran players all fighting for spots on the third and fourth line.
As the Panthers go through training camp and preseason play, it’ll be interesting to see who the Panthers ultimately slot onto their third line on opening night.
Because Florida has an abundance of veteran forwards who are depth pieces, it’s almost impossible to see them not having at least one of them suit up on the third or fourth line.
With guys like McGinn, newly signed Troy Brouwer, Colton Sceviour, and Mark Letestu (PTO) all crowding the Panthers lineup, it’ll be hard for the Panthers to resist the urge of placing at least one of them on the third line.
While all of those players could play on the third line, the Cats have way too many young and talented forwards who have the potential to grow into top-six players.
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The list goes on and on. Henrik Börgstrom, Denis Malgin, Jared McCann, Frank Vatrano, Maxim Mamin, and Owen Tippett are all names that could easily slide onto the third line. All of these guys are worthy of a roster spot, but only three will get a chance to play on the third line. And, most of these players have the potential to turn into great players.
Of all the players listed above, it’s vital for Börgstrom to get the center spot (or any spot) on the third line. As one of the best prospects in the NHL, Börgstrom has the talent and potential to be a top center/winger in the league.
If the Panthers don’t give him the opportunity to play decent minutes with players of his caliber, he could go to waste. Other players like Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano are more than worthy of slotting right alongside Borgstrom, as each of them are not only gifted offensively but are good in their defensive zone as well.
Denis Malgin could easily gain the opportunity to slide into a wing spot on the third line as he was playing really well before he went down with an injury late last season. Because of his size, Malgin may sometimes seem weak in certain areas on the ice, but he’s more than capable of taking on a full-time third line role.
Both Mamin and Tippett are talented but unproven. Tippett will probably spend another year in the minors rounding out his game. Mamin, on the other hand, could fill a third line role, but it’s more suitable for him to play on the fourth line at this stage in his career.
Simply put, the Cats don’t need an older veteran to take one of the spots on the third line away from a budding talented player. Perhaps, one of those veterans could fill a spot on the fourth line.
Giving these young players the opportunity to showcase their talents with ample amount of playing time could prove to be an extraordinary move for the Panthers moving forward. If the Panthers decide to go with three young guns on the third line, their bottom lines could look something like this:
While Mamin could easily fill the left-wing spot on the fourth line, it’s unlikely that the Panthers would not put a grizzled veteran in the bottom-six.
Personally, my favorite bottom two lines would look like this:
In these bottom two lines, the Panthers get both the perfect combination of skill and grit. Signing Letestu and getting rid of another older veteran would be a great move as he’s the perfect fourth line center.
Not only is he solid in the defensive zone, but he’s also a great penalty killer and still has a slight scoring touch.
As the season gets closer, it remains to be seen who’ll make up the bottom half of the Panthers forward lines. It should be very interesting to track as opening night looms!