Florida Panthers’ Bottom-Six Needs To Be Better This Season

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 6: Denis Malgin #62 of the Florida Panthers skates for the puck against the New Jersey Devils at the BB&T Center on April 6, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 6: Denis Malgin #62 of the Florida Panthers skates for the puck against the New Jersey Devils at the BB&T Center on April 6, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers have one of the best top-six forward groups in the entire league, but it wasn’t enough to push the team into the playoffs. One of the team’s most significant weaknesses was their bottom-six, and it will have to improve.

With their top two lines as good as any other team league-wide, it seems like it would be difficult to criticize the Cats’ offense.

However, without balanced scoring throughout the entire forward core, it’s nearly impossible to make any waves in such a tightly contested league.

Since joining the Panthers in 2010, Dale Tallon has repeatedly stressed the importance of having three solid goal-scoring lines. It makes for a steady team that is nearly impossible to defend, and it takes the pressure off of the team’s top guys.

Unfortunately, last season was an underwhelming showing from the Panthers’ depth.

Last year, Florida set a franchise record for most goals in a season with 267. Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Frank Vatrano combined for 163 goals while the team’s defence notched a total of 38 goals.

Two hundred one of the Panthers’ tallies were put up by the top-six and defense (206 if you count Nick Bjugstad’s five goals).

That means that the third and fourth lines only put up just 61 goals.

For comparison, the Cats’ cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, had a much more stable roster. The Bolts saw their bottom two lines net 90 goals in what was one of the greatest regular seasons an NHL team has ever had.

Luckily for Florida, they can expect an improved depth group going into next season. Newly appointed Head Coach Joel Quenneville should whip them into shape, and with some new faces, they should be more dependable.

The signing of Brett Connolly could turn out to be one of the best decisions that Dale Tallon has ever made. Not only did the Panthers add a 20-goal scorer, but they also locked down some valuable experience.

Having a player with a Stanley Cup ring to lead the way for some of the team’s youth will prove to be critical, and it gives the Panthers an underrated edge.

The Cats could also have some fresh young faces gracing the third and fourth lines.

I anticipate seeing Owen Tippett making the team out of camp, and it should come as no surprise if Aleksi Heponiemi can do the same.

A third line of Tippett, Henrik Borgstrom and Connolly should have Panthers fans excited. With the raw potential of both Borgstrom (22-years-old) and Tippett (20-years-old), they could end up being one of the best third lines in the Atlantic Division.

It seems fair to expect around 20-25 goals from Connolly, and I believe Borgstrom could reach around the same numbers. Tippett is more of an unknown, but based on his pedigree, I don’t think it would be crazy to expect around 15 or more goals in his first full NHL season.

Trying to predict Heponiemi’s production is much more challenging. He may very well earn a roster spot out of camp and could end up being the lightest player ever to step foot on NHL ice.

When you think about it, Heponiemi’s career has been somewhat unusual. He was the top WHL rookie at 17-years-old, led the league in scoring the following year, then racked up 46 points in 50 games playing against men in Finland’s top league last year. He did all this while being 150 pounds or less.

Given his size, I would be hesitant to start him on the fourth line. He seems like the kind of player who will need to be put in an “offense first” role with gifted linemates if he’s going to have success.

That said, maybe the Panthers’ coaching staff has no choice but to pencil him in on the roster. If he comes to training camp looking to prove a point, it would be hard to turn him away. He has stepped up to the plate and hit a home run in every step of his career thus far, and maybe he can do it again at the NHL level.

I have a feeling he will be either a boom or bust type player during his first opportunity in the big leagues, and it may be best for his development if he starts in the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds. Although if he does make the show, it would certainly make things interesting.

Another under the radar signing was bringing in Noel Acciari. His gritty, hard-nosed game won’t put up much in terms of point production, but he will undoubtedly be vital in shutting down the opposition.

It was evident last year that the Panthers needed to improve defensively. Acciari will help in that regard.

Similar to Connolly, Acciari joins the organization with a ton of valuable experience. Having played 35 postseason games in just four years (including a trip to the finals last year with Boston), he has assuredly learned some essential lessons.

To be blunt, the Panthers’ bottom-six last year was tough to watch. Their lack of offense must have given the coaching staff, and fans, plenty of grey hairs and their defensive mistakes made it far to easy on their opponents.

If the organization wants to return to the playoffs, their bottom-six needs to be better. Period.

Next. Potential PTOs for the Florida Panthers Leading into Training Camp. dark

The Florida Panthers had a sub-par bottom-six this past season and will need to step it up if the Cats want to be taken seriously. Thankfully, a handful of fresh faces have been added, and significant improvement is expected.