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New faces bring high expectations to Panthers

Thursday, 09.22.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Deborah Francisco - NHL.com Staff Writer

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New faces bring high expectations to Panthers
The Florida Panthers underwent an extreme roster makeover this summer, and those new players have one thing in mind -- get the team back to the playoffs.
It's playoffs or bust for the Florida Panthers this season -- at least that's what recently acquired defenseman Brian Campbell says.

While Florida may not be considered a traditional hockey market, GM Dale Tallon and the rest of the Panthers' front office are ready to prove that hockey is indeed Florida's game. For the team with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference last season to do that, though, will require a total attitude adjustment in the dressing room.

"As long as we think that in the locker room, and know that it's playoffs or everything else is a failure and not acceptable, it's a good place to start,” Campbell told NHL.com. "That's the mindset that we all need to have going into the season."

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards
d. Booth s. weiss s. upshall
k. versteeg t. fleischmann e. dadonov
s. bergenheim m. santorelli t. kopecky
j. skille M. goc m. bradley
s. matthias r. carter
DEFENSE
b. campbell m. weaver
e. jovanovski e. gudbranson
d. kulikov k. ellerby
d. garrison
GOALIES
j. theodore
s. clemmensen
ones to watch
f jonathan huberdeau
f michael repik
D DYLAN OLSEN
g jacob markstrom
However, with only 30 wins last season, it will take more than just a change of heart to get the team into the playoffs. The Panthers have not qualified for the postseason since 2000, the longest current drought in the NHL.

There are four areas where the Panthers will need to find success this season in order to end that skid: increased offensive production; better play on the man-advantage; foster chemistry among the new faces; and consistency in net.

The greatest improvements need to be made on the power play, where the Panthers were 30th in the League at 13.1 percent, and their 35 power-play goals were 29th. The numerous acquisitions Tallon made over the summer ought to help solve this problem, especially bringing in Campbell to quarterback the power play, and Ed Jovanovski, who averaged 11 power-play points per season the last three seasons.

"I feel like we're going to have success a lot quicker than people think," Campbell said. "All the guys that Dale brought in are character guys that have fun coming to the rink. They all want to compete every night. That's going to give us a chance to win."



The first priority for the Panthers this season is simple: score more goals. Their 191 goals last season were the third-fewest in the League, and they were shut out six times. Offseason additions Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Kopecky and Marcel Goc should help change that.

Upshall, Fleischmann and Versteeg likely will play on the top two lines, alongside David Booth, Stephen Weiss and Jack Skille. Those three additions also have huge potential to pitch in on Florida's power-play units.

Versteeg, 25, had 6 power-play goals last season, and was acquired from Philadelphia on July 1 for second- and third-round draft picks in 2012. Although Fleischmann missed the majority of last season due to a pulmonary emboli, he did score 3 power-play goals in just 22 games with the Avalanche and has the ability to contribute many more this season should he return in full health. Upshall, 27, scored 2 power-play goals last season, but the 6-foot, 200-pound right wing brings a veteran presence to the Panthers' offense.

SUMMER MOVES

IN: Sean Bergenheim, LW (free agent, Lightning); Matt Bradley, RW (free agent, Capitals); Brian Campbell, D (trade, Blackhawks); Angelo Esposito, C (trade, Jets); Tomas Fleischmann, RW (free agent, Avalanche); Marcel Goc, C (free agent, Predators); Ed Jovanovski, D (free agent, Coyotes); Tomas Kopecky, C (trade, Blackhawks); Jose Theodore, G (free agent, Wild); Scottie Upshall, LW (free agent, Blue Jackets); Kris Versteeg, RW (trade, Flyers); Nolan Yonkman, D (free agent, Coyotes)

OUT: Niclas Bergfors, RW (free agent, Predators); Steve Bernier, RW (tryout, Devils); Byron Bitz, RW (free agent, Canucks);Darcy Hordichuk, LW (free agent, Oilers); Kenndal McArdle, LW (trade, Jets); Rostislav Olesz, LW (trade, Blackhawks); Marty Reasoner, C (free agent, Islanders); Sergei Samsonov, LW (free agent); Alexander Sulzer, D (free agent, Canucks); Tomas Vokoun, G (free agent, Capitals)
A pair of youngsters could earn spots up front -- 2010 first-round pick Quinton Howden and 2011 top choice Jonathan Huberdeau.

Howden, the 25th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, had 40 goals and 39 assists in 60 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League, as well as 2 goals and 3 assists to help Canada win the silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship.

Huberdeau, the third pick in this past June's draft, led the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup last season and was named tournament MVP for his 3 goals and 3 assists in four games at the tournament. That came after he finished third in the QMJHL with 43 goals and 107 points last season.



The Panthers were in the middle of the pack defensively last season, finishing 14th in the League in goals-against per game (2.71) and goals allowed (222). They were 22nd in allowing 31.8 shots per game. All those numbers have to be better if the Panthers want to play past April.

The core of Florida's defense crew is young, including recent draft picks Dmitry Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby. That's one reason veterans Campbell and Jovanovski were added over the summer.

Campbell, 32, had 27 points and was a plus-28 last season with the Blackhawks. Jovanovski, 35, had 14 points in 50 games for the Coyotes.

Youngster Erik Gudbranson, the third pick of the 2010 draft, likely will make the roster this season after spending the last three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder had 12 goals, 22 assists and 105 penalty minutes in 44 games last season with the Kingston Frontenacs.



Goaltending is the biggest question mark for the Panthers this season. With Tomas Vokoun leaving via free agency, Jose Theodore was signed to complement Scott Clemmensen. However, neither netminder held a full-time starting position last season.

In 32 games with the Minnesota Wild last season, Theodore had 15 wins, a 2.71 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. While he allowed five goals in a game twice, he had 16 where he allowed two goals or fewer.

Clemmensen played 31 games for the Panthers last season, but won just eight of those contests, with a 2.62 GAA and .911 save percentage.

For goaltenders with similar stats, it will be interesting to see if one can emerge as a full-time starter.
Quote of the Day

You don't see many. The [Drew] Doughtys, the [P.K.] Subbans, those are guys that create offense from the back and then on top of that ability, the size that he has. In the West you play against some pretty big players, and being able to clear the crease and contain the [Ryan] Getzlafs and the [Corey] Perrys and [Anze] Kopitars and players like that, we're excited about him going back there.

— Sharks general manager Doug Wilson on Brent Burns returning back to defense