A year after a surprising division title, a mixture of injuries and regression left the Florida Panthers with the worst record in the NHL.
The Panthers did not make any seismic moves in attempt to yo-yo back into Stanley Cup Playoff contention, but another elite prospect, Aleksander Barkov, joins a stable of precocious talents, and general manager Dale Tallon will let the development of those players dictate how much the team can improve in 2013-14.
Stephen Weiss, the team's No. 1 center for the past five seasons, went to the Detroit Red Wings on a five-year contract, but Barkov, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, is expected to center one of the top two lines immediately. The Panthers did add a couple of potential role players up front, Scott Gomez and Joey Crabb.
A healthy roster will certainly help the Panthers be a little better this season. How well young players Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom play will determine if it is a large improvement.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Panthers:
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: PANTHERS
Under-valued: Tomas Fleischmann -- In two seasons with the Panthers, Fleischmann has yet to miss a game and has been extremely consistent, averaging 0.74 points-per-game and 0.73 points-per-game, respectively. The forward's plus/minus won't impress, but playing alongside Jonathan Huberdeau could allow Fleischmann to put together the best season of his career.
Over-valued: Shawn Matthias -- In a span of 16 games during March last year, Matthias scored 11 goals, but in his other 32 games, he had three. The 14 goals were a career high (even with the shortened season), but as a third-line forward on a struggling team, Matthias should be avoided in fantasy drafts.
Sleeper: Aleksander Barkov -- Barkov likely will be the reason Matthias is on the third line; the Finn could step in as Florida's second-line center. The soon-to-be 18-year-old is big (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) and has loads of potential on a team that should be willing to give him plenty of ice time.
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NOTES: Bjugstad and Barkov have a combined 11 games of NHL experience. It is possible Gomez or Goc ends up on one of the top two lines to start the season, but Bjugstad and Barkov should be there in short order. Shore could be the long-term No. 3 center but might make sense on the wing until some of the other young players arrive.
One name to watch in camp is Vincent Trochek, who lit up the Ontario Hockey League last season and could earn at least a nine-game look with the big club. If Bergenheim is ready to play, then the battle for the bottom-six forward slots could start to get crowded.
Robak isn't the only young player who could earn a spot on the blue line. Alex Petrovic is another defenseman who looks like a future fixture for the Panthers.