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Colton Sceviour paying off for Panthers

Forward, teammate Jonathan Marchessault, reaping big dividends for Florida

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

He stepped into the dressing room after the Florida Panthers' 5-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, and as reporters surrounded him to talk about his hat trick, his teammates cheered and clapped and whistled.

"There's the guy you want right there!" someone yelled.

Jaromir Jagr? Aleksander Barkov? Vincent Trocheck? Aaron Ekblad? Keith Yandle?

Nope.

Colton Sceviour.

Sometimes the guy you want isn't the biggest name with the biggest salary.

Amid the NHL's free agent frenzy July 1 and their own flurry of moves in the offseason, the Panthers signed Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault to two-year contracts, Sceviour at an NHL salary-cap charge of $950,000, Marchessault at a cap charge of $750,000, according to NHL Numbers.

Sceviour has five goals, tied for second in the League. Marchessault also scored against Detroit and has six goals, tied for first, and 11 points, tied for second.

It's early. No one expects Sceviour and Marchessault to keep producing at this rate. But the Panthers added depth pieces at bargain prices, and it is helping them at a time when Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Jussi Jokinen are injured. It also opens a window into the Panthers' roster-building process.

"Those two guys were great finds," Panthers assistant general manager Eric Joyce said. "Part of what we try to do every offseason, really, is add value at the margins."

The Panthers won the Atlantic Division last season with 103 points, a franchise record, but lost in six games to the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Among the problems they identified: forward depth. 

Joyce said the Panthers' process is simple: Coach Gerard Gallant outlines how they must play to win the Stanley Cup. The executives look at the roster and identify who plays that way, who can be trained to play that way and who doesn't fit. They draft and develop to fit that vision, and they make trades and sign free agents to fit that vision.

Video: FLA@DET: Sceviour nets his second goal in 23 seconds

They blend old-school scouting, new-school analytics and salary-cap management, trying to maximize their odds of success on the ice and value under the cap.

"We're about the process, not the outcome," Joyce said. "We know if we do that …

He paused.

"Say we're gamblers," he continued. "If you have a 19 in blackjack, you're going to win more than you lose. So really that's just playing the probabilities and making sure that we stay true to that process."

Gallant wants the Panthers to play downhill hockey, moving the puck ahead, tilting the ice and attacking. The pro scouts identified Sceviour and Marchessault as forwards with skating, hockey sense and compete level to fit. The executives cross-referenced those subjective opinions with what they consider objective data.

The Panthers' analysis starts with traditional statistics and continues with the first level of so-called advanced stats, such as possession percentages and teammates' production with and without them on the ice. But it goes much deeper. The Panthers have their own algorithms, which, of course, are secret, and evaluate players' entire bodies of work, from junior to the minors to the NHL.

The data on Sceviour and Marchessault backed up the scouts' eyes, and the Panthers pegged them as versatile players who could start out in the bottom six but play up and down the lineup as needed. They were good bets.

"After that," Joyce said, "it comes down to fitting them into our cap structure."

Sceviour, 27, and Marchessault, 25, came relatively cheap because they had not played big roles in the League before. They had been in organizations full of forwards.

Despite putting up strong numbers in junior and the minors, including 32 goals in 54 games with Texas of the American Hockey League in 2013-14, Sceviour had 28 goals in 170 games with the Dallas Stars, never more than 11 in a season.

"Going into free agency, there were two things I wanted to do," Sceviour said. "I wanted a chance to show that I could play by playing in a bigger role, and I wanted to go to a team that could win. I'd seen Florida as an opportunity to possibly do both of them if I played well."

At least Sceviour had been a fourth-round pick (No. 112) in the 2007 NHL Draft and had played those 170 NHL games. Marchessault was not drafted and played 49 NHL games, two for the Columbus Blue Jackets, 47 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had been waived by Tampa Bay and gone unclaimed after training camp last season. He is listed at 5 feet 9, 174 pounds.

"People always think I'm too small, always think I won't make that team or get to the next level," he said.

But he had scored in junior and the minors, and had come up from Syracuse of the AHL and scored seven goals and 18 points in 45 games for the Lightning last season. The Panthers told him they saw him on the third line and the power play.

"It was just a better opportunity for me," he said.

Marchessault has played left wing on the top line with Barkov and Jagr since the start of the season filling in for Huberdeau, out three to four months after surgery to repair a torn Achilles' tendon.

Sceviour has played right wing on the second line with Trocheck and Reilly Smith for the past two games, filling for Jokinen, day-to-day because of a knee injury. How's this for versatile? Sceviour scored on the power play, at even strength and shorthanded Sunday.

Eventually, they will cool off. Ideally, they will play bottom-six roles with Huberdeau and Jokinen healthy, and that will take pressure off the top six and create better bottom-six matchups. Even if they don't keep this up, they probably will produce more than ever before in the League and help make the Panthers a better team.

But for now, they're ranking among the scoring leaders and giving the Panthers bang for their buck. 

"It's exciting," Sceviour said, "to have things work out."

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