The Big Four
Jay Bouwmeester had hip surgery last spring but is expected to be in top condition at training camp. He led Panther defensemen last season with 12 goals, 30 assists and 42 points. He also was the ice-time leader with 26:08 minutes per night. Bouwmeester is big, strong, mean and skilled, and a quiet leader. He played in last season's NHL All-Star Game.
Ruslan Salei enters his 11th season. He had his best offensive season last year with six goals and 26 assists for 32 points. Bryan Allen came into his own last season after being traded from Vancouver. He's a big, strong kid who has been considered a stay-at-home defenseman, but he had four goals and 21 assists last season.
Mike Van Ryn became a better defenseman after being traded to Florida. His numbers dipped a bit last year from the prior two seasons. He had four goals and 25 assists.
Get the point
Bouwmeester had three power-play goals, Salei had two and Van Ryn, one. Bouwmeester averaged 3:24 of power-play time while Salei averaged 3:17. Van Ryn averaged 2:21. Allen was next with 1:06 and Noah Welch was just under a minute. Expect newcomer Cory Murphy to play significant power-play minutes.
Bouwmeester averaged 4:34 of shorthanded time last season, followed by Allen's 3:53. Van Ryn was next with 3:21 and Salei clocked 3:04 when down a man. Branislav Mezei averaged 2:42.
In the Wings
Cory Murphy -- This former Colgate player has been in Finland and Sweden for the past six years. Think Brian Rafalski without the skating speed. Murphy distributes the puck well, has a good shot, sees the ice well and has good hockey sense. He's undersized so he'll fit best as a sixth defenseman who quarterbacks a power-play unit.
Keaton Ellerby -- The 10th overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, looked good in the recent Russia-Canada series. He's got another year of junior eligibility and needs more weight to play in the NHL. He'll contend for a job next season.
Branislav Mezei -- If Mezei can bounce back from his injuries, it will increase the size, shot-blocking and meanness of the Panthers' defense. He's only 26, but he hasn't played a full season since 2001-02, when he split the season between the New York Islanders and their AHL affiliate.