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Panthers season preview: Hiring of Quenneville ignites new attitude

Hope additions of coach, Bobrovsky spur Barkov, Florida to playoffs

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Florida Panthers.

Coach: Joel Quenneville (first season)

Last season: 36-32-14; fifth place Atlantic Division

 

5 KEYS
 
1. Exceeding expectations

Hopes are high after an offseason renovation that brought three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville and two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to the Panthers. Defenseman Anton Stralman, center Noel Acciari and forward Brett Connolly complete the list of newcomers, combined with the return of three 30-goal scorers (forward Mike Hoffman, 36; center Aleksander Barkov, 35; forward Jonathan Huberdeau, 30).

Florida has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons and six of the past seven. Barkov said in August there are no more excuses. The time is now for the potential to finally match the promise.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Barkov

 

2. The Quenneville effect

Quenneville's NHL success includes three Cup championships with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015) and coaching his team to the playoffs 18 times in his 22 NHL seasons. New systems will be implemented following a roster turnover and the challenge for Quenneville and the coaching staff will be to get the Panthers to jell quickly.

 

3. Fast start

There's no time to waste for Florida in the Atlantic Division, which last season had the two best teams in the Eastern Conference (Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins). Nine of the Panthers' first 13 games are against a team that made the playoffs last season, including a home-and-home against the Lightning beginning with the opener at Tampa Bay on Oct. 3. Florida cannot afford the slow starts that plagued it the past two seasons. The Panthers were 20-22-6 in their first 48 games of 2017-18 before finishing 24-8-2, one point behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Last season, Florida was 2-5-3 after 10 games, 20-20-8 after 48, and ended up 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the conference.

 

4. Defense can't rest

Florida must improve defensively after its 273 goals against (28th in NHL) and NHL-high 1,234 giveaways negated an offense that averaged 3.22 goals per game (ninth) and set a Panthers record by scoring 264 goals last season. If anyone can correct those issues, it's Quenneville. His Blackhawks teams allowed 2.52 goals against per game from 2009-10 through 2016-17, tied for sixth in the NHL in that span.

 

5. Barkov's rise

The captain will try to build off a breakout season when his 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) broke a Florida record set by Pavel Bure (94 in 1999-2000). How much Barkov further elevates his game could determine if the Panthers qualify for the playoffs and advance beyond the first round for the first time since 1996, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Prospect Owen Tippett will get a chance to make a roster deep with forwards. Goalie Sam Montembeault started camp as Bobrovsky's backup, but the 22-year-old will face competition from Chris Driedger, who was 18-10-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 32 games for Springfield of the American Hockey League last season.

 

Most intriguing addition

Bobrovsky and Quenneville earned headlines, but Connolly scored an NHL career-high 22 goals -- 21 at even strength -- for the Washington Capitals last season. He'll help the Panthers at 5-on-5, where their 162 goals were tied for 16th with the New York Islanders last season. Connolly has played 38 postseason games, won the Cup with Washington in 2018, and should be a positive influence on the nucleus of Barkov, Huberdeau, center Vincent Trocheck and defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Mike Matheson could have a bounce-back season and his best in the NHL. The 25-year-old defenseman and No. 23 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft was minus-24 and led the NHL with 135 giveaways last season. He should thrive playing in a system that preaches commitment and responsibility, to the left of steady veteran Stralman on the second pair.

Video: FLA@TOR: Matheson pots wrister from blue line

 

Ready to break through

It's Tippett's time to show he's an NHL player. The No. 10 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft ended his junior hockey career with 74 points (33 goals, 41 assists) in 54 games for Mississauga and Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League. The 20-year-old forward will be watched closely during camp after he was one of Florida's early cuts last season.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Tippett (average draft position: N/A) has a chance to not only make the Panthers roster but also earn a top-six role after scoring better than a point per game over the past three regular seasons and playoffs combined in the OHL. -- Pete Jensen

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman -- Vincent Trocheck -- Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano -- Henrik Borgstrom -- Brett Connolly

Colton Sceviour -- Noel Acciari -- Jayce Hawryluk

Keith Yandle -- Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson -- Anton Stralman

Mark Pysyk -- Josh Brown

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sam Montembeault

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