Forward Thomas Vanek is the ingredient that will help the Florida Panthers return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to president of hockey operations Dale Tallon.
The Panthers acquired Vanek in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
"We think we're a good enough team," Tallon said. "Adding Thomas, I think, makes us a legitimate team to get into the playoffs first. I think he'll help us do that.
"I think the players will like Thomas; he's a good guy, been a mentor and a real solid citizen in Detroit this year, played very well, and he's playing for a contract, so it's all positive."
Vanek was leading the Red Wings with 15 goals and has 38 points in 48 games. Only center Vincent Trocheck has more points (48) on the Panthers than Vanek does this season.
With 20 games remaining, the Panthers (29-23-10) have 68 points and, despite struggling during a recent four-game homestand (1-3-0), are four points behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division with one game in hand. Florida is one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The New York Islanders also have 68 points and hold a game in hand on the Panthers and Maple Leafs.
Vanek hopes to join the Panthers in time for their game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CSN-PH, FS-F, NHL.TV).
"[The Panthers] showed last year they were capable of making the playoffs," Vanek said. "They have good young players and solid goaltending. ... It's a pleasure to join that team and make that push."
The Panthers won the Atlantic Division last year with a Florida-record 103 points, making the postseason for the first time in four seasons. They lost to the Islanders in the first round in six games.
This season, the Panthers have dealt with long-term injuries to forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, who each returned to the lineup Feb. 3.
Video: Vanek traded to Panthers for Dylan McIlrath, pick
Florida's power play entered Wednesday 25th in the NHL at 16.5 percent. Vanek has five power-play goals this season and 189 in the NHL, part of 687 points (331 goals, 356 assists) in 865 NHL regular-season games. The 33-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"It's an area I'm good at and hopefully I can make guys around me better," Vanek said. "I'm more of a net-front guy, and if that's where they want me to be, I'll be more than happy to do it."
Tallon said he had the power play in mind when he made the trade.
"You can't win without [the power play] in today's game," Tallon said. "Our penalty killing has been superb all year (third; 85.6 percent). Now we have another weapon and that'll help our power play.
"I hope he lights it up. If he does, it's a good opportunity for us to get first dibs at him in the offseason."
Vanek signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings on July 1 and has played for five teams in the past four seasons.
"At this point in my career, teams know my game and what I'm about," he said. "That's not on my mind. My mind is to play good hockey and help the team out, see where it goes after that."
Tallon said the trade was rooted in a discussion with Detroit general manager Ken Holland earlier this month.
"This is a real good addition to our team without interrupting our team and not giving up any of our young prospects," Tallon said. "[We're] buying and improving and adding to the roster to make us better and that's a real positive step for our organization.
"Talking to Thomas, he's excited about coming here. He knows we have a good skill set and we have a young team and we have a chance to do some damage here. And if he plays hard and plays well, and I'm expecting him to do that, who knows where it will take us."
Vanek said a bonus of the trade will be a chance to play with 45-year-old forward Jaromir Jagr, who is second behind Wayne Gretzky on the NHL points list with 1,903 (761 goals, 1,142 assists) in 1,691 games (Gretzky has 2,857 points).
"As a kid watching the [Pittsburgh] Penguins a lot, Mario [Lemieux] and Jaromir were my favorite players," Vanek said. "His career's amazing. I'm not the youngest guy anymore and now a chance to be his teammate is kind of surreal."