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Building On The Blueprint

by "Hockey Pat" McGrath / Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers’ trade deadline acquisition of Roberto Luongo has been the big story surrounding the team over the past week. By bringing Luongo back into the fold the Panthers have secured their goaltending situation for years to come. The deal was also a bold statement from new owner Vinnie Viola, a statement that makes it clear that the new ownership group intends to do whatever it takes to put a championship product on the ice.

While the importance of the Luongo trade cannot be understated, the reality is that the acquisition is just a piece (albeit an extremely important piece) of a larger puzzle that Panthers GM Dale Tallon and his team have been carefully putting together.

Since taking over as GM in 2010, Tallon has preached the importance of his ‘Blueprint’, which depends on a strong pipeline of young homegrown talent. This model helped Tallon build a roster in Chicago that would go on two win two Stanley Cups and remains a juggernaut to this day. We are already witnessing the results of the talent pipeline in Florida as players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad have each had considerable success at the NHL level. Each of these “Young Guns” are under 22 years of age and each was drafted by Tallon.

The Panthers also have a lush farm system littered with potential stars occupying every level. In its annual overview of the NHL’s farm systems, the esteemed The Hockey News ranked the Panthers organizational depth third best in the entire NHL. The ranking is well-deserved as the Panthers have a number of players set to make an impact at the NHL level in the near future.

Forward Vincent Trocheck was leading the San Antonio Rampage in scoring before being called up by the Panthers and making his debut on March 7 against Buffalo.

On Friday evening the Panthers’ 20-year-old center Vincent Trocheck (3rd round, 2011) made his much anticipated NHL debut. The debut comes just one year after Trocheck dominated the Ontario Hockey League, leading the league in scoring with 109 points (50-59-109) while being named the league’s MVP. Trocheck, who was leading Florida’s AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, in scoring at the time of his call-up is just the tip of the Panthers’ talent iceberg.

The Panthers have a number of NHL ready players currently playing in Texas. With the likes of Quinton Howden, Alex Petrovic and Jonathan Racine all receiving big minutes with the Rampage along with Drew Shore (who has impressed during his stints with the parent club) the Panthers have a solid set of skilled players waiting in the wings.

Beyond the AHL, the Panthers have impressive names spread throughout the college ranks and the Canadian junior leagues. Rocco Grimaldi (drafted 2nd round, 2011) the Panthers’ 21-year-old forward with the University of North Dakota, currently leads his team in scoring with 33 points in 34 games (13-20-33). Over on the East coast, Florida has a pair of first round picks currently dominating the blue line for the number one ranked BC Eagles in Mike Matheson (1st round, 2012) and Ian McCoshen (2nd round, 2013). The duo will have the opportunity to grow through the ranks together and perhaps one day share the BB&T Center blue line.

Up in the Great White North the Panthers group of prospects is fronted by 2013 draft pick Christopher Clapperton (5th round, 2013) who has tallied 59 points in 50 games (25-34-59) for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL.

The Tallon Blueprint is concerned not just at drafting and developing the right players, but being opportunistic and acquiring valuable players through trades and re-signing those talented players already on the roster in order to help take a team to the next level. While adding a proven superstar in Luongo was the keynote trade deadline pickup this year, it was just one of a few moves that the Cats made during a trade deadline that was rated the third most successful in the league by USA Today.

In addition to bringing in Luongo, the Panthers added the very-talented 22-year-old center Brandon Pirri in a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Toronto, Ont native led the AHL in scoring last season (22-53-75) and was named the MVP of this year’s AHL all-star game. Pirri adds further depth to the Panthers young group of centers that already includes Bjugstad (21), Barkov (18), Shore (23), and Trocheck (20).

The other big move the Panthers made at the trade deadline was the re-signing of current Cats goal-scoring leader Brad Boyes. In addition to his 17 goals, Boyes has been a role model to the Panthers young players both on and off the ice. By re-singing Boyes to a two-year deal the Panthers demonstrated their commitment to keeping players that fit their ‘Blueprint’.

As noted in both the articles mentioned above, the Panthers are in a unique and enviable position. They are a team with a loaded farm system that has simultaneously managed to have a successful trade deadline without compromising their future. On top of all that, they have positioned themselves to be serious players in this summer’s free agent market in light of the commitment by ownership. Part of that commitment to greatness involves giving GM Dale Tallon the green light to spend up to the salary cap, an exciting proposition given the club’s considerable cap space.

With a top farm system, a successful trade deadline in the books and resources to deploy to spend on top free agents this summer, the Florida Panthers have positioned themselves to meet the hefty expectations that the new ownership, management and most importantly, the fans have set for the team.

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