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Countdown 2: Who Steps Up?

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
The Panthers 2010-11 season is quickly approaching and with that, is taking a look at the top ten questions, players to watch and games of the season on a countdown to the home opener on October 16th against Tampa Bay. We'll unveil one of the top ten on a rotating basis each day to help fans get ready for what hopes to be an exciting season.

Panthers' Shawn Matthias, center, celebrates his goal with teammates David Booth, left, and Rostislav Olesz during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Calgary, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
In today's topic, we take a closer look at Who Steps Up in our final installment of our Top 10 Questions this season.

No season is perfect. Teams that are expected to do well, don't live up to expectations (Calgary last season) while others who are prognosticated to finish low in the standings, surpass theirs (Colorado and Phoenix last year).

That goes for players as well.

Two seasons ago, David Booth stepped up his game and posted a team-high 31 goals and added 29 assists, boosting his point total by 20 points over the season before.

Last season, with Booth and winger Nathan Horton missing a lot of action due to injuries, center Stephen Weiss doubled his goal total from a season before while leading the team with 28 tallies. That was eight more than his previous career high (set in 2006-07). It was also the second straight season that he had at least 60 points as he led the team in that category.

On defense, Bryan McCabe bounced back from a final year with the Maple Leafs to post 15 goals and 39 points two seasons ago. He improved his point total to 43 points last season even though his goal total dropped to eight.

Getting time, mostly in the second half of last season, Jason Garrison was impressive, posting eight points in 39 games as a rookie.

So with this season already under way, which player or players will step up their game?

A lot of people think that center Shawn Matthias, now in his third pro season could step up. Then there's winger Rostislav Olesz who did tie a career high in goals (14) last season. He has looked strong on the puck in the first three games. There's also crafty veteran Marty Reasoner who, three games into the season, leads the team with four points (2-2-4). While it's highly unlikely that he'll keep the 1.33 points a game pace, he should easily rebound from last season in which he potted just four goals and 17 points. The defensive forward averaged just over 27 points in the previous four seasons.

On defense, Dmitry Kulikov should be even better in his second season in the league, building on a rookie campaign in which he recorded 19 points. Here's hoping McCabe bounces back and posts double digit goals and Dennis Wideman, acquired from Boston in the off-season, pots more than ten goals as well. The sorely needed right-handed shot had 13 goals in both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 season before seeing his production drop to six last season.

With such a long season, played over six and a half months, it'll be a guarantee that players will get hot and they'll get cold. The Panthers just need some of them to be hot longer than they're cold.

Keep an eye on who steps up their game this season.
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