The Florida Panthers started the 2014 free agency period with a bang, signing forwards Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Shawn Thornton, Derek MacKenzie, defenseman Willie Mitchell and goaltender Al Montoya.
With the multitude of signings, the Panthers have bolstered their roster with established NHL veterans who have histories of winning and know what it takes to achieve NHL success. The players will join a Panthers roster ripe with talent and potential and their veteran presence will help guide the team forward while the younger players settle in at the NHL level.
“It was a great day for our franchise, we exceeded expectations,” Florida’s general manager Dale Tallon said on the new signings. “We identified a number of players and we got them all.”
A nine year veteran, Jokinen is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2013-14 where he scored 21 goals and added 36 assists while finishing the year with a plus 12 rating. With a 30 goal season under his belt in 2009-10 with Carolina, Jokinen has crossed the 45-point threshold in seven of his nine seasons. He is also extremely talented in the shootout, emerging as a go to guy in game deciding shots.
According to Tallon, the chance to play with Aleksander Barkov, a fellow Finnish native, was a huge plus for Jokinen.
“He wanted to play here because of Barkov and all of the young good players that we have in our system,” Tallon said. “He knew our team inside and out and he was excited to get an opportunity to play with Barkov. Getting to know him at the Olympics this year was a big plus.”
Bolland is a player with a winning pedigree who has achieved success at every level. He has won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2013, and was the hero of the Blackhawks’ 2013 Cup victory scoring the deciding goal in game six against the Boston Bruins. He also helped lead the OHL’s London Knights to a Memorial Cup victory in 2005, and was a part of Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior Championship team in 2006.
The forward also has a history with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon as Tallon was the Blackhawks’ general manager while Bolland was coming up through Chicago’s system.
“He gets the job done. He plays against other team’s top players, he’s skilled but he’s gritty, and he’s smart defensively,” Tallon said. “He’s a champion in every league he has ever been in.”
Thornton is another player with a Stanley Cup resume and a player Tallon is familiar with, having previously played for Chicago. The rugged winger was a part of the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup winning team in 2011 and was also with the Anaheim Ducks for their Cup victory in 2007. Thornton, an 11 year veteran, will add toughness and depth to the Florida Panthers roster.
Derek MacKenzie is gritty center who will help round out the team’s depth at forward. Last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the forward was an invaluable asset on the penalty kill averaging 1:51 of shorthanded TOI per game for Columbus. The 33 year old also chipped in 18 points in 71 games.
In Willie Mitchell, the Panthers added a successful savvy veteran defenseman who will fit right in on the Panthers blue line while serving as a mentor for Florida’s young d-men. Mitchell was a big part of the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 and he is rock solid defensively with a +120 rating over his 795 regular season games played.
“He is very well schooled in the defensive aspects of the game and he has impeccable character,” Tallon said on the new defenseman.
With the addition of Al Montoya, the Panthers have added valuable goaltending depth. The 29 year old Montoya had a strong season in a backup role last year with the Winnipeg Jets, winning 13 games with a 2.30 GAA, two shutouts and a .920 save percentage.
The Panthers were expected to be big players in free agency and within the first few hours, they did not disappoint. The Panthers group of young forwards includes the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad among many others. Jokinen, Bolland, Thornton, MacKenzie, Mitchell and Montoya are now valuable pieces of the puzzle and they will fit right in with the maturing Panthers roster.
With the hiring of new head coach Gerard Gallant, the selection of defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick at Friday’s draft, the young talented group of players already in place and now the free agent additions of Bolland, Jokinen, Thornton, MacKenzie, Mitchell and Montoya, the Panthers should be a team to be reckoned with next year and for many years to come.