We have lots to cover here, because a lot has been happening all over the place! And, as you've seen, I mean lots of good things. The Panthers improved their depth at every position in free agency, extended the contracts of some of the best young players in the game for several years to come and strengthened the organization by adding some quality young players at the draft. Overall, the defending Atlantic Division Champions are set to enter '16-17 as a contender.
My summer music consumption is underway, too! Let's get to it, and as always, we'll begin by touching on some of the most important hockey things.
- How about those contract extensions? Eight years for Aaron Ekblad, six for Vincent Trocheck and five for Reilly Smith.
First, regarding Ekblad:
Plain and simple, there are very few defensemen in the league who possess the skill he does. A player like Ekblad is a franchise cornerstone; we've seen his ability to contribute in every situation, play against the opposition's top players, and when he's been challenged with an increasingly heavy workload, he's shown he's ready for it. In six playoff games against the Islanders, Ekblad played just a shade under 26 minutes a night. What's more? He's a quality individual and a true professional.
- Speaking of good guys who will be key Panthers for years to come: the duo of Trocheck and Smith. We all remember what they did on a line with Jussi Jokinen last season; especially in the second half. In 27 games in February and March last season, Trocheck posted 26 points and was plus-15.
He'll turn 23 in less than a week. The fact that Trocheck picked up steam late in the season shows he's a special talent and is becoming a star player before our eyes.
-And Smith: he's one of the best all-around players in the league. His career-high 25 goals stand out on the stat sheet, but a few things that don't always appear in the box score resonate most with me. His hockey IQ, his skating ability, and his ability to handle any situation- especially the penalty kill- really make him a unique player. Consistent and reliable: that's Reilly Smith, one of two Panthers to appear in all 82 games last season.
And now, one note that comes to mind on each of the Panthers free agent additions:
- James Reimer: He's a veteran guy I remember seeing way back in his days with Reading in the ECHL, and a great competitor who will give the Panthers one of the most talented and deepest goaltending duo's in the league. He's only 28, and is coming off a very nice season split between Toronto and San Jose.
- Jason Demers: Veteran defensemen can always help a team, and Demers can handle a heavy workload. He played almost 21 minutes a night on a very good Dallas team last season, and has averaged nearly 19 minutes a game during his 423 NHL games, while carrying a career plus-39. A very solid player, the Panthers have him in the fold for five seasons.
- Keith Yandle: He's near the top in power play production from the defense position during his time in the league. He will certainly help the Panthers power play climb the league ranks. I had a chance to chat with him at the draft; he's a really good guy who fans will enjoy watching, and he's very excited to join a Panthers team that is ready to win.
- Jonathan Marchessault: He's moving from one coast of Florida to the other, and he gives the Panthers depth scoring potential; something every contender loves to have. At just 25, Marchessault has had three seasons over 60 points in the AHL.
- Colton Sceviour: Another player who will give the Panthers some added offensive punch, he's very good around the net. I remember seeing him with the Texas Stars in the AHL; specifically, during the '13-14 season when he posted 32 goals in 54 games and was one of the circuit's most dangerous goal scorers.
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS
-For those of you who heard our live broadcasts from the NHL Draft in Buffalo, Randy Moller and I had a great time. Being able to witness all the selections and draft day trades from across the league as they happened was a great thrill, as was being able to meet the newest Panthers selections and experience their excitement. We heard from Henrik Borgstrom after he was picked, and Keith Yandle stopped by our spot on radio row during night one of the draft, and on the second day, we had Adam Mascherin (Second Round) and Jonathan Ang (Fourth Round) join us immediately after being selected.
-Friday in Tampa Bay, Saturday in Orlando, and Tuesday in Charlotte I went to the Vans Warped Tour; my annual Summer tradition. Some may ask if the bands were the same, and yes they were; but there are nearly 70 of them. One of the best parts of the Warped Tour is that you could go every day and never have the same experience twice. I've now been to
24 Warped dates in all since 2002, and this year didn't disappoint.
I'll have to go back and count the number of bands I saw, but among them were Less Than Jake, Teenage Bottlerocket, Masked Intruder, The Interrupters, Sum 41, and Motionless In White.
-Next up for my summer music consumption: Chicago Open Air is single-digit days away. Over the three days, Killswitch Engage, Bullet For My Valentine, Beartooth, Of Mice & Men, letlive, and many others will be on the docket. Warped gave me my punk and ska fix, and Chicago Open Air will handle the metal side of things.
-For more details, follow along @DougPlagens on Twitter!
-And I really like when dining establishments use styrofoam cups. The condensation on the outside isn't nearly as much as with a conventional paper cup, and the coldness of the beverage isn't as harsh on your hand. Hashtag insulation. And it's more durable too!
'Til next time, that'll do it from here!