|Forward Aleksander Barkov celebrates his first NHL goal with linemate Brad Boyes in the season opener in Dallas (Getty Images) |
With the season underway, I thought I would offer my thoughts and ideas on the upcoming year. First off there is a full 82 games. Everyone gets the benefit of a full training camp, which I think should be beneficial for almost every team. The Panthers were a team that struggled during last year's lockout and having a full camp should be a big benefit in the long run.
The Panthers have the reigning Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau and 2nd overall pick Aleksander Barkov should be in the running for the Calder this season. These two talented young forwards are going to be the cornerstones of the Panthers for many years to come. If you take a look at some of the top teams in the league, many are blessed with a dynamic duo up front. Chicago has Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Anaheim has Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Vancouver has the Sedin twins. Having two big guns up front is a huge advantage in the NHL. The Panthers are hoping this will be the case with Huberdeau and Barkov. I for one believe both are going to be big stars for many years to come.
As far as this season goes for the Panthers, it is one filled with a lot of intrigue. New ownership and new faces have filled this team with a renewed sense of optimism. The biggest addition to the Panthers was goaltender Tim Thomas. After a year off the 39-year old netminder is back in the NHL with the Panthers. Many people wonder with his age and the year off, will he be able to get back to his elite goaltending status. Here are some reasons I believe he will. He is an ultra competitive guy with a passion and will to win. He has accomplished a lot as an older goalie. He won his Vezina trophies at the age of 35 and 37 and he is the oldest goalie ever to win the Conn Smythe trophy as the Stanley Cup playoff MVP in 2011. Only two years removed from his last Vezina and fresh from a year off, I expect a huge year from Thomas. Nothing about his career has been conventional as he didn't even get into the NHL until the age of 31. He toiled for years in the minors before getting his shot. Thomas is a proven winner who took the hard road to the top. Thomas will bring a swagger and work ethic that will be infectious for the entire Panther team.
Some other things the Panthers need this year to be successful. Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov are two young talented defenseman who need to take another step forward and offer big contributions from the back end. The Panthers need a healthy year from Kris Versteeg and they need him to produce offensively like he did two years ago. Brian Campbell and Thomas Fleischmann have been the everyday go-to guys and the team needs the same quality consistent production from both of them. The additions of Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Brad Boyes should add a veteran presence, leadership and depth that was missing last year.
It's going to be another exciting hockey season. The Panthers are going to be an exciting team to watch. I believe this team will take a huge step forward this year.