The Panthers young players have been impressive early in the season. While the team has had some frustrating inconsistencies, I've been very impressed and encouraged by a number of players.
Aleksander Barkov has been strong on his skates and is already contributing offensively at age 18. I can imagine what he's going to be like in a few years. He could be that top line "big horse" center the Panthers have been looking for.
Jonathan Huberdeau has shown his offensive instincts with some skilled goals and passes but what's really impressed me is the way he's handled himself. In the home opener we saw Huberdeau get physical with Penguins Defenseman Brooks Orpik then jawed nose to nose with him. Showing a physical side of his game is huge for a young offensive player. That kind of reputation gets around the league quickly.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom has been solid. He came in off the bench when Tim Thomas got hurt in Philadelphia and shut out the Flyers for 52 minutes. A loss suffered in Tampa was as much a result of the team's performance as the goalie's. Markstrom then played well in the home opener, beating the Penguins and wasn't the problem against Los Angeles on Sunday.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is still feeling his way but the 21-year old defenseman is playing physical hockey and skating well. Gudbranson is one of those guys that hates to lose and that's what I love about him.
These four players will be major factors moving forward for the Panthers and their starts to the season have been encouraging. Meanwhile, Vincent Trocheck has gotten off to a nice start to his professional career in San Antonio (AHL). Nick Bjugstad is recovered from his concussion and the big center is ready to hit the ice. The Panthers college players have started well too with Rocco Grimaldi at North Dakota picking up five points in two games against Vermont and goalie Sam Brittain at Denver posting shut outs in two games against Merrimack. Recent draft pick Chris Clapperton is averaging almost two points a game in the QMJHL, and sits second in the league in scoring with 21 points in 11 games.
Victories now at the NHL level are the most important aspect but I have my eye in what's coming up for the Panthers.