Panthers add Thornton, Reinhart to boost hopes of playoff run

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After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, the Florida Panthers:

2020-21 season: 37-14-5, second in Discover Central Division; lost in first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Key arrivals

Joe Thornton, F: The 42-year-old, who signed a one-year contract Aug. 13, scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 44 regular-season games and one goal in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Thornton will play his 24th NHL season and is 14th all-time in points (1,529) and sixth in games (1,680). … Sam Reinhart, F: The 25-year-old was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on July 24 in a trade for goalie prospect Devon Levi and a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, and signed a three-year contract with the Panthers on Aug. 11. Reinhart led the Sabres with 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games last season. … Zac Dalpe, F: The 31-year-old agreed to a two-year, two-way contract with the Panthers on July 30. He scored three points (two goals, one assist) in 12 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and four points (three goals, one assist) in five games for Cleveland of the American Hockey League. 

Key departures

Keith Yandle, D: He signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 28 after the Panthers bought out the final two seasons of his seven-year contract July 15. Yandle scored 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 56 regular-season games and had two assists in three Stanley Cup Playoff games last season. … Alex Wennberg, F: He signed a three-year contract with the Seattle Kraken on July 28 after scoring 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) in 56 regular-season games and two points (one goal, one assist) in six playoff games last season. … Anton Stralman, D: He was traded to the Arizona Coyotes on July 26 with defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft for a seventh-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Stralman scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in 38 regular-season games and no points in five playoff games last season. … Chris Driedger, G: He signed a three-year contract with the Kraken on July 24 after he was selected in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Driedger was 14-6-3 with a 2.07 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and three shutouts in 23 games, and 0-1 with a 3.70 GAA and .871 save percentage in three playoff games (two starts) last season.

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

On the cusp

Spencer Knight, G: The 20-year-old was 4-0-0 with a 2.32 GAA and .919 save percentage in four regular-season games (three starts) and 1-1 with a 2.06 GAA and .933 save percentage in two playoff games. The No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft could push Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida’s projected No. 1 goalie, for playing time this season. … Anton Lundell, F: The 19-year-old scored 25 points (16 goals, nine assists) in 26 games for HIFK of Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, last season. The No. 12 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Lundell also scored seven points (four goals, three assists) in 10 games to help Finland finish second at the 2021 IIHF World Championship. … Grigori Denisenko, F: The 21-year-old had four assists in seven games for the Panthers last season. The No. 15 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Denisenko also scored nine points (five goals, four assists) in 15 games for Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

What they still need

A healthy Aaron Ekblad. The 25-year-old defenseman fractured his left leg against the Dallas Stars on March 28 and missed the rest of the regular season and playoffs. Panthers general manager Bill Zito said July 22 that Ekblad was skating and is expected to be ready for training camp. Ekblad was in the midst of a Norris Trophy-worthy season as the NHL’s top defenseman at the time of his injury; he scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 35 games, including 11 points on the power play.

They said it

“I see their team on paper, I watched their team last year, I love their team and that’s it. I love what they’re building and excited to be part of it. But everything is about ultimately winning the Stanley Cup and the Panthers are right there, in my opinion.” — forward Joe Thornton

Fantasy focus

Left wing Jonathan Huberdeau is among the top 12 overall in NHL.com’s fantasy rankings and therefore warrants first-round consideration in drafts this season. Huberdeau, who formed strong chemistry with center Sam Bennett down the stretch (19 points in the final 13 games) and in the playoffs (10 points in six games), now has another strong potential linemate in Reinhart and will remain on the first power play with center Aleksander Barkov. Huberdeau, who’s seventh in the NHL with 231 points (73 goals, 158 assists) in 206 games since 2018-19, has a stronger supporting cast than ever before and is suddenly ranked higher than perennial fantasy standouts Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Carter Verhaeghe — Aleksander Barkov — Sam Reinhart

Jonathan Huberdeau — Sam Bennett — Anthony Duclair

Frank Vatrano — Joe Thornton — Owen Tippett

Mason MarchmentNoel AcciariPatric Hornqvist

MacKenzie Weegar — Aaron Ekblad

Markus NutivaaraBrandon Montour

Gustav ForslingRadko Gudas

Sergei Bobrovsky

Spencer Knight

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