Panthers season preview: Need Bobrovsky to bounce back, meet expectations


The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Florida Panthers, who will play in the Central Division. 


Coach: Joel Quenneville (second season) 

Last season: 35-26-8 (.565 points percentage); 10th place in Eastern Conference, lost to New York Islanders in Stanley Cup Qualifiers 



1. Bobrovsky must respond 

Sergei Bobrovsky did not live up to expectations as the Panthers’ No. 1 goalie after signing a seven-year contract July 1, 2019. A two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL (2013, 2017), Bobrovsky had the worst goals-against average of his 10 NHL seasons (3.23), and his .900 save percentage was his second lowest (.899, 2011-12). The struggles continued during a four-game loss to the Islanders in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, when Bobrovsky went 1-3 with a 3.07 GAA and a .901 save percentage. The Panthers will need more from the 32-year-old if they have any hope of clinching a playoff berth in what should be a highly competitive Central Division. 

2. Creating enough offense 

Florida is going to have to find new ways to generate offense following the departures of forwards Mike Hoffman (on a professional tryout with the St. Louis Blues) and Evgenii Dadonov (signed with the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 15). Hoffman is a six-time 20-goal scorer and led the Panthers with 29 goals in 69 games last season; Dadonov has scored at least 25 goals in each of the past three seasons and tied Hoffman for the Panthers lead with 11 power-play goals in 2019-20. 

Their top two point producers — forward Jonathan Huberdeau (78) and center Aleksander Barkov (62) — are still in the fold, and forward Patric Hornqvist arrives following a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Mike Matheson on Sept. 24. Hornqvist has won the Stanley Cup twice (2016, 2017 with Pittsburgh) and scored 480 points (238 goals, 242 assists) in 770 regular-season games with the Penguins and Nashville Predators, and 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists) in 90 playoff games. Florida will also see if center Alex Wennberg can regain his scoring touch. The 26-year-old, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 9, scored an NHL career-high 59 points (13 goals, 46 assists) with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016-17. 

3. Improve the penalty kill

The Panthers were 10th in the NHL on the power play last season (21.3 percent), but the penalty kill was in the bottom half, finishing 20th out of 31 teams (78.5 percent). To try and improve the PK, the Panthers signed defenseman Radko Gudas to a three-year contract Oct. 9. The 30-year-old averaged 2:44 of shorthanded ice time per game last season, third-most on the Washington Capitals behind defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler (3.11) and forward Carl Hagelin (2.55). 

Video: 31 in 31: Florida Panthers 2020-21 preview



Making the cut 

Young forwards Owen Tippett, 21, and Aleksi Saarela will receive every opportunity to earn full-time NHL roles in training camp. Saarela, who turns 24 on Jan. 7, did not look out of place during his brief time with the Panthers last season, when he scored four points (two goals, two assists) in nine games. Tippett, a first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2017 NHL Draft, scored 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 46 games for Springfield of the American Hockey League last season and is primed to land a top-six role. 

Most intriguing addition 

Anthony Duclair agreed to a one-year contract Dec. 17 after the forward scored an NHL career-high 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games with the Senators last season and played in his first NHL All-Star Game. The 25-year-old has scored 162 points (79 goals, 83 assists) in 353 games with the Senators, Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes and New York Rangers. 

Biggest potential surprise 

Carter Verhaeghe has 52 games of NHL experience on his resume, all last season, but the 25-year-old center was effective. He scored 13 points (nine goals, four assists) and helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup with two assists in eight postseason games. Verhaeghe may have finally found a stable home with Florida after agreeing to a two-year contract Oct. 9. 

Ready to break through 

Tippett has shown promise ever since he was drafted; he made the Panthers roster out of training camp in 2017-18 as an 18-year-old and scored one goal in seven games. He impressed again in camp last season, with three goals during the preseason, but returned to the AHL for more seasoning and was named an all-star. With Hoffman and Dadonov no longer with the Panthers, it’s Tippett’s time now. 

Fantasy sleeper 

Duclair (LW/RW; undrafted on average) is ranked among the top 50 fantasy right wings after signing with the Panthers. He will compete with the veteran Hornqvist and rookies Grigori Denisenko and Tippett for a spot on the top line with center Barkov and left wing Huberdeau, one of the top 10 fantasy duos. Duclair is worth considering in the final round of a standard, 12-team fantasy draft with the chance to skate with much better linemates. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau — Aleksander Barkov — Patric Hornqvist

Anthony Duclair — Alex Wennberg — Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano — Carter Verhaeghe — Brett Connolly

Aleksi Saarela — Noel AcciariVinnie Hinostroza

MacKenzie WeegarAaron Ekblad

Keith YandleAnton Stralman

Markus Nutivaara — Radko Gudas

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

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