Panthers Rookies Defeat the Bolts, Win Prospects Tournament

The Florida Panthers rookies travelled to Nashville this past week, where they took part in the annual rookie tournament against the youngsters of the Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Boston Bruins. After playing each team once, the Panthers came away as the prospect tournament champions, winning all three games.

Below, I compiled and posted every goal, assist, and penalty minute scored or taken by the Panthers. (Note: Several stat changes occurred. Thank you to the @ThePredatorial for supplying a few of these statistics.)

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The second place winner will be decided this afternoon when the Predators take on the Bruins at 2pm EST.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Walk On.

Josh, Dave, Frank & Paige

Josh, Dave, Frank & Paige

As Panther Parkway begins its third year of existence, this new season of hockey will come with great anticipation.  The Florida Panthers have revamped their roster with veteran players via free agency in hopes to begin a path towards becoming a more competitive team.  Additionally the youngsters that are going through their maturation process will be looked at to take the next step in their development, and be counted on to make more significant contributions. I’m sure we’re all excited to see how the new roster gels, and to see how head coach Gerard Gallant puts all the pieces together in his first year behind the Panther bench.

However this article isn’t about the Panthers.  It’s actually about our site, and the future of it.  Don’t worry, we’re still here.  But we too are going through some “personnel” changes.

Due to the fact that I care so much about Panther Parkway and the readers of it, I felt that I owed you an explanation of what my plans are.  I have been in hibernation for most of the summer and haven’t written much of anything for quite some time now.  I’ve been extremely quiet on Twitter as well.  Unfortunately that’s not going to change anytime soon.  I’ve been working towards making some changes in my career (re:day job) that won’t allow me to spend the time necessary to give you the quality writing that’s deserved.  That being said, I have decided that I need to do what’s best for me not only professionally, but personally.  That decision is to take a step back.  Very far back.  For how long I can’t say.  Today, I start a new challenge in my life that I am so looking forward to.  If you’re a client, no need to worry.  Nothing changes for you, although certain things may have a chance to get better.  I’ll be in touch with you soon enough.

The site will be in good hands so no need to be concerned.

As I take this sabbatical, I need to thank some people who’ve helped me in this journey that we’ve been on.  I have to start first with David Lasseter.  Dave was the first writer who joined me over at our other home.  You know, that site with the “catchy name”.  Dave added his quick wit, his wry sense of humor, and his expert analysis to the site.  But Dave did it in a way that was always fun to read.  Except of course when he just posted video’s of things blowing up after an embarrassing loss.  He knew how to display the anger for all of us. Dave has become a good friend as well, and I will always be thankful for him taking the leap into this with me.  And for some help with a couple minor traffic violations. :)

Josh Luecht who joined shortly after Dave and gave me the “push” to seek credentials for the site.  Josh also is to be thanked for getting us to start a podcast.  Who ever thought that three guys like us would ever get anyone to listen to three people talk about the Florida Panthers?  But you did listen.  At one point we were like the three amigos.  Or maybe it was the three stooges depending on who you talked to.

And of course, Paige Lewis.  I guess you could say we were the fab four. More about her later .

Gaby Kiger who now has a sweet gig with Fox Sports, and Chrissy Parente who moved on from here to do some internship work with the Florida Panthers as she works towards her degree.  While I don’t know if we actually helped, at least I can say I knew them before they were famous!  Good luck ladies!  Oh and congrats Gaby on your recent engagement.

Mike Lewis who was with us briefly has also moved on to a full time position with the Panthers.  It was great having you here, and I always like it when someone gets a chance to chase their dream.  Good luck Mike.

Jameson Cooper. I’m not sure what to say about Coop.  Between his diligent work, his excellent interviewing skills, and his sometimes silly and off the wall tweets, he has become not only one of our better writers, but has also served double duty for me as a marketing assistant for my business.  He picked up the slack for me so many times on the site, and has done an outstanding job for us from day one.  He too has become a very good friend, and I know he’ll do great things wherever he goes.

Mike Obrand who is currently on honeymoon with his lovely bride Carly in Greece (writing for us apparently gives people the love bug).  Mike is going to add his “Canadian” flair to this site and I promise you he’ll be a great read each and every time he posts something.  I still owe him a drink or two, and I promise that sometime after he returns and things settle down a bit, we’ll get together and toss a few back.  Or I’ll at least try to convince him to buy insurance from me.

Finally, I have to thank Paige Lewis. I often refer to Paige on twitter as my hockey wife, I cannot thank her enough for what she’s done for me and the site.  One of the main reasons for the success of Panther Parkway is due to Paige, and people need to know just how hard she works at it.  And how dedicated she is to it.  Proof of that are the accolades our podcast “Panther Parkway Radio” gets, which she has taken to new heights.  Except on those nights where the silliness just takes over, but hey, we have fun.  Smarter than most people give her credit for, she has more hockey knowledge in her little fingernail than many people have in their entire brain.  While she’s technically young enough to be my daughter, she’s mature way beyond her years.   I honestly love her more than I can say here.  She has become a special person in my life, and I will forever be grateful for the friendship we have.  Mike Dixon, you’re a lucky man.

I would also like to thank the Florida Panthers organization for their trust and confidence in giving us the access to the players and coaches of the team.  You did this when we were just three guys thinking we knew what we were talking about.  In our own minds we did, but our message had to be tamed, and it ultimately was.  While we don’t get paid for this, we all respect the credentials that were given to us, and by doing so I think everyone would agree that our writing improved dramatically because of it.  My stepping back doesn’t change that, as Paige has the same philosophy about things as I do.  There will be some new writers added, and some exciting things will be happening as things move forward.

In closing, I would like to thank all the readers of the site, the followers on Twitter and our Facebook Fan page.  I would like to thank the many people who have had me as a guest on their podcast or radio shows, and if you’re reading I’m still available to do that when my schedule permits. I also need to thank all the other media members that I’ve met, and everyone associated with writing and hockey fandom.  I have a great deal of respect for people like George Richards and Harvey Fialkov who are the Panther beat reporters.  You guys have a tough job.

I have made many friends because of this, and while I haven’t met all of you in person, the one’s that I have met have been absolutely some of the nicest people around.  This decision was a difficult one to make, but I know that it’s the right choice not only for Panther Parkway, but for me as well.  I’ll still have a hand in what goes with the site, but my real life career has to take priority.  I’m sure that you can appreciate that, and I hope you understand.

A trademark of my articles always includes a music video of Bruce Springsteen.  Here he is from his performance this past April at the BB & T Center in Sunrise, Florida.  He talks at the beginning about why he wrote this particular song that he’s performing, and references people coming together for one idea.  Kind of like how Panther Parkway came to be.

 

Thanks everyone for your support and your friendship.

 

Vincent Trocheck: Biding his time

Reading about the 2013 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships held in Ufa, Russia, you’ll see that the tournament was dominated by the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM; 4G-11A-15P.), Markus Granlund (CGY; 5G-7A-12P), Johnny Gaudreau (CGY; 7G-2A-9P), and Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA; 3G-6A-9P), all of whom played between six and seven games.

You’ll see that Anaheim’s John Gibson, he of the now-famous Darryl Sutter-ism that had at least a few people thinking, “was he serious?”, completely dominated the tournament, posting a remarkable .955 save percentage, a full 0.5% more than the next goalie, Tampa Bay Lightning super-prospect Andrey Vasilevski. And you’ll even see the leadership on the gold medal winning team, led by future first rounder’s Seth Jones (NSH), Jacob Trouba (WPG), Connor Murphy (ARZ), and J.T. Miller (NYR).

What you won’t see–unless you look particularly close–is one Vincent Trocheck. Despite not garnering the clout that his peers did in the tournament, Trocheck put up a more-than respectable six points (3G-3A-6P) in seven games, including an empty net goal and an assist in the gold medal game. While Trocheck lacked the size and accolades of his peers, it was readily apparent–a year-and-a-half later–that Trocheck used the experience in Ufa as a launching pad for his career.

After the Pittsburgh, PA native returned from Russia, he was traded from the Saginaw Spirit to the Plymouth Whalers, where he went on to score 26 goals to go along with 33 assists in 28 games. He finished the season by leading the OHL in points with 109 total (50G-59A-109P).

As Trocheck did with the World Juniors, he used the culmination of his amateur career as a stepping stone into the pros. Slated to play the season in San Antonio with the Rampage, Trocheck did nothing but impress, leading the team with 42 points (12G-26A) in 55 games. What sets Trocheck apart from his peers is his instincts: he uses tremendous hockey IQ and vision to hit the open man, while his agility makes up for his lack of top-end speed, allowing him to set-up in the right place at the right time.

What really made Trocheck’s first season as a professional stand out was the way that he played following the trade of Marcel Goc. Eliminated from playoff contention, the Panthers brought Trocheck up from the minors. In his 20 game audition, Trocheck shined, scoring five goals to go with his three assists, while leading the Panther forwards with 18:53 of ice time per game.

Heading into his second professional season, Trocheck puts the Panthers in an intriguing situation. Combining his roster friendly two-way contract leaving him waiver ineligible, the signing of veteran centers Dave Bolland and Derek MacKenzie, and the NHL experience of Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Drew Shore, Trocheck looks likely to bounce back and forth between San Antonio and Sunrise.

Moving forward, Trocheck’s versatility will be key; while conventional scouting wisdom might declare Trocheck NHL ready, the logjam at center remains apparent. Being able to play on the wing, and in different roles–whether that be on an energy line, on special teams, or just five-on-five–aren’t so much bonuses anymore, but rather necessities needed to crack an NHL roster.

Coming off his fourth development camp, Trocheck established himself as the clear-cut leader amongst those in attendance, something management was clearly looking for out of the 21-year-old. Since before he was drafted 64th overall in 2011, Trocheck was championed for having IT, a sports terminology that, in essence, means he’s not big enough and not strong enough, but does the little things that are required out of a truly good player. His hockey IQ, his agility, and his knack for setting-up teammates to score give him the edge over the streaky forward and the puck moving defenseman.

Regardless of when it happens, Vincent Trocheck will force himself into the Florida Panthers lineup. Maybe he can use his fourth and final rookie camp as a springboard into his second professional season.

Florida Panthers sign D Aaron Ekblad to entry-level deal

Today the Florida Panthers announced the signing of D Aaron Ekblad to a three-year Entry Level Contract. Ekblad, 18 was selected first overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft back in June.

“We are very pleased to have signed Aaron,” said Panthers GM Dale Tallon in a release courtesy of the team’s website. “He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career. We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition.”

One of the most highly touted prospects in recent years, Ekblad holds the distinction of being the first defenseman taken first overall since the St.Louis Blues selected Erik Johnson first in 2006. Only the  second player to earn exceptional player status in major junior hockey and the first ever defenseman to earn this honor, Ekblad joined the Barrie Colts of the OHL as a 15-year old. Taken first overall in the 2011 OHL draft by Barrie, Ekblad arrived with very high expectations, and exceeded them all.

Ekblad was an All-Star, a Rookie of the year, represented Team Canada on two occasions including winning a Gold Medal at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament  and being the youngest defenseman on Canada’s 2014 World Juniors team. Ekblad most recently won defenseman of the year in the OHL while captaining the Colts. His resume on paper is quite impressive to say the least, but it’s his versatility and maturity as a player that puts him on an elite talent level.

His 6’3″ 216 lb frame make him an intimidating figure, but his ability to use that frame to his advantage is what made him one of the most sought after defenseman to come along in years. Finishing with a plus-31 rating in his junior career, tells the tale of his defensive responsibility, but his outstanding 116 points (40-76-116) in 175 games shows that he can be a force offensively as well. Ekblad exploded in what could be his final season in juniors. Posting 53 points (23-30-53) in 58 games, Ekblad began showing his capability to quarterback a power play, and rush the puck as well. Ekblad’s 23 goals made him the league leader in goals scored by a defenseman.

Panther Parkway: WRITERS WANTED

It’s about that time again! The 2014-2015 NHL season is about to begin, which means Panther Parkway will be back in full-season mode again and we’ll need YOUR help.

A little about us:

Panther Parkway is going on their 5th season as a credentialed blog with the Florida Panthers (including the two years we were affiliated with Fansided.com). We are a fun bunch. Like, really fun.

What we’re all about:

Look, we know we’re a blog, but the Panthers have also been generous enough over the past 5 seasons to issue us credentials. We know it’s hip and trendy now a days to hate the team you write for, but we’re not about that. As credentialed members, we try to keep the hate to a minimum. That’s not to say we don’t want you to be honest, because we totally want you to be honest. But we also don’t want you dropping the F bomb or complaining about every little thing the team does.

In addition to this, we try to stay away from being “too much” of a fan. Yes, we’re all fans here. But sometimes folks can take it a bit too far. Basically we’re asking for you to remain unbiased. (Unless you’re talking about Aleksander Barkov. You can totally fan girl or fan boy over him.)

What we need:

Game Day Preview Writers: We’ll need people to write game day previews for all 82 games. Basically, you’ll need to tell readers about the history of the match-up between the two teams, players to watch, what to expect, etc.

Featured Writers: We’ll need featured writers during the season to give viewers some interesting content to read on off-days.

Advanced Analytics Writers: Panther Parkway staffer Mike Obrand has been involved in Analytics for quite some time now, while I am still learning. With that being said, we need more of you.

When we need it:

So, now that you know what we need from you, it’s time to apply! If you’re interested, please e-mail me at PeejLewis@yahoo.com, and tell me your name and which position you’re interested in! Everyone who applies will be given a topic for that specific position! If we like you, we will e-mail you and give you a second topic. We will then narrow our candidates down and choose our new writers! Please keep in mind that you DON’T have to live in Florida to write for us. You just have to have access to Florida games on TV. 

You have until September 9th to e-mail me that you’re interested! Then, you will have until September 16th to write your first topic. Have fun and good luck!

San Antonio Rampage Re-Sign C Wade Megan and F Tony Turgeon

Today the San Antonio Rampage announced the re-signing of C Wade Megan and F Tony Turgeon. Each of the young forwards signed one-year AHL deals.

Megan, 24 was a key player during his college days at Boston University where he posted 83 points (49-34-83) for the Terriers in 151 career games. Taken in the fifth round (138th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, Megan spent four seasons at the college level before signing an ATO with the Rampage in 2012-13.  Last season, Megan played his first full professional year of hockey splitting time between the Rampage and the Panthers’ ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. The 6’1″, 190 lb, centerman played in 43 games for San Antonio notching 17 points (11-6-17) and was a big part of the Cyclones run to the Kelly Cup finals where he posted 13 points (10-3-13) in 22 postseason games.

Turgeon, 24 is an intimidator with his 6’4″, 220 lb frame. Known more for his rough-and-tumble style and physical presence, Turgeon played three seasons at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and posted 169 PIMs in 62 games. The undrafted UN-O defenseman made the transition to forward as he played in his first pro season in 2013-14 with both the Rampage and the Cyclones. Turgeon played 5 games for San Antonio posting 21 PIMs and 13 games for Cincinnati, posting two points (0-2-2) and 59 PIMs.

 

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Tom Rowe to Return as Rampage Head Coach

The Florida Panthers announced today that Tom Rowe, will return as the head coach for the Florida PanthersAHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage for the 2014-15 season.

Rowe  became the head coach of the Rampage on Nov. 8, 2013 when bench boss, Peter Horachek was abruptly called to duty as head coach of the Panthers replacing former coach, Kevin Dineen. Coaching a group of youngsters in San Antonio, the Rampage went 26-31-3-5 under Rowe. The team showed promise as they jumped into the playoff race in Feb. when they went on a 7-2-0-1 tear and set a new franchise record for road trip success in the process.

Rowe, 58 most notably took over coaching duties for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL in 2012 (leading the team to a 34-18-0 record) and was also an assistant coach for the 2008-09 Carolina Hurricanes  under current Nashville Predators coach, Peter Laviolette. The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals that season fighting through the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in the process in two back-to-back seven game series.

Joining Rowe behind the bench is Scott Allen. Allen, has history with San Antonio as he was a part of the coaching staff during their inaugural season. Allen, 48 spent two years with the Rampage (2002-04) and helped San Antonio reach their first playoff berth. Allen has journeyed through the AHL as an assistant coach for several teams and spent four years as an assistant coach for the New York Islanders (2009-12).

Allen and Rowe are no strangers to one another. Allen served as an assistant coach to Rowe during his time as coaching the Lowell Lock Monsters during the 2004-05 season.

In a release, courtesy of FloridaPanthers.com, Panthers GM, Dale Tallon spoke about the hiring,

“We are pleased to have Tom and Scott behind the bench leading our prospects in San Antonio next season,” said Tallon. “Both Tom and Scott have worked together before and we are confident that they will create a winning and positive culture for our prospects to grow and develop.”

With a team next year that is built around youth, these two veteran coaches will bring a wealth of experience at all levels of professional hockey to help mold them into a team that will not only look to compete for a Calder Cup as soon as possible but to create a cohesive unit for the future of the Panthers as well.

 

Follow Mike  on Twitter @MikeLewy11

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

Ice Bucket Challenge: The Florida Panthers Get Icy

For weeks now, people from all over have been shoveling chunks of ice into buckets, mixing it with water, pouring it on their heads, and then posting it on their respective social media sites. Just recently players, broadcasters, main stream media, and bloggers from around the NHL have joined the craze. No, they aren’t crazy.  They are raising awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. The rules are simple: Poor ice water on your head, capture it on video, and then challenge someone else. Chain chain chain.

A few members of the Florida Panthers have joined in on the action:

Shawn Thornton

Vincent Trocheck

Scottie Upshall

Billy Lindsay
Aaron Ekblad

Erik Gudbranson

Jayce Hawryluk

Joe Wegwerth

Quinton Howden
Nick Bjugstad

Sasha Barkov

Florida Panthers Staff

A few members of the Panther Parkway family even accepted the challenge!
Paige Lewis
Mike Obrand

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

Denis Potvin Returns as Panthers’ Color Analyst, Bill Lindsay Shifts To New Role

Who says you can never go home again?

Fox Sports Florida underwent a roster shake up this morning to their Florida Panthers’ broadcast crew by announcing the return of former Panthers color analyst Denis Potvin to their crew.

Potvin has spent the past four seasons with Rogers Sportnet providing color commentary for the Senators after his departure from the Panthers in 2009.

Panthers President and CEO Rory Babich had this to say: “We are pleased to welcome Denis back to the broadcast booth for the Florida Panthers. With an exciting season on the ice right around the corner, the addition of Denis, a hockey legend with long-term ties to the organization, to the existing broadcast team of Steve, Billy and Drew promises to provide an enhanced experience for our TV viewers with one of the premier broadcast teams in the NHL.”

“Billy” AKA Bill Lindsay will be shifting to a pre-game, post-game and interview analytic role with FOX Sports alongside Drew Goldfarb.

One key aspect to the Potvin hire is highlighted by Brett Opdyke, the executive producer of FOX Sports Florida: “It also allows us to showcase Bill’s analyst skills on our Panthers LIVE! shows, and gives our broadcasts the added bonus of a second analyst “between the benches” on marquee games.”

This will no doubt be a welcome addition for Panthers fans.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2014-2015 season, we know that the ones under the sun will be covered from top to bottom.

Tallon uses myriad of methods to build rising D corps

There is an old NHL proverb passed down from generation to generation that dictates the winning formula for a team to embrace and thereby succeed: “Build from the back out.”

It is this mantra that hints at stabilizing your core from the defensive side out when trying to build a winning team that can keep winning for years on end.

Dale Tallon inherited a limping roster when he was hired and has gone through the process to turn it into one of the most promising, young and dynamic groups in the National Hockey League. He stabilized his net when he realized Jacob Markstrom was not cut for full-time duty and is now in the midst of cementing his D corps that will hopefully lead to real success in the short and long-term.

Dale Tallon’s defensive rebuild conforms to many rebuilds we’ve seen in the league over the years with one notable exception. He has used key draft picks to select core players, traded for young undervalued players from other organizations and signed complimentary pieces via free agency. Despite taking the beaten path in those regards there, is one piece that he added that did not conform to the traditional rebuild schematic. The piece that I am referring to is Dale Tallon’s long con….but we’ll get to that.

When you look at the Panthers’ potential defense for the upcoming season you see the results of the aforementioned beaten path which Tallon walked with great effectiveness.

The Key Draft Picks

Dmitry Kulikov, drafted 14th overall in 2009, 99 points in 313 games played after making the team directly out of camp after his draft. The Panthers committed to Kulikov long-term and clearly see him as an integral part of their defensive system.

Kulikov ate minutes for the Panthers finishing 2nd on the team in terms of total minutes played and was deployed almost with complete neutrality between the offensive and defensive zone last season, meaning that the coaching staff believed in him in both offensive and defensive situations.

Within the last two years Kulikov has been on the upward swing possession-wise and has had a positive impact on his team’s performance while on the ice.

Next up: Erik Gudbranson, the Panthers’ esteemed 3rd overall selection from the 2010 entry draft. Erik was thrown into the fire as Kulikov was and has been through the struggles that one would expect a young defenseman to go through while playing in the NHL as an under-20 year old. While Gudbranson’s skill set is elite and the talent is obvious, he is only beginning to carve his niche on the ice as was evident at times last season. Regardless of the past, the future is bright for the likely captain of the Panthers and a serious jump (and I mean serious) in possession metrics suggests that he is coming into his own as planned. At 22 and with the best surrounding cast since his debut, Gudbranson is primed for another season of improvement.

Then there’s the 6’3 216 lbs colt in the room, Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers invested heavily in the defenseman in June and undoubtedly plan to make him a part of their core for as long as they can (aka his entire career). Ekblad’s elite talent is undeniable and his ability to transition that from the junior game to the NHL is obviously paramount for the Panthers’ success in any realm. It’s a risk to select a defenseman first overall due to their slow development and potential for failure but the Panthers clearly thought that he was worth the risk so he will have to make it worth their while.

The undervalued trade target

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure has never been truer when it comes to Dylan Olsen (and his fellow former Blackhawk Jimmy Hayes). Chicago deemed Olsen (and Hayes) expendable to regain the services of Kris Versteeg and I believe I would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks the Panthers got the worse end of the deal from a player perspective. Olsen went from a fringe NHLer in Chicago’s system to a mainstay blue-liner in Florida and managed to put up positive possession numbers for the first time in his career with a weaker line up supporting him. Olsen is poised to keep his spot on the blue line out of training camp and cement his spot in the NHL as a valuable top six defender.

The complimentary free agent

Any good GM knows that free agency is for filling out the roster, not building it. When Dale Tallon went on a spending spree in 2011 he picked up players to fill the roster while his prospects were gaining experience in the minor league and junior ranks. That spree pushed the Panthers into the playoffs but that clearly did not equate to long-term success. Tallon’s youth is finally maturing and he is now at a stage where he can use free agency to go after players he deems suitable for his squad.

Enter Willie Mitchell. Mitchell is the kind of player that GMs love. He’s a winner at all levels winning an ECAC title with Clarkson University, a IIHF World Championship gold medal and of course the two Stanley Cups with the LA Kings in 2012 and 2014. He is a 12 year NHL vet who has made a positive impact on every team he has played for. He is a leader who leads by example and is not afraid to put his body on the line as is evident by his team-leading 128 blocked shots last year. To impress you more, even with Mitchell’s high blocked shot totals he is still a fantastic possession player who creates more positive possession events than he gives up and considering he blocked 128 shots last season that is a lot of positive possession events.

Mitchell will bring a sense of stability to the Panthers defense this season. He will be a solid veteran presence to the young guns both on and off the ice and of course will be relied upon heavily by the coaching staff in key situations when needed.

The long con

Finally, we get to Brian Campbell.

When Brian Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers on June 25th 2011 the narrative was that of “A cap dump by Chicago to rid themselves of a shell of a player that they thought they were getting to a team he won’t succeed with.”

Not exactly a rousing endorsement for the Panthers, but after finishing last in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the 10th straight year the pundits didn’t have to be generous to the team in Sunrise. From the Panthers’ perspective it was more than a cap relief favor to the GM’s previous employer, it was the start of the locomotive that was and is Dale Tallon’s rebuild of the Florida Panthers.

NHL GMs think that far ahead and that’s what Dale Tallon was doing when he traded for Campbell. He acquired a piece that would help the team in the short-term and one that would evolve into the cornerstone of his defensive corps in the long-term.

Tallon took it on the chin when he traded for Campbell but he is only reaping the benefits of acquiring a premiere all-around defenseman who can, has and will do it all for the Panthers.

Let’s talk leadership. Brian Campbell epitomizes the word.

I don’t just mean that he is a “leader,” of course he’s a leader. He’s a 35 year old decade plus player with 838 games under his belt. He’s a Stanley Cup Champion, has been a Captain, an alternate captain and is a poised and professional person who deals with fans and media with aplomb. His career speaks for itself in terms of intangibles but I want to talk about the aspects of his game that makes him the cornerstone of the team.

When I said leader I meant “leader” as in team leader in 5 on 5 ice time since he was traded to the Panthers. In fact he led by 288, 220 and 281 minutes within the past 3 seasons, which is insane. He has either led or finished 2nd in shots taken by a defenseman since his Panthers debut and has been among the team leaders (and led in 13-14) in blocked shots. He finished 2nd, 1st and 1st since the 11-12 season in takeaways by a Panthers defenseman. To top it all off, since 2011-2012 Campbell has led all Panthers’ D in points.

Beyond these stats, his possession numbers are exceptional.

He boasts a 52.1% Corsi For Percentage which means that when Campbell is on the ice 52.1% of the total shot attempts are going towards the opposing team’s net. To give you a comparison, that is 38th best among defenseman after the 13-14 season and best on the Panthers by 1.5%, which is astounding. Campbell literally drives possession forward for the Panthers better than any other D by a significant margin.

In terms of Fenwick (shots directed toward the net that aren’t blocked) Campbell clocked a 52.5%, 1% better than the closest Panthers D and good for 39th in the league.

These numbers are even more impressive when you take into account that Campbell played the 3rd most 5 on 5 minutes out of any defenseman in the NHL. To add to his impressive resume his 5 on 5 Zone Start Ratio is 50.8% meaning that he was nearly evenly distributed between the offensive and defensive zone which alludes to my “all-around player” label.

What impresses me most about Campbell’s metrics are his Relative Corsi and Fenwick numbers. He is a +3.0% 5 on 5 Corsi and Fenwick player which means that the team is much better (3% better) at possession when he is part of the 5 man on-ice unit. That is, again, a full percent higher than the next Panthers D which means he is better at making the team better than any other defenseman on the team.

With skating that cuts the ice like a knife does warm butter, a hard and accurate shot with a quick release, a premiere first pass and exceptional defensive skills, Brian Campbell is the whole package for the Panthers. He is the unequivocal cornerstone of a defensive group that has been carefully constructed and perfected over the years. Campbell was brought in with the knowledge that he would one day be this player for the team. He knows what it means to be a Panther, he wears an A and is a strong candidate to wear the C and has been through the absolute worst the franchise has seen. With the team ready to rise up from the bowels of the NHL, Brian Campbell is at the helm.

With less than two months until opening night, the current blue-line for the Panthers is shaping up to be one of the most talented defensive corps the franchise has seen in a long time.

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