As training camp is almost upon us, let’s take an in depth look at the Florida Panther’s D-Corps for the upcoming 2018/2019 season.
Coming into this new season, some things are fairly set in stone when it comes to the Panthers defense, while others are likely to be decided in camp in the coming weeks.
First pairing: Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad will return this season as the top pairing after finishing a fairly solid season last year. Yandle put up 8 goals and 48 assists (tied for career high) to total 56 points (second most in career) , showing a large resurgence of offense in his game. Ekblad posted a career high 16 goals in 2017/2018 to pull out of a 3rd year slump, while showing his ability to improve his defensive statistics as well. Many critics pick on this pairing for their defense, or lack thereof, but last season showed growth in the chemistry between Ekblad and Yandle, proving to be a well-made match for the Panthers primary pairing.
Second pairing: In the 2017/2018 season, the Panthers second D pairing consisted of Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk. Pysyk emerged into his role as a true defensively minded blue-liner last year, becoming a staple on the first PK unit. Pysyk isn’t expected to put up Yandle or Ekblad type offensive stats, so his contributions are only a plus considering his defensive work. Matheson enjoyed his coming out party in 2017/2018, posting career highs in goals (10), assists (17), and points (27). Matheson’s skating abilities in addition to his active stick make him both a defensive threat who can put up some points as well. Look for this pairing to continue their shared success into 2018/2019.
Third pairing: The Florida Panthers third pairing of defense from 2017/2018 consisted of a rotation of Alexander Petrovic, Mackenzie Weegar, and Ian McCoshen. Arguably one of the weaker spots in the lineup, this pairing fought inconsistency to help the team create success late in the season. This year, only 1 or 2 of these players will likely find a spot on the Panthers NHL team, not accounting for injuries of course. I think Petrovic, despite being rumored in countless potential trades, has his spot after developing into a solid defensive role. As long as he continues to play responsibly, I don’t think the Panthers have a reason to not have him on the team. Weegar and McCoshen were both rookies last year, but as the season rolled on, Weegar earned more starts on the third pairing than McCoshen, due to his offensive abilities. I think these two will be in a fight for a 6th/7th D-man role this preseason, which neither is unfamiliar with considering they fought night in and night out to fill in the final spot last year. In the end, I think Weegar will get this spot, due to his level of experience gained last year, while McCoshen will be sent out of the 3rd pairing role for this year. Obviously this isn’t set in stone, but last year’s lineups suggest this outcome.
7th Defenseman role: Now that we’ve set up the top 3 pairings, it’s time to wonder who will be kept around as the 7th blue-liner on the roster. This off-season for the Panthers saw the addition of Bogdan Kiselevich, a signing from the KHL’s CSKA Moscow. Kiselevich was wanted by a few NHL clubs for his defensive-minded play style and experience at the professional level. The Panthers were fortunate enough to sign Kiselevich, but are somewhat uncertain of the role he will play immediately with the team. It’s hard to convert success in the KHL to the NHL without seeing that success first, so the Panthers will find out if this gamble pays off this year. I think that depending on what happens this preseason, Kiselevich can compete for Weegar’s spot on the 3rd pairing, but if not, he and McCoshen will be in a battle for 7th defenseman. In the end, I think Kiselevich will be on the NHL squad one way or another, with McCoshen sent back to Springfield AHL to develop further.
Altogether, the Panthers hope and expect to see a continuation of success brought by the top two pairings shown in 2017/2018, while taking what progress they can from the third pairing/7th d-man. The great news is the Panthers defense is young and undoubtedly talented, and I look forward to what results are yielded in 2018/2019.
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