CORAL SPRINGS — A few months ago, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice made the decision to try and jumpstart Anton Lundell by moving him to the left side of a new top line with Sasha Barkov and Sam Reinhart.
Lundell had, for the most part, centered Florida’s third line since starting his NHL career with the Panthers last season.
“The vast majority of really good, young centermen don’t come in at center, unless you are in a rebuild and you draft him first overall and you throw him in,” Maurice said in January about the move.
“A lot of guys come in, they learn the game on the wing and they’ll go back in the middle.”
Guess who is, well, back in the middle?
When Barkov missed three games with the hand injury that has been bothering him since getting struck by a Tampa Bay shot on Feb. 6, Lundell slid over to center the top line in his absence.
When Barkov returned last week, Lundell was not moved back to the wing — but back to centering the third line with Ryan Lomberg and Reinhart.
The Panthers have liked the energy and opportunities the line has produced and expect to see more tangible results moving forward.
In their two games together, only Lomberg has scored.
But the Panthers hope getting Lundell back to his natural position at center — he has not played much at wing during his hockey career, even dating back to his youth days — will get his offensive game going.
They certainly have no complaints with his defensive game.
”It has felt great but it doesn’t really matter where I play because center and wing have been pretty good lately,” said Lundell, who scored a goal in Tampa on Feb. 28 but has not hit the scoresheet in the past three games.
”I am trying to get back to my game, back to playing as well as I can. I play a good two-way game, but I am also trying to create chances and help the team with some scoring.”
With Lundell centering the third line, Florida feels extremely comfortable with its center depth moving forward.
The Panthers are now running out Barkov, Sam Bennett, Lundell and Eric Staal down the middle every night.
Not too shabby.
“We liked (Lundell) on the wing with Barkov and that line sort of tailed off in terms of production,” Maurice said.
“Some of that had to do with Barkov’s injury. When we got beat up a little, I really liked Lundell back at center. I think he has really grown by playing on the wing. He is driving harder down the middle and Lomberg has brought a lot of speed to that line.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- This season (Chicago leads 1-0): Blackhawks 4, Panthers 2 (Oct. 25)
- All-time regular season series: Blackhawks lead 28-17-4, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m.