If there is one player who exemplifies the growth the Florida Panthers underwent during the 2022-23 season, it is Anton Lundell.
The 21-year-old forward hit major skids at times throughout his sophomore season in the NHL.
He went nearly the entire month of February without scoring a goal and saw his point total drop from 44 to 33 despite playing in eight more games.
But it was a season that helped him developed into a more complete player and he has come through mightily in the postseason.
He picked up two assists in each of the past two games of Florida’s 7-game series victory against the Boston Bruins to help them complete one of the biggest upsets in NHL history.
“There might not be a better example of the change this team had to go through than Anton Lundell,” coach Paul Maurice said.
”He’s so young. He’s a blank canvas of a player — but a skilled player. There wouldn’t have been a lot of heavy in his game. He didn’t know that this is what the playoffs was and this is what the NHL is. And that is what the great players are.”
The Panthers were in a very similar boat as the 21-year-old sophomore during the dog days of the season.
They had to grind their way into a playoff spot after going through multiple spells of injuries and illness along with inconsistent play throughout the season.
But things clicked for them when it mattered and they not only went 6-1-1 to finish out the season to sneak into the playoffs, but came back from down 3-1 to defeat the NHL’s greatest regular season team of all-time.
“I feel like it’s night and day,” Lundell said.
“At the start of the season, we didn’t know how to turn the games around and as the season went on, we learned. Pretty much after Christmas, we have been playing in big games and we had to get points. We got points and wins, so I think that has made us a lot stronger.”
The same could be said for the way Lundell has developed his game.
While the points did not come right away — he finished the regular season on a four-game point drought and did not register a point in the first five games of the playoffs — the change in his style of play was noticeable.
He forechecked a lot harder and was not afraid to give up the body.
Lundell showed excellence in the defensive zone with his stick-skill and his IQ but the added physical element made him even better on that end of the ice.
Which helped him become a big part of Florida’s success on both ends in the playoffs.
”He is hard on pucks now and he’s banging, he’s competing and he is an every shift guy,” Maurice said.
”What’s great is standing behind the bench and hearing the players talk about him while he is on the ice and how much that’s changed. The amount of cheering that goes on when he finishes the check and how hard he competes, that’s a good pickup.”
That evolution to his game has turned Lundell into a player he can trust to be on the ice in all situations.
He has been a player any of his coaches have trusted to be on the ice in key defensive situations since he made his NHL debut last season. But he is now trusted in those offensive situations as well.
So far, Lundell has delivered whenever the Panthers needed him to with the season on the line.
And he is becoming a better player because of it.
“The games are hard,” Lundell said. “We battle but you don’t get easy goals. The bounces weren’t coming for me but this is really good for me.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV/Streaming: ESPN, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 (ESPN); Game 2: Thursday at Toronto, 7 (TNT); Remainder of Schedule: TBA
- How They Got Here: Toronto d. Tampa Bay 4-2; Florida d. Boston 4-3
- Season Series (Toronto won 3-1): Maple Leafs 5, @Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); @Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, @Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29); Maple Leafs 2, @Panthers 1 OT (April 10)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting