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Anton Lundell Impressed in Playoff Run of the Florida Panthers

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Florida Panthers center Anton Lundell earned a lot of valuable experience as he helped his team to the Stanley Cup Final in his second NHL season. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

SUNRISE — At 21 years old, Anton Lundell got a serious taste of hockey at its highest level with the Florida Panthers the past few months.

Florida asked Lundell, in his second NHL season, to shoulder a lot of responsibility en route to the team’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 27 years.

He delivered.

Though the Panthers fell to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games, Lundell picked up a goal and two assist on the league’s biggest stage.

He finished his second NHL playoff run with two goals and 10 points in 21 games.

But that is just the start of what Lundell went through during the 2022-23 season.

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Lundell came into the season with his third head coach in his two seasons, learned a completely different system while moving between center and wing and had to add multiple different elements to his game to make it all work.

While there were some roadblocks along the way, Lundell figured it all out.

“I think what you saw in Anton was a function of the coaches working with him, being patient and celebrating the thing he does well — helping him with his warts and encouraging him along the way,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said.

“As a younger player, a center in the NHL, it’s really hard, and he rose to the occasion and i suspect that he’ll continue.”

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While his point production dropped off during the regular season — falling from 44 points in 65 games as a rookie to 33 points in 73 games in year 2 — the changes in his game were apparent by the end of the playoffs.

New coach Paul Maurice helped develop Lundell into a heavier forechecker with a physical edge to his game, something he did not have previously.

Coming from the Finnish league, Lundell was used to playing on a bigger sheet of ice with more room to operate.

The European game had an emphasis on positioning and skill while the NHL was faster and more physical.

While he showcased that skill in Finland, scoring 16 goals and 25 points in 26 games in his final season with Liiga’s HIFK, but needed the extra push to become a play-driver in North America.

“I think I was able to improve and the coaching crew was helping me a lot,” Lundell said.

“They drove me to find the next level in my game and find my physical side, which I didn’t know I could have because I was playing on a big rink in Europe. You don’t need to be that physical [in Europe,] you are always in the right position.

”Here, you have to be more physical to be better on the ice and I feel like I improved that and it helped my all-around game as well.”

After going through multiple month-long spells without scoring, Lundell was as complete as a player as he could be by the time the playoffs rolled around.

He was winning battles in the corners, driving the crease and locking down some of the league’s top centers in the defensive end.

And he became a player Florida could rely on in all situations.

That style of play was exactly what Lundell had in mind when he was asked to make those physical adjustments to his game and play on the wing in certain stretches during the season.

“I always tell myself, I want to be as useful as I can to get more ice time and have a bigger impact on the team,” Lundell said.

”I really liked playing on the wing and I learned a lot of new stuff. When you play more than one position, you find more things you can do and I really enjoyed it.”

Lundell has found a solid mold to build on heading into his third NHL season, but he has certainly not reached his full potential quite yet.

The Panthers’ first-round pick in 2020, Lundell has shown a lot of potential in the defensive zone but could use his new-found physical skills to give his offensive numbers a boost during the regular season.

“I think I have a lot to improve still,” Lundell said.

“I can be stronger, I could be faster, there are a lot of things I want to be better at. So I’m just trying to work on a little bit of everything and prepare myself good during the summer camp so I’m ready for next season.”

The Panthers will likely need him to start strong next year, especially with the laundry list of injuries his teammates sustained during their deep playoff run.

Multiple players are expected to be out when the season starts in October.

But like in the Stanley Cup Final, Lundell wants to step up and be an impact player while his teammates are ailing.

“I knew guys were playing with a lot of injuries so that just made me want to step up even more and be the difference maker,” Lundell said.

”I was trying to be a force and help the team as much as I could. I felt like in the Final, I was able to step up and help the team with me and my line playing well.”

The Panthers are confident Lundell will be able to build off the momentum from the Stanley Cup Final and grow closer to his sky-high potential during the 2023-24 season.

“Whatever the path of improvement can be, he will probably achieve it because he is a diligent worker,” Zito said.

“He is interested in getting better and he is invested in all that’s being taught.”

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