The Florida Panthers season wrapped up a little over a month ago, but report cards for the 2021 campaign are now being mailed home.
Today, we look at Florida’s forwards and how they graded out.
In 2021, the Panthers had one of the best offenses in the NHL and a lot of credit goes to their forwards. Of Florida’s top 10 scorers this past season, seven were by forwards including six of the top seven.
The only defenseman to break Florida’s top five in scoring this season was MacKenzie Weegar who tied for third with 36 points.
Weegar isn’t too worried about what his final grade is going to be — although we will get to the defensemen next week.
Noel Acciari (41 games; 4 goals-7 assists, 11 points): Well, Acciari did not get 20 goals as he did a season ago but few expected him to reach those lofty heights. Acciari, who did get yet a third hat trick with the Panthers this season, does what he does very well. Mostly used as a center or wing on the fourth line, Acciari did miss quite a few games due to injuries which pop up due to his all-out style of play. Knowing that he can score is something that teams have to now pay attention to after the way he lit it up in 2019-20. Final grade: B.
Sam Bennett (10; 6-9, 15): Bennett was a late arrival to the Panther Party but he tore things up once he got there. Bennett, acquired before the NHL Trade Deadline passed, may have been a disappointment relative to his draft placement in Calgary (fourth overall in 2014) but no one in Florida cares about how he was used with the Flames now that he’s with the Panthers. Bennett, RFA this summer, was had a point per game in the playoffs. Final grade: A.
Sasha Barkov (50; 26-32, 58): The Florida captain had a season to remember as Barkov won the franchise’s first Selke Trophy and he finished sixth in balloting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. Barkov continues to place himself among the NHL’s top centers and this season was perhaps his best. Barkov can sign a long-term contract with the Panthers this month as his six-year deal will expire after the 2021-22 season. The Panthers may make a lot of moves this offseason or they may not. Making sure Barkov is locked down is one of the most important ones. Final grade: A-plus.
Brett Connolly (21; 2-2, 4): Connolly found himself scratched more often than not after playing in the first dozen or so games this season before the Panthers traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks before the trade deadline. Unloading the remainder of his contract (it has two years left at $3.5 million per) cost the Panthers an up-and-coming defenseman in Riley Stillman not to mention 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgstrom. Final grade: F.
Grigori Denisenko (7; 0-4, 4): The rookie forward did not find a lot of playing time but showed flashes of why the Panthers made him a first-round pick three years ago. Denisenko probably could have used some seasoning in the AHL but with the way this season was, keeping him with the Panthers for much of the year may have been for the best. We don’t know if Denisenko will make the Panthers out of training camp in October but he should at least be in the conversation. Final grade: C-minus.
Anthony Duclair (43; 10-22, 32): Although Duclair got off to a slow start statistically, there was little doubt how much he was creating on the top line with Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe. Duclair showed a lot of speed and creative play and is expected to be re-signed by the Panthers this summer. Final grade: B-plus.
Nikita Gusev (11; 2-3, 5): The Panthers signed Gusev on a nothing-to-lose deal after he was waived by the Devils. Gusev was given prime time real estate in the lineup but did not do a whole lot with it getting his two goals in the last three games he played. Gusev was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs. Final grade: D.
Aleksi Heponiemi (9; 1-1, 2): The Panthers have high hopes that Heponiemi can become a contributor to their team in the coming years and he showed flashes of his skill in the little time he got. His lone goal came in his NHL debut — and beat Detroit in overtime. This coming season will be his third pro season. Final grade: C.
Vinnie Hinostroza (9; 0-0, 0): One of the few newcomers to the Panthers who didn’t pan out (here), Hinostroza spent most of his time on the taxi squad and only got into nine games. Zito traded him back to his hometown Blackhawks where he thrived, scoring 12 points in 17 games. Final grade: D.
Patric Hornqvist (44; 14-18, 32): Made an impact from the start, scoring four goals in his first three games with the Panthers and was a big part of Florida’s power play. Hornqvist was on the second line for much of the season and ended up fifth in scoring on the team despite missing the final few weeks of the regular season. Final grade: A.
Jonathan Huberdeau (55; 20-41, 61): Named to the second All-NHL team, Huberdeau had another outstanding season and led the team in scoring. Huberdeau was strong for much of the year and continues to establish himself as one of the top playmakers in the NHL. Huberdeau led the team in power play assists and 15 of his 20 goals came 5-on-5. Heck of a year. Final grade: A-plus.
Juho Lammikko (44; 4-1, 5): After a couple of years playing in his native Finland, Lammikko showed his strong defensive play in a bottom-six role and added some scoring which was missing the last time he was here. Lammikko was played in a number of different situations as it was apparent the coaching staff placed a lot of faith in his defensive abilities. Final grade: C-plus.
Ryan Lomberg (34; 2-2, 4): The guy they called ‘Lomborghini’ made quite a name for himself in the final weeks of the season after being in-and-out of the lineup for the first few months. Lomberg plays an all-out style and became a fan favorite as the regular season turned into the postseason. Final grade: C.
Eetu Luostarinen (44; 3-5, 8): Luostarinen did not play for the Panthers after coming over from Carolina in the Vincent Trocheck deal but made the team out of training camp and got a lot of playing time this season, giving the Panthers another option at center. Final grade: C.
Mason Marchment (33; 2-8, 10): From where he started to where he ended up, Marchment was one of the better stories of the year for the Panthers. Marchment making the team out of camp was a minor surprise and he didn’t play a whole lot early on. But once he got in, the coaching staff gave him more and more responsibility as the year went on. Marchment showed he could play a physical game on the bottom lines or move up and play with the likes of Barkov and Huberdeau. Final grade: B-minus.
Owen Tippett (45; 7-11, 18): Tippett made the jump from the AHL to the NHL and did so unspectacularly although he certainly seemed like a player who was getting better and better as the season went along. Tippett did not see a lot of time up on Florida’s big-time scoring lines, but when he did, he certainly did not look out of place. Tippett has a terrific shot, skates well and is a pretty good defender. He’s going to be just fine. Final grade: B.
Frank Vatrano (56; 18-8, 26): With almost 20 goals, Vatrano had his second-best season with the Panthers despite not getting a whole lot of top-six minutes. Quick quiz: Who led the Panthers in game-winning goals in 2021? You probably guessed Frank Vatrano. With seven game-winners, Vatrano certainly showed a flair for the clutch. With one more year remaining on his contract, he would be a prime candidate to be headed to Seattle in the expansion draft. Final grade: B-plus.
Carter Verhaeghe (43; 18-18, 36): One of the first players the Panthers signed in free agency was one player the Lightning could not hide under the salary cap. Letting Verhaeghe go was a boon to both the player and the Panthers as ‘Swaggy’ lit things up throughout the season on a very team friendly deal (two years, $2 million). The Panthers hoped getting a real opportunity in the lineup — and playing top-end minutes to boot — would bring out Verhaeghe’s best and it most certainly did finishing third on the team in scoring despite missing the final few weeks before the playoffs because of injury. Verhaeghe (RFA with arbitration rights in 2022) can sign a long-term deal here in a few weeks and this is one situation worth keeping an eye on. Final grade: A-plus.
Lucas Wallmark (4; 0-0, 0): For the second time in as many seasons, the Panthers acquired Wallmark at the trade deadline — this time in the Connolly salary exchange. The Panthers hoped Wallmark would thrive with some new responsibilities in Florida but after four games, he was sat and never played again. He signed with the KHL a few weeks after the season ended although the Panthers still hold his rights. Wallmark, if he were to return down the road, may still end up being a good NHL player. Final grade: F.
Alex Wennberg (56; 17-12, 29): The Panthers took a much-expected chance on Wennberg after he was bought out in Columbus and it paid dividends for both sides. Wennberg set a career-best in goals and points in just 56 games this season and was capable (as Florida knew he would be) throughout the lineup. The Panthers would love to have Wennberg back — and he would like to return — but after last season, he may be offered a bigger financial package than the Panthers would be willing to commit to. We’ll see. Final grade: A.