The Florida Panthers will open training camp in the coming weeks and there are some new faces joining the team. Where does each player fit in?
Although the Panthers are not adding as many newcomers as in past years, the ones they have could turn out to be big pieces on a team which has hopes to make a deep playoff run for the first time in 25 years.
Florida general manager Bill Zito has done a lot of work on this roster with much of it done over the course of the past year.
The Panthers brought in a number of players for the 2021 season — Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Gus Forsling among them — then added the likes of Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour at the trade deadline.
With almost all of the new players Florida brought in over the past year sticking around (Alex Wennberg is off to Seattle), there really wasn’t much room on the roster for many more.
That is why the Panthers were as quiet as they were on the free agency market.
“The acquisition of Sam Reinhart threw a little bit of a wrench, player personnel wise, into what we were able to do cap-wise,” Zito said earlier this summer. “It has been rather quiet, but we kind of knew we weren’t going to be very active. Actually, we’re kind of happy to be where we are.”
In the past few weeks, the Panthers have traded for (and signed) Sam Reinhart as well as brought in 42-year-old Joe Thornton.
The newcomers expected to make the Panthers, or at least compete for a spot, are all forwards.
The Panthers will likely carry seven defensemen when they break camp next month and all of them will have played for them last season. Florida’s two goalies are also familiar faces in Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight.
So, who are the new Florida forwards and how will they fit in this season?
NEW FLORIDA PANTHERS FORWARDS
Sam Reinhart: Trading for Reinhart at the draft in July was the single biggest move of the Panthers offseason save, perhaps, from buying out Keith Yandle and trading Anton Stralman to the Coyotes.
A few weeks after acquiring Reinhart in a deal with the Buffalo Sabres, Florida signed him to a three-year contract extension worth $6.5 million per season — making him, at least this year, the highest-paid forward on the team.
Reinhart is a forward coming to Florida in his prime.
The second overall pick of the 2014 draft behind Aaron Ekblad, Reinhart has averaged 49 points over his first six full-time NHL seasons with the Sabres.
With the Panthers, the versatile Reinhart could take his game to another level.
Although Reinhart has spent most of his time playing wing, last year he took over as Buffalo’s top-line center with Jack Eichel out and had a terrific end to his season with 13 goals upon being moved.
With Florida, Reinhart gives the Panthers some obvious flexibility. Although Bennett (the fourth pick in 2014) is expected to center the second line, Reinhart could obviously fill that role as well.
Right now, we like the thought of Reinhart on Florida’s top line with Verhaeghe on the left side of center Sasha Barkov.
Reinhart will also give the Panthers more options on their top power play unit.
Joe Thornton: Florida added another trusted veteran by signing the 42-year-old Thornton last month.
Thornton is the NHL’s leading active scorer as he continues his chase for the Stanley Cup with the Panthers.
“I see their team on paper. I watched their team last year. I love their team,’’ Thornton said. “I love what they’re building, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Everything is ultimately about winning the Stanley Cup. The Panthers are right there in my opinion.”
It is obvious Thornton is not the player he was 10 years ago — but the Panthers do not need him to be every night. Florida will count on Thornton in small doses.
As Zito said, Thornton could fill in on Florida’s top line as need be or play on the fourth line. Whatever. You talk about versatility and Thornton brings it.
When it comes to lining up on opening night, Thornton could be centering Florida’s third or fourth line, or be on one of the wings. We think third line center, but time will tell.
Anton Lundell: The Panthers’ top draft pick in 2020, Lundell will make his Florida debut next month. Where, we shall see.
The Panthers don’t necessarily need to rush Lundell into the lineup, but based on how he played for HIFK (and in the World Championships) last season, he may just be ready to do a little heavy lifting.
Lundell appeared to be drafted as Florida’s future second-line center behind Barkov but with Bennett and perhaps Thornton in front of him, we could see him centering the fourth line with Noel Acciari and either Mason Marchment or Ryan Lomberg.
Zac Dalpe: Signed as a depth forward, Dalpe could find himself playing some games in Florida but the expectation is he starts the season with AHL Charlotte.
Dalpe, who signed a two-year, two-way deal worth $1.5 million, played in 12 games with the Blue Jackets last season.
He has spent a lot of his time the past few years playing with Columbus’ AHL team in Cleveland — which is where he and Zito know each other.
Maxim Mamin: Although not technically a newcomer, Mamim hasn’t been around the Panthers in a few years.
Mamin got a one-way contract from the Panthers but with the recent roster additions, it’s hard to picture him making the opening night roster without an injury or a trade changing things.
At the start of the 2018-19 season, the Panthers sent Mamin down to AHL Springfield — although he wasn’t thrilled with the idea and ended up being loaned to his KHL team in Moscow.
Mamin has spent the better part of the past three seasons playing in the KHL. Last year, he scored 15 goals for CSKA Moscow. If he comes into camp and looks good, it’s possible he forces his way onto the roster.