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Over/Under: Grading ESPN’s Point Projections for the Florida Panthers

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Matthew Tkachuk celebrates after scoring with Brandon Montour, Marc Staal, Sasha Barkov Carter Verhaeghe during the third period of a game against the Washington Capitals on April 8. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

With the NHL season about a five weeks away from officially starting, ESPN projected what kind of numbers each member of the Florida Panthers would put up.

Coming off of a Stanley Cup Final appearance with multiple players having career seasons, ESPN has many Florida players making an even bigger jump.

Today, we look at the ESPN projections for the Florida forwards — and whether we think the player will go over or under the projection.

Matthew Tkachuk

Projection: 42 goals, 112 points (81 games played)

FHN’s Prognosis: Over

While 112 points is a hefty amount, Tkachuk has proven time and time again that you should not bet against him.

His 109 points in 2022-23 came with a rotating cast of linemates as Florida’s center core faced a myriad of injuries throughout the regular season. But that did not stop him from carrying the Panthers into the playoffs down the stretch.

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The one burning question that comes with Tkachuk is if he will be 100 percent healthy after suffering a fractured sternum in the Stanley Cup Final. With the injury typically having a 10-week recovery time, he is expected to be pretty close — if not fully ready to go — by the time training camp starts back up.

If he gets hot out of the gate, Tkachuk could end up around the 115-120 point range.

Sasha Barkov

Projection: 37 goals, 90 points (69 games played)

FHN’s Prognosis: Over

If Sasha Barkov stays healthy — which ESPN projects him not to — he is capable of reaching the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career.

Barkov finished the season on a 94-point pace after scoring 23 goals and 78 points in 68 games in a season where he faced a lengthy battle with illness and a lower-body injury off of a hit by Nico Hischier. He had 88 points in 67 games the previous season taking another freak hit down low in mid November.

While it is hard to predict health — after all, nobody predicted an illness to run rampant through Florida’s locker room in November and December last season — these injuries are not a result of Barkov being injury-prone. But, as ESPN’s projected pace suggests, Barkov has the talent to be able to be a 100-point player in 2023-24.

If so, that would be a first for Barkov and make him just the third in Florida Panthers history to hit 100 points next to Tkachuk and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Carter Verhaeghe

Projection: 45 goals, 80 points (80 games)

FHN’s Prognosis: Under

Carter Verhaeghe smashed his career-highs last season, nearly doubling his previous high in goals from 24 to 42 while putting up 73 points in 81 games. The question is: Can he build on that?

Verhaeghe certainly has the talent to do so. His speed and his quick release created a lot of opportunities 5-on-5. The issue is that the Florida Panthers have not used Verhaeghe on its top power play unit, which could limit his ability to put up bigger numbers.

It remains to be seen if Paul Maurice wants to tweak the power play that helped his team make the Stanley Cup Final — and one that is returning all of its components — but limited power play usage could hinder Verhaeghe from truly reaching that next step.

Sam Reinhart

Projection: 30 goals, 67 points (80 games)

FHN’s Prognosis: Over

After scoring 82 points in 78 games in 2021-22, Sam Reinhart saw a drop in production in his second year with the Panthers.

Reinhart recovered from a slow start last year, going from registering just two assists in 12 games to finishing out the year with 31 goals and 67 points in a full 82-game season.

His early struggles should be mitigated by the breakout of Anton Lundell (see below) which could help his numbers recover to where they were during Florida’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign.

Anton Lundell

Projection: 12 goals, 32 points (67 games)

FHN’s Prognosis: Over

While health has been a minor issue for Lundell in his young NHL career, 32 points would be a step back from what was already a sophomore slump in 2022-23.

And judging by how he played in the Stanley Cup Final, Lundell is ready to take a step up from his 12-goal, 33-point regular season.

The 21-year-old looked mature beyond his years as he put up a goal and three points in Florida’s five-game Stanley Cup Final loss. That was good for second on the team.

If Lundell can find as much comfort as he did next to Reinhart down the stretch, he could be in for his first 50-plus point campaign in the NHL.

Sam Bennett

Projection: 17 goals, 39 points (64 games)

FHN’s Prognosis: Even

While health is hard to predict, Bennett has reached the 20-goal, 40-point mark in each of his two full seasons in South Florida.

He rounded that out with 16 goals and 40 points in 63 games in 2022-23.

Perhaps a step up for Lundell could cause Bennett to lose some of the opportunities he gets, but it is safe to expect Bennett to end up in the 20/40 neighborhood.

Eetu Luostarinen

Projection: 15 goals, 40 points (80 games)

FHN’s Prognosis: Over

After securing a new three-year contract extension, Eetu Luostarinen is poised to build on a breakout 2022-23 campaign.

The 25-year-old nearly doubled his career total in goals and points, scoring 17 goals and 43 points in 82 games last year.

With a likely opportunity to either stay on a line with Reinhart and Lundell — which worked well in the playoffs last year — or potentially play with Barkov or Tkachuk,  Luostarinen will likely continue to develop into a reliable top-six forward for the Panthers.

No Projection listed: Evan Rodrigues, Kevin Stenlund, Steven Lorentz, Ryan Lomberg, Grigori Denisenko, Nick Cousins

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