After a strong start to his sophomore season in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, Anton Lundell appeared to hit a snag.
He started the year with 13 points in 23 games and was on pace to break his rookie season total of 44 points.
Then December happened.
Lundell went through both injury and illness and saw his production fall to just one assist in eight games since making his return on Dec. 21.
After seven games without a point, Panthers coach Paul Maurice decided it was time to simplify his game.
“It’s all speed for me, as to what will take him to the next level,” Maurice said.
“He has the hands, he has the intelligence to read the game at a high rate of speed. Sometimes very intelligent players will play off the puck and just read it and I would like to see him get to it.”
The 21-year-old Finnish center has made a name for himself as a reliable defensive player and has had a heavy workload playing those defensive zone minutes down the middle throughout his first two years in the league.
Ahead of Tuesday’s game in Colorado, Maurice decided it was time to try him out on the wing so he could channel his intelligence and playmaking ability on offense.
“The vast majority of really good, young centermen don’t come in at center, unless you are in a rebuild and you draft him first overall and you throw him in,” Maurice said.
“A lot of guys come in, they learn the game on the wing and they’ll go back in the middle. He started in the middle, and he’s been very good in the middle, but just had a stretch of hockey where nothing was happening for him. He was trying, but there were plays to be made.
“We are going to take some pressure off him from being down low. It’s a simpler game on the wing. We have a big, powerful man who can play down low on both ends on the same shift. He is a fast player but he will have a little more room sometimes on the wing.”
While being asked to play a more simple game, Lundell was also tasked with playing against the other team’s best as he was moved from the three-hole to the top line with Sasha Barkov and Sam Reinhart.
“I just have to try to do my best to make plays, make space and try to help them as much as I can,” Lundell said.
Through two games, he has done just that.
He has one assist since joining Barkov’s wing on the top line and almost got a goal before it was taken away due to him being offside Thursday in Vegas.
But even outside of the numbers, it is apparent simplifying his game has gotten the ball rolling in the offensive zone.
Lundell broke his seven-game point drought by chipping a puck in and beating two Avalanche defenders to the puck before finding Barkov with a pass with limited room around him.
He has been able to use his speed and his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame to beat defenders with his legs and his body and use that to his advantage in the offensive zone.
That was also the case on Lundell’s offside goal.
Lundell brought the puck into the zone (a little too early) and later got down low and beat Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill with a wide-angle shot.
He also hit a season-high of six shots on goal in Colorado and followed it up with four more in Vegas.
Although it is early into his tenure on the wing and it is very much still a work in progress, Lundell has contributed much more in the offensive zone and has become more confident with shooting the puck since making the move.
“I want him to shoot the pucks he should because Barkov is an elite passer,” Maurice said.
“He is going to put him into holes. And yes, they scored a goal and he had six shots but the real tell is that they are on the ice to finish the game because I have three offensive players who can get the job done defensively.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
VANCOUVER CANUCKS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Vancouver leads 18-12-4, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Monday at Buffalo, 1 p.m.