For over a decade, the Florida Panthers have consistently faced an uncertain future. It seems like every year has been a rebuilding year, even if nobody admits it. Fans, coaches, and players have all lacked confidence in their team's playing ability.
However, there is one thing that the Panthers should be proud of. Despite all of their problems, they do have solid goaltending. Tomas Vokoun is playing very well and, although the team in front of him has floundered, Vokoun has proven himself to be one of the best goalies in the NHL. Most would consider him the biggest reason the Panthers are still in the playoff hunt.
With that said, Vokoun is 33 years old. Although his career with Florida is far from over (hopefully), it's never too early to find a suitable replacement. The fact that Vokoun will be around for five to 10 more years gives Florida a lot of time to develop a prospect.
Right now, one possible replacement for Vokoun is a 20 year old Jacob Markstrom.
Markstrom was drafted by the Panthers in the second round of the 2008 draft (31st overall). Since then, he has been playing for the SEL (Swedish Elite League) and has shown a lot of potential. This year, his save percentage has been around 92 percent and his goals against average has been around two.
Markstrom has a couple of clear advantages when he plays. The first is his size. He is 6'3" tall and weighs around 185 pounds. He's able to use his size well and make it difficult for the other team to score. Markstrom also has a good glove. Together, these two advantages give Markstrom a much easier time stopping pucks.
Unfortunately, none of those traits define Markstrom. The defining moment in Markstrom's short career is last year's diving incident. It received a ton of media coverage and he was forced to face some harsh criticism from reporters and fans. It was a moment of immaturity that he should definitely be embarrassed over. However, he's less likely to do that in the NHL, simply because no NHL coach would allow it.
With that said, that incident only damages Markstrom's reputation. It doesn't change the fact that he has a lot of potential. Markstrom is still a very young and talented goalie with a lot of time to develop.
With a team that's full of uncertainty, a little bit of confidence between the pipes is never a bad thing, even if it is a prospect. After all, the goalie is the most important player on the team. Since the Panthers have a good goaltending prospect, they can spend even more time improving other areas of the team, mostly sustaining attacks.
Unfortunately, a goaltending prospect doesn't change the situation the Panthers are in now. There are a number of other things that Florida needs to change as well. As we've learned with Vokoun, you can have a really great goalie, play terribly in front of him, and still be at the bottom of the standings.
If the Panthers can't improve other areas of their game, then Markstrom will be no help to the team. They will be in a similar situation to what they're in now, and I'm sure that Panther fans don't want to be in this situation forever.
See more of my NHL opinions at Tips for Hockey