Around most hockey circles, when the Florida Panthers are mentioned, the reaction you usually get is well, not much of one actually.
The team has been mediocre over the past decade and if memory serves me correct, have not reached the playoffs since the year 2000. This is also the longest streak of any active team in the NHL.
Part of the reason could be just bad signings (Todd Bertuzzi) some of the reason could be the string of bad draft picks over the last few years (Kendall McArdle, Anthony Stewart, Petr Titacek), and some of it could be the plain fact that management has made a couple of bad trades over the past few years (Roberto Luongo).
But the team seems to be taking a better path with Dale Tallon taking the reigns as general manager this season. He was the man who constructed the current Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
He started off by trading away Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell for Dennis Wideman, a first round pick, and a third round pick. Then he traded Keith Ballard and Viktor Oreskovich for another first round pick, Michael Grabner, and Steve Bernier.
That accumulates to him having three first round picks and two former first round picks in Bernier and Grabner. Which makes it evident that he is using the same formula he used in Chicago by building the team through the draft.
The pickup of Michael Grabner was the most impressive. He has had plenty of seasoning in the AHL and showed he could score in the NHL when he got himself a hat-trick this past season.
The next move he made was acquiring Chris Higgins via free agency. While playing in Montreal, he had three 20-goal seasons and was quite an impressive player before his play suddenly drop off. Higgins is a low-risk, high-reward signing because his 1.6 million dollar contract wont break the bank and if his game can come around, he could be quite a steal.
Finally, there are the prospects in the system that Tallon acquired when he joined the team.
Jacob Markstrom could very well get his first taste of the NHL this season. Although it is very unlikely that he will get a job in training camp, he could still get called up if there is an injury or at season's end if the Panthers aren't in a playoff run.
Michael Repik is a prospect that got a taste of the NHL already this season, scoring two goals and three assists in 19 games. Even though he is a bit small at 5'10'', he is still a very fast two-way player that could easily win a spot in training camp come mid-September.
Keaton Ellerby is a defensive prospect that could very well be one of the biggest surprises for Florida this season. Although he won't impress with his scoring, he has the potential to be a Robyn Regehr type of defenseman that hits hard and is never out of position. Look for him to impress in camp and possibly earn a spot on the team.
Finally, Erik Gudbranson was a force in the OHL. His game was spotless in all aspects and even told Dale Tallon that he wanted to be drafted by the Panthers, which means he wants to be in Florida and wants to be a part of the team. As for his skill, he is defenseman that can get nasty if need be and can also put the puck in the net. Possibly the potential cornerstone of the franchise in which Tallon can build around.
With all these changes being made in the Sunshine State, it is easy to see that the tide is turning for a team that was once a proud franchise. If Tallon can continue to gather prospects and draft picks, the Panthers could be a playoff team sooner rather than later.
Here is the projected Depth Chart for the Florida Panthers this upcoming season.
David Booth - Stephen Weiss - Michael Frolik
Cory Stillman - Mark Cullen - Chris Higgins
Rostislav Olesz - Shawn Matthias - Steve Bernier
Andrew Peters - Marty Reasoner - Radek Dvorak
Reserves: Byron Bitz
Dennis Wideman - Bryan McCabe
Bryan Allen - Dimitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson - Mike Weaver
Reserves: Jason Garrison, Nathan Paetsch