The Florida Panthers are still mired at the bottom of the NHL, but a look at last night's performance against Pittsburgh signals great things to come for the team's youngsters.
Florida ended Pittsburgh's 13-game home winning streak last night with a resounding 5-1 whomping. The Panthers offense was led by Drew Shore's two goals, while Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Dmitry Kulikov also found their way onto the scoresheet.
Sure, the Cats are still mired in the NHL's basement, but at least when you look at the lineup, you can see a tangible future.
To begin, the Panthers are strong up the middle. Bjugstad and rookie Aleksander Barkov are the top two centers and both are big boys. Shore is a responsible player who can play a variety of roles, so he helps the cause too.
Huberdeau is playing wing on the team's third line right now, but projects to be a top-liner and could easily find a home there within a year.
On defense, the future is led by Erik Gudbranson and Kulikov. I know Kulikov has been involved in trade rumors, but for now he's a Panther and as a restricted free agent, the Cats could re-sign him at a decent price. His CORSI rating is top five on the team and he finishes more shifts in the offensive zone than he starts. Even better, both he and Gudbranson already have NHL playoff experience thanks to the seven-game loss to New Jersey (a series I maintain they would have won had Jason Garrison not been injured mid-round) in 2012. It may not be much, but it's more than the Hall-Eberle-Nuge crew have experienced in Edmonton.
That's a pretty nice core right there and they're not alone. Veterans such as Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski and Scottie Upshall bring a wealth of knowledge to the team. GM Dale Tallon was recently told to spend money on players by new owner Vincent Viola and that will naturally help the rebuild, as will the fact Florida has great weather and a low hockey profile – and yes, lack of crazy attention does appeal to certain athletes.
Tallon knows how to rebuild – he was the architect of the current Chicago Blackhawks before Stan Bowman put the finishing touches on and won the Stanley Cup twice in four seasons. So while not much will come of this season in terms of results, the kids are learning the ropes and it won't be long before they're running the show.