Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. What are these? These are players that have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams. Whether that’s as someone who finally finds their place in the NHL, or as someone who had previously been good but has struggled as of recently. Each day we will be looking at a different team! However, today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Florida Panthers key players.
2020-21 Florida Panthers Candidates
To start, this was no easy list to choose from. A few different players have the potential to have either a bounce-back and/or breakout season. With that being said, it had to be narrowed down to three. First, on our list, we have the Captain himself, Aleksander Barkov, despite finishing the season second on the team in points with 62 in 66 games played. This was an off-year for Barkov, after a breakout season during the 2018-19 campaign. Barkov led the team in points with 96; he recorded 35 goals and 61 assists. Yet, he was unable to follow this up when the new season came around.
During the 2019-20 season, Barkov struggled to find the back of the net. With only 20 goals scored, that’s the lowest he’s scored since the 2014-15 season. While he still added 42 assists this past season, missing a few games never helps. Now that the Panthers have lost Evgenii Dadonov, and it looks as if Mike Hoffman will not be returning to Sunrise either. Barkov will have to step up his game to make up for the 54 goals lost between Hoffman and Dadonov. Look for the power-play to start running through Barkov more; now that they have lost Hoffman and Dadonov. With Bill Zito fixing things on the back end, Barkov should have more than enough opportunities to climb his way back to being a 30-goal scorer.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere last season, Chris Driedger became the netminder the Panthers never knew they needed. After battling in the American Hockey League for seven years, Driedger solidified himself as the Florida back-up. In his first game with the Panthers, Driedger earned a shutout against the Nashville Predators. With 27 saves, Driedger made the most of his opportunity and never looked back.
By the end of the season, Driedger finished with an impressive 7-2-1 record through 12 games played. During those games, he ended with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. With the way Sergei Bobrovsky was playing, Driedger could be called upon early on to relieve “Bob” if he continues to struggle. With that being said, a lot of the Panthers’ offseason acquisitions were more defensive and depth guys. Which, in the long run, should help both goaltenders next season.
Last but certainly not least, another 2020-21 Florida Panthers candidate, we have Carter Verhaeghe. Coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning during free agency. Verhaeghe was part of the group that won the Stanley Cup this past season. During his first season in the NHL, Verhaeghe played in 52 games. In that time, he recorded nine goals and four assists for 13 points. The 25-year old forward will look to join the Panthers full-time this season. While he does not have a lot of NHL experience, Verhaeghe has all the tools needed to make a successful career in the NHL.
Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2012, Verhaeghe has battled his way through the minors to where he is now. In 211 games in the AHL, Verhaeghe scored 175 points. With 73 goals and 102 assists, he has proven the ability to put the puck in the net. Moving forward, Verhaeghe has drawn similar comparisons to Jonathan Marchessault. If this comparison follows, this will make up for the points lost in Dadonov and Hoffman. If he takes the steps he needs to. The Panthers will have another hidden gem that they MUST protect once the Seattle expansion draft rolls around.