We are past the half-way point of the season, and by now, everyone around the NHL is talking about the 2020-21 Florida Panthers. What feels like a “zero to hero” kind of moment, the Panthers know they are far from finished. Now that there are just 27 games left in the regular season, the team cannot take any nights off in a league where anything can happen any given night. The Panthers are built for the long haul thanks to a few key off-season acquisitions made by Bill Zito.
Offseason Pickups Guiding 2020-21 Florida Panthers
At the start of the 2020-21 NHL season, there was a massive question mark surrounding the Florida Panthers. A first-time NHL general manager, lack of funds due to the pandemic, and the Panthers’ stigma combined left the hockey community watching. We were waiting to see what would happen down in Sunrise. With Zito able to bring in a good chunk of players, at a decent cost, no-less. The Panthers are not “supposed” to be doing as well as they are.
Nonetheless, here we are. The Panthers are doing very well this season, tied for fourth in the league in points at 42. It’s strange seeing their name that high on the leaderboard. But that’s not going to slow them down. Thanks to some of the off-season additions, this is one of the most complete Panther teams in franchise history. Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair have solidified a competitive top-six for Florida from the offensive side of things. Something that the team hasn’t had since perhaps the 2015-16 season. Moving back to the blue-line, Gustav Forsling has been an extremely lovely waiver pick-up, while Noah Juulsen has shown a glimpse of promise when healthy. Yet, it’s been Radko Gudas, the true complementary piece to the Panthers defensive group.
Verhaeghe and Duclair Round Out the Top Six
After what must have been an exceptionally long off-season for Duclair, representing yourself as a free-agent is no small task; men and women go to schools for years for that very reason. Yet, he put all his cards on the table in his attempt to find a true hockey home. Luckily for Panther fans, it seems he has found it. Not only is he a part of a highly talented line with Verhaeghe and Aleksander Barkov, but the organization as a whole urges Duclair to be open and honest with issues that are bigger than sports. Despite his slow start, Duclair’s production numbers are sub-par. Yet, his underlying numbers make up for that. With over 55 percent Corsi For and Expected Goals for of 9.3, and that’s before his two-point day against the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
On the other side of Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe struggled to find a permanent spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster last season. It shows you how deep the Lightning are and good Steve Yzerman is at his job. Carter was a guy who did pretty well for himself in the minors—battling from the ECHL to the AHL, where he had 175 points in 211 games. Verhaeghe has fit in nicely with Barkov and Duclair. Using his speed and vision, he creates time and space for himself and his teammates. He’s calm with the puck in the offensive zone, and if you give him a half-second too on, he will take advantage of his canon of a shot. In comparison, he hasn’t been great during his power-play time. He more than makes up for it when it’s 5-on-5 play.
As both players continue to play and build confidence, they will be unstoppable come playoff time.
The Gudas Effect
Moving to the blue-line, Radko Gudas has been a brick wall for the 2020-21 Florida Panthers. Not only is he top five in the league in hits, but he also has some pretty solid underlying numbers whether he’s using his big body to separate people from the puck in the defensive zone. Or, he is clearing the view for his goaltender behind him. Gudas also knows as “Butch,” has had an incredibly significant impact on the Panthers team as a whole. He has made the Panthers so much harder to play against. He brings a calming presence to the defensive-zone. The best part about the way he plays is that he goes about minding his own business. He gets the job done and helps the team win.
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