Noted as one of the most critical positions in the game today, centres have become a premium position throughout the last decade. As one of the more demanding positions, the centreman is responsible for all 200 feet of the ice. Whether it’s shutting down the opponents defensively, alleviating some of the pressure on his own defenceman, or creating offence in the offensive zone, centres need to have an impact in all three zones. There is a reason the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the best defensive forward, is typically awarded to a centre. In its 43 year history, the Selke has been won by a centre 34 times (including the last 17 years in a row). The most recent winner was Alexander Barkov from the Florida Panthers. The overall depth of the Florida Panthers centres means he will likely not be the last to win the coveted award.
Depth of Florida Panthers Centres
Now that Aleksander Barkov is out for the foreseeable future. The guys below him in-depth chart will have to step up in a big way. The Panthers have been able to stay afloat without Barkov, but they can’t get him back soon enough. You can only stay afloat for so long with a player of Barkov’s quality out of the lineup.
After an unfortunate and cheap collision coming from New York Islanders Scott Mayfield, Barkov went down with a knee injury and has not been back since. With the absence of Barkov, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, Anton Lundell, and Eetu Luostarinen have all risen to the occasion in replacing their fearless leader.
Some of these names do not necessarily jump out when you look at the Florida Panthers centres paper. If we are being honest, unless you follow the Panthers daily, you may have no idea who Anton Lundell or Eetu Luostarinen are. Yet, the Panthers would find themselves in quite a deep hole without them, or Joe Thornton, Mason Marchment, and Maxim Mamin. All of these guys can and will fill in if the team is ever in a bind.
The Florida Panthers Underrated Centre Group
We all know about the production and efficiency that comes from Sam Reinhart. We are also aware of the resurgence in Sam Bennett’s game since joining the Panthers. Even Joe Thornton still has a lot of value at the centre, despite his advanced age. While the guys mentioned above carry most of the weight, the Panthers have the luxury of turning to other players in their line-up to fill that void as well. While a drop-off was to be expected, the lesser-known guys have done just as much to propel this team forward as the big names.
Stepping into the NHL for the first time this year, Anton Lundell has been as advertised; and possibly more. When he was initially drafted (2020, 12th overall), the organization indicated that Lundell would finish his season overseas before coming to America. And that may have been one of their best moves yet. Sometimes when players come over from Europe, they struggle to adapt to the NHL. Whether it is the difference in the rink size, style of play, or overall skill difference, it constantly happens where guys need a year or two in the minors to adjust to those things. Yet, that has not been the issue for Lundell.
Lacing up for most of the games this season so far, Lundell is noticeable every night with his complete 200-foot game. As mentioned before, the best centres in the world play in both ends of the ice—night in and night out. Lundell already does this at the ripe young age of 20. With three goals and seven points before their match with Philadelphia, Lundell’s analytics do not scream complete centre just yet. On the other hand, the eye test on Lundell is everything you could ask for. Lundell has been a pivotal part of this team’s success. At the same time, he has room for improvement, especially in the face-off circle. His phenomenal play at both ends of the ice and outstanding penalty killing also make up for it. Lundell has all the makings of becoming an Aleksander Barkov Jr. in the coming years.
If you do not know his name, you better learn it quickly. Eetu Luostarinen is one of the lesser-known names of all the Florida Panthers centres, but a vital piece. With six goals and six points in his first 15 games, Luostarinen is the definition of depth scoring. Coming over in the big Vincent Trocheck trade a couple of seasons ago, Eetu has fit in nicely with this Panther offence. Luostarinen is only entering his third season in the NHL and has played less than 70 games in total so Luostarinen’s ceiling could not be any higher.
Another centre that prides himself in playing a complete all-around game, Luostarinen is a reliable player that is not afraid to play physically in the corners or block a shot from the point. Luostarinen is much better on the defensive side of things, so the Panthers do not need him to score every night. His contributions in their end are just as significant as those big goals and even better passes. So much so, he is top 10 on the team in Wins Above Replacement and Goals Above Replacement. Luostarinen is a centre that every Stanley Cup calibre team would accept with open arms.
There is Always Room for Improvement
The Florida Panthers centres still have some things they need to work on. As good as they are, the team’s face-off percentage is lower than expected, much lower. Barkov’s face-off percentage remains top amongst the rest of the group at 52.6 percent; Everyone else on the squad needs to be better. They are sitting at 30th in the league at 45.9 percent heading into Wednesday night’s game. This is an issue that could cost the Panthers when games get tighter and more important. The importance of winning face-offs in all three zones should never be overlooked. While doing well in face-offs does not necessarily correlate to the success of a franchise, face-offs can and will make or break a hockey game. If the Panthers want to finally have a chance to hoist Lords Stanley’s Cup, they need to improve in this area.