When hockey fans think about Florida Panthers, the recently executed blockbuster deal with the Calgary Flames comes to mind first. They shipped Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar (as well as prospect Cole Schwindt and a future first-round pick) to Calgary, in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk. Besides that, more attentive fans know Florida currently sit above the salary cap, with at least one move remaining to become compliant prior to next season. Those same people blame Sergei Bobrovsky and his albatross contract for that issue, and likely see Patrick Hornqvist as the odd-man-out. Moving either of those two can solve the money problem. But, what no one seems to be aware of is newcomer, potential fantasy sleeper pick, Anton Levtchi.
Anton Levtchi, Fantasy Sleeper
Levtchi’s name doesn’t ring many bells in North America, and rightfully so. The 26-year-old winger wasn’t drafted to the NHL, and also has no NHL experience. He inked his first contract on this side of the globe with Florida on June 14th, roughly six weeks ago. That deal went largely unnoticed, but Panthers fans might want to learn a bit more about their newest Cat.
Bill Zito poached Levtchi from the top professional league in Finland, the SM-Liiga. This isn’t the Panthers’ first time grabbing Finnish talent. Aleksi Heponiemi, drafted by the team in 2017, played one season there in 2018-19 before moving full-time to the North American professional leagues. He finished twelfth in league scoring that year, with 16 goals and 46 points in 50 games.
Before Heponiemi, there was one other Panther people may be more familiar with who played in the SM-Liiga. Aleksander Barkov, Florida’s captain, already had two seasons with Tappara Tampere under his belt when the Panthers took him second overall in the 2013 draft. He posted 48 points in 53 games as an 18-year-old there, helping his NHL readiness by playing against professionals at just 17 years of age the season prior.
Levtchi Joins Fellow Finns in Florida
Now, Levtchi isn’t 18 years old, nor was he drafted by the Panthers or any other NHL franchise. However, he did lead the SM-Liiga in scoring this past season, with 61 points in 55 games. That total included a whopping 26 goals. Plus, in the two seasons prior, he finished within the top 15 in scoring. He’s played on Barkov’s old team, Tappara Tampere, for six seasons now. His year-over-year improvement bodes well, and neither Barkov nor Heponiemi reached quite that level of dominance in Finland prior to joining Florida’s system.
Again, Levtchi is 26, so temper expectations. This is not a budding teenager with elite NHL potential. But he’s a proven professional, with multiple years under his belt as a star in his home country. The SM-Liiga may not be on the same level at all as the NHL, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either.
What this Means for the Future
Levtchi joins a talented group of forwards in Florida, so making the roster won’t come easy. That being said, it seems reasonable to picture the forward playing somewhere in the team’s bottom six. That becomes even more within the realm of possibility when considering Anthony Duclair won’t be ready for the season’s start. And, they still need to make at least one move to get back under the cap ceiling. If Hornqvist (or another forward) wind up as their sacrificial lamb, it opens the door with one more roster spot up for grabs.
Many other players broke out in a big way in Florida in recent years. Mason Marchment did it this last season and got a big pay bump from the Dallas Stars as a result. Carter Verhaeghe and Duclair both set themselves up for long NHL careers thanks to explosions with the Panthers, too. Heck, even Jonathan Marchessault hit the big time with this team first.
The Florida Panthers and fantasy sleepers pair like fine wine and fancy cheese. This time around, Levtchi should be on everyone’s fantasy sleeper radar. Maybe snag him in a late round of fantasy drafts, or even via a free agency add, should he make their opening night roster.