Report Card season has arrived for the Florida Panthers!
The Panthers are 21 games into the 2022-23 season, so it’s only fitting we hand out some letter grades for each player’s performance thus far.
It’s been a season of mixed results for the team out of South Florida.
The Panthers (10-8-3) used a statement win last week against the red-hot Boston Bruins. It was arguably their best performance of the season and showed what this team is capable of accomplishing.
But true to the inconsistencies of this season, the Panthers collapsed in their next game, blowing a three goal, third period lead against the St. Louis Blues to fall below .500.
A sub .500 record a quarter of the way through the season is certainly a far cry from the record they put together at this point of the year last season.
There were plenty of personnel changes in the offseason for the Panthers. So if you’re a “glass half-full” kind of person, then you’re probably somewhat pleased and optimistic with the current status and trajectory of this Panthers team.
On the other hand, if you don’t view the world through those rose-colored glasses, then you may think the start of this season has been a disaster. After all, the Panthers currently sit two points out of the playoffs and are tied with the (supposed to be) lowly Montreal Canadiens.
Well without further ado, let’s put the players under the microscope and see which guys will be running home to show off their report cards and which players will conveniently “lose” theirs on the way home.
The centrepiece of this summer’s blockbuster trade has been every bit as advertised and more!
Tkachuk came out of the gate flying, putting his stamp on this team with a goal in the opening game.
The star winger has been the most consistent Panther this season. He’s been held off the scoresheet only four times and already has 9 multi-point games. Tkachuk has been a threat in the offensive zone but is also bringing that same tenacity to the defensive end.
Tkachuk is an all-world talent and the prized pupil of this classroom.
The Panthers captain had a slow start to begin his season. Through the team’s first eight games, Barkov had five assists and had yet to score.
It wasn’t for lack of trying though. The Finnish superstar was creating plenty of scoring chances for the top line but he and his linemates were handcuffed.
Barkov has brought a grade-A effort to the ice every game and is leading the way a captain should.
His work ethic was finally rewarded in his ninth game when he scored his first of the year and got the monkey off his back.
Barkov has accumulated 13 points in the 11 games since breaking his goal drought, including a trio of three-point games.
Verhaeghe is beginning to establish himself as a bonafide sniper for the Panthers. The third-year Panther is on pace to shatter his previous career high in goals (24).
The Toronto, Ontario native had a brilliant stretch of 11 games sandwiched between two mini-slumps. But his team-leading 12 goals keep him on the honour roll.
There’s always room for improvement, however, so It’d be nice to see Verhaeghe tidy up in the defensive end a little more. Should be something easy to do playing alongside one of the best two-way centres in the game.
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Colin White B+
Colin White is experiencing a resurgence this season!
After switching teams in the offseason due to a buyout, he has now found a home on the Panthers’ third line. White has been a driver of that line, helping it to be one of the teams’ most consistent threats.
The Boston, Massachusetts native has also been a bit of a road warrior for the team. Eight of his 11 points have come on the road (9 games).
The six-year pro is a career -46, so his current plus/minus of +6 is a great sign to see. And it’s no fluke. White and the third line have been solid in their own end and this number is a true reflection of the hard work he’s bringing to the rink each night.
Luostarinen started the year on a bit of a heater. The towering Finn opened the year on a three-game point streak and amassed six points in the teams’ first seven games.
Luostarinen has worked his way into an expanded role on the team this season. After spending most of last season on the fourth line, Luostarinen has been a staple of the third line and is even seeing top-six minutes.
Paul Maurice also stated that whoever he plays with Luostarinen, that player seems to get going.
That has certainly been true for the play of his linemate, Colin White, who as said before, is having a career year.
His current shooting percentage of 17.1 is a career-high, so fans would probably like to see him shoot a little more than his current 1.75 shots per game average.
Bennett is currently fourth in scoring amongst forwards for the Panthers. The nine-year pro has been solid as the teams’ primary second-line centre but there’s always room for improvement.
He has done a fine job adjusting to the challenge of playing with a carousel of wingers on his line. He has already spent time with Sam Reinhart, Rudolfs Balcers, Eetu Luostarinen, Colin White and Tkachuk.
Being able to adapt to new linemates on the fly has made the job of head coach Paul Maurice much easier. So that gives him bonus points.
His 42% win rate in the face-off dot is less than desirable for a second-line centre. His two points on the power play are also underwhelming, especially since he’s averaging a career-high of 2:42 on the power play this season.
Bennett’s career points per game average is 0.42, so we can be pleased with his current pace of 0.75.
Although he has similar stats to his linemate Colin White, Lundell receives almost a full letter grade lower. Expectations were much higher for the second-year pro.
After a strong rookie campaign, the Finnish centre who scored 18 times last season, is having a more difficult time finishing around the net this year. His 6.0 shooting percentage is well below last season’s mark of 14.2.
It’s been fair to expect more offense from Lundell — after all, he had 44 points in 65 games last year. Lundell has also only managed points in back-to-back games once this season.
Despite being held off the scoresheet more than he’d like, he has improved in other areas of his game. He has become stronger in the face-off dot and is building on his already impressive two-way game.
A few areas to improve on going forward but with his work ethic, Lundell should have no issue improving in the second quarter.
Nick Cousins B-
Nick Cousins is another player that had a slow start to their 2022-23 campaign. And perhaps we can chalk that up to building chemistry with new teammates.
But the journeyman forward has found his stride as of late. Cousins has accumulated half of his season’s total points in his last three games.
Cousins is also making the most of those limited, fourth-line minutes. The ninth-year pro is only averaging 9:13 in ice time but is seventh on the team in even-strength points per 60 minutes with 2.16.
The Belleville, ON native is bringing solid energy to the bottom six of this forward group and continues to play a solid all-around game.
Sam Reinhart C+
This is a tough grade for Reinhart to take home but expectations were high for the former 33-goal scorer. But he can take solace in the fact that his ugly start looks to be in the rear-view mirror.
Reinhart has six goals and 10 points in his last 10 games after opening the season on a 12-game, yes TWELVE, game scoring drought.
Reinhart is historically a minus player, so his current -5 standing isn’t alarming. But with Maurice having an emphasis on two-way play this season, it would be nice to see him tidy up that part of his game.
But scoring is what he’s paid to do and scoring he is doing now. So let’s just hope we see that part of his game continueing to roll.
Ryan Lomberg C+
Ryan Lomberg, or as the fan-favorite is more properly known around these parts, the Lomberghini, has been stalled offensively to start the year.
The speedy winger plays every shift at 100% but he has not been rewarded the way he deserves on the scoresheet. And that’s something we can probably chalk up to linemates.
Lomberg has spent the majority of the season alongside Eric Staal (0 points) and Patric Hornqvist (2 points). Lombergs’ speed isn’t exactly replicated by the two aging veterans and as a result, his line often remains ineffective.
His current eight-game “cooler” could quickly be rectified with a change of linemates and opportunity.
Patric Hornqvist D
Hornqvist is off to a terrible start to his campaign. The eight-time 20+ goal scorer has just one goal this season on an abysmal 2.9% shooting.
He leads the team in expected-goals per-60 at 1.73 but is only converting at a rate of 0.36.
So is he due for a spike in goal production or is Hornqvist just not the shooter he used to be?
The veteran winger is still a strong leader in the dressing room. In his most recent “mic’d up” game, you could hear why he remains a valued member to this team despite his offensive woes.
Eric Staal D
There’s no way to sugarcoat this one — Eric Staal is off to a terrible start. Now perhaps we can excuse some of this slow start to the fact he missed an entire NHL season. It’s hard to take a year off and come back at the age of 38.
It’s obvious his days of putting up 100 points are well behind him, but Staal still needs to find a way to provide some offense. The team’s fourth line has the potential to be a line that can contribute, so hopefully, he can find some rhythm here in the second quarter.
Despite his lackluster offensive numbers, Staal has still found a way to contribute to the team. Aside from his leadership in the dressing room, Staal has transformed from an elite offensive player into a strong penalty killer. He is fifth on the team for average ice time while shorthanded and sports a team-best 3.3 goals against per 60 while short-handed.
Brandon Montour has elevated his game to elite status this season. The big, right-shot defenceman is sporting a point-per-game average that has him on pace to obliterate his previous career high in points of 37.
When Ekblad went down with an injury, Montour stepped up on the blueline and helped to provide any missing offense from the backend that would be felt from the absence of Ekblad.
The former second-round draft pick is leading all Panthers defencemen in most offensive metrics. He also leads the team in ice time with a career-high 25:01 per game.
Montour had a career year last season but with the way he has started this season, he looks well on his way to having another banner year.
Forsling, like Montour, had a breakout year last season and has carried that play into this season.
The sixth-year pro has quietly gone about putting up 15 points to go alongside his team-leading +13 through the first quarter of the season.
Forsling was expected to assume a larger role on the blueline with the departure of MacKenzie Weegar and he has not disappointed.
The former fifth-round pick has been extremely reliable in his own end. He sports the best takeaway-to-giveaway ratio among defencemen on the team with +2. And of his 10 giveaways, only five have occurred in the defensive zone.
This is an easy A to handout for “Bobby Orrsling”.
Aaron Ekblad A-
The team’s captain of the blueline has had to work through adversity in the early goings of his campaign. Ekblad sustained a lower-body injury in the third game of the season — his third major LBI in two seasons.
Despite the setback, Ekblad has remained an effective player when patrolling his blueline. As expected, he continues to bring a high level of offense to the team, boasting eight points in 10 games.
It looks like his injury is possibly lingering as he doesn’t look as dynamic in his skating.
This may be the cause for some of his defensive metrics being on the lower end than what we are used to seeing. His -7 in takeaways-to-giveaways ratio is second worst amongst defencemen on the Panthers.
But 100% healthy or not, his mere presence on the bench is a positive that’s felt throughout the team. There’s no question the team is better with him in the lineup than not.
Radko Gudas B+
Gudas may not be as flashy as Montour and Ekblad, but the burley blueliner makes his presence felt in other ways.
The stay-at-home defencemen has been a wall on the backend. His team-leading 40 blocks are 15 more than the second-closest player on the team. And to no one’s surprise, the feisty Gudas leads the team in hits with 85.
Gudas has played more aggressively as of late and is jumping up into the play more regularly. And his efforts have been rewarded with a 0.28 ppg pace, which is his highest since his 2016-17 season.
Josh Mahura is another surprise performer on the Panthers’ blueline, unless of course, you are a scout for the Panthers.
The Panthers brass saw the potential in the smooth-skating Mahura when they claimed him off waivers from Anaheim back in October. And he has delivered on his second chance in the NHL.
He doesn’t have the same offensive numbers as some of his fellow defencemen, but Mahura has been a strong carrier of the puck and helps to push the play up the ice for the Panthers.
He still has areas of his defensive game to tidy up but playing alongside Gudas is a good opportunity for him to learn and improve on that aspect of his game.
Based on expectations coming into the season, I’d say Mahura has performed remarkably.
Marc Staal C-
Marc Staal has never been known for his offensive prowess, so we won’t dock many points for only having a single point on the year.
However, on a Panthers team that is as offensively gifted as this one, one assist through 21 games is too low.
At times, Staal has looked his age of 36. He doesn’t have the same speed and that has proven troublesome. His -8 is the worst he’s seen since the 2018-19 campaign.
Of course, Staal still brings some upside to his game. He is fourth on the team in blocked shots and his 42 hits show he still brings that physical aspect to his game.
Staal may be buying himself some extra time on this blueline with his gritty play, but the Panthers need Staal to be more reliant defensively especially if he’s not going to be bringing much in terms of offense.
Spencer Knight is showing us that he has put in the work during the offseason.
After splitting some time between the AHL and NHL last season, the young netminder is showing he is locked into this Panthers crease for good.
There are still areas for improvement but early into the year, Knight looks to be the better of the two Panthers goaltenders.
Knight has only surrendered more than three goals in regulation once in his 10 starts.
The former Boston College standout certainly gives the Panthers a chance to win every night he’s starting.
Bobrovsky has not been as bad as his stats indicate. But when your job is to stop pucks, then you’re going to get judged for exactly that.
And right now, his numbers are worrisome.
It seems that every game Bobrovsky sprawls out and makes a ridiculous highlight reel stop but then gets beat by a soft one.
Paul Maurice has noted that Bob has been hung out to dry too many times. And that is true. You watch his games and can see that Bobrovsky is on the receiving end of far too many breakaways and odd-man rushes.
But sometimes you just need your goalie to come up with that save and he has not been able to do that effectively this season.
There needs to be a collective effort from the team, as a whole, to play better hockey when the 10 million dollar man is in goal.
The skill is obviously still there and if play in front of Bob improves, it’ll be easy to see that this early start is an outlier.
Bobrovsky is a true professional and will not allow his performance to continue this way. We should expect a vast improvement in the second quarter of the season.
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