Derek MacKenzie may not be a household name, he may not represent his country in National competition, he may never suit up in an All Star game, but Derek MacKenzie is a star every night he puts a Florida Panthers uniform on. Mack doesn’t put up crazy point totals, actually he doesn’t put up many points at all only having 11 in the 82 games he played last year for the Cats. Mack is the Panthers featured penalty killer, getting the most penalty kill minutes last year and looking like he will again this year. The effort he puts into every shift is insane, you will never see him gliding into the defensive zone or failing to win a battle in the corner. Mack takes his role as the 4th line center not as a challenge to prove that he should be a 1st liner, but what he does is go out and prove that they are not the fourth line, but that they are the energy line. The heart of the Vet MacKenzie is some of the most daring passion i have ever seen, weather its diving for a lose puck, blocking a shot, or even volunteering to play goalie when Loungo and Montoya go down you wont find a more passionate player on the ice. Mack also puts a lot of effort in off the ice often being called a gym rat, only standing at 5’11 and 180 pounds he is not the biggest guy on the ice but his physical conditioning is outstanding, and hey it has to be to play 82 games with the way he plays. Another thing about Mack that makes him special to the Panthers is his outstanding leadership, Mack is the locker room energy and the guy the players rally around on the ice. If you have never heard of Derek MacKenzie, it’s time to watch the art of old school hockey again.
The Florida Panthers are 3-2-1 after the first 6 games of their 82 game road to the Stanley Cup Finals, they have had some very good things to take away from these games and of course some negatives.
Strengths: Well Jagr still looks…. Like Jagr. The oldest player in the league is still going very strong on the Cats number one line with young guns Barkov and Huberdueau. Even though it is still early, Jagr leads the Panthers in points with 7. Roberto Loungo looks like he dropped 10 years, hes been on fire looking down right unstoppable in the early season. Lou has a .942 save percentage which is 5th among starting goalies, and honestly the Panthers defense has not looked very good, often having the luxury of Loungo saving the day. The dare i even call them the 4th line has been playing with so much grit, speed, heart, and determination. The Mackenzie line features under valued center Derek Mackenzie, a loud voice in the locker room often wearing the “A”, Mack always is going 100% on the ice and is the teams best penalty killer. New comer Connor Brickley plays one of the wings on this line. Brickley just made the team with a great performance in training camp, rookie mini camp, and the preseason and is now earning a spot on the every day roster. Quinton Howden is a big body on this line, he may also be the quickest player on the team with his smooth skating and hard work.
Weaknesses: Because of some of Lous heroics the Cats defense looks a little better than they are playing. To many defensive lapses from Kulikov, turnovers by Campbell, and penalties by Mitchell all need to be fixed as soon as possible. Speaking of penalties the Cats have been taking WAY to many ranking in the top 10 in minor penalties. A lot of really bad offensive zone penalties have been hurting the teams offense. Offensive consistency has also been something that has worried me, we just don’t seem to be able to keep any rhythm due to the penalties. The number one problem i have witnessed with this young team is getting pushed around. Last nights overtime loss had a crazy amount of bad calls and it was great the players kept calm and kept playing there game, but the hit on new winger Reilly Smith needed to be answered. It was a very dirty hit by Kris Letang and one of our tough guys like Petrovic, Guddbranson, or captain Willie Mitchell cant let that happen to their team. Goaltender Loungo has been rammed way to many times without any consequence. Allowing other teams to rush your goaltender causes him to have to focus on another thing and can take him out of his game and can lead to goals the Cats all need to stand up and get more physical to take the next step.
This list is my opinion on the top 10 players in the NHL debate in the comments is welcome
- Sidney Crosby- Sid the Kid is easily the best player in my books. He is an amazing skater has a great shot and can pass the puck anywhere even with his eyes closed. Sid also goes 100% on all shifts, and can play both ends of the ice, his balance makes him my number one player.
- Alexander Ovechkin- The Great 8 is often bashed for his laziness, but last season he really picked up the pace in the defensive zone no longer being a liability on defense. Ovi is easily the best goal scorer in the NHL with his incredible hands and rocket shot. Not only can Ovi put the puck in the net but he’s also very physical, and quick.
- John Tavares- JT had an amazing season last year becoming a finalist for the MVP award. JT, like Crosby, is a great player at both ends of the ice and gives 100% each shift. He also is a great finisher, and that has been proven with his crazy shootout goals over the years.
- Jonathan Toews- Toews is the best leader we have seen in a while; the team is always first to him. Toews is probably the best 2 way player we have in the game right now proven by his Selke trophies. Toews has captained the Chicago Blackhawks out of the trenches of the NHL and into a dynasty. He can put the puck in the net and pass the puck making him a great offensive player along with his outstanding defense.
- Erik Karlsson- The 2 time Norris Trophy winner is the best offensive d-man in the game. He has insane agility carrying the puck, he makes picture perfect passes, and can finish his chances. An overlooked aspect of Karlsson’s game is his defense; often called a bad defender. This is far from the truth; Erik is always matched against the other teams number one line and does a great job stopping them.
- Steven Stamkos- Like every other player on this list so far Stammer is the captain of his team. Stamkos is in my opinion the second best sniper in the league behind Ovi. Stamkos has a crazy one time shot that is often used on the power play by the Lightning. He is also an under appreciated defensive forward and hitter.
- The Sedin Twins- How could i put these two apart? The Sedins have changed the whole scene for the Nucks as they have been one of the best teams the last decade. Daniel and Henrik may be identical twins but they have a nice compliment of different skills that help each be great. Henrik captains the Nucks, he is a great leader, passer, and two way forward. Daniel is the finisher, he has a very nice hands and a crazy accurate shot. But unlike most snipers Daniel also focus much of his game on the defensive side.
- Evgeni Malkin- Along side Sid the Penguins have become one of the best teams of this decade. Geno is one of the most skilled players in the league with his great hands, skating ability, and shot. He uses his large strong frame to keep defenders off of him and that gives him the space he needs to make plays. Geno has put up eye catching numbers every year and this has been done with very average line mates.
- Rick Nash- Probably the biggest surprise on this list but before you scream at me let me explain. Rick Nash is always near the top of the league in points and goals, he is a very strong forward that is great at protecting the puck and netting goals. The biggest reason i put Nash at 9 is because of his defensive ability, People dont look at Nash as a great 2 way forward but in reality he is one of the best. Rick led the New York Rangers amazing penalty kill from the wing position, he blocked shots and he also led the league in short handed goals.
- Drew Doughty- Drew could also make a case for the nickname the great 8. He is an unbeatable d-man on offense and defense. He makes great passes, has a great shot, and is a rock on defense. The LA Kings have a lot to be thankful for knowing they have him on the Blue Line
Just Missed: Shea Weber, Cladue Giroux, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn.
The Florida Panthers came in 10th in the east last season and were in the race all the way till the end. This list will go by order of importance.
- Barkov stays healthy- I believe along with Aaron Ekblad that Barkov is the future of this team. Hes a big 2 way center that can score pass defend and control the puck.Barkov has had some difficulty staying healthy through the beginning part of his career, and really had a break out last half to the season along with Jagr and Huberdeu.
- Nick Bjustad and another player need to reach 30 goals- Last year what the Cats were lacking in most was a consistent goal scorer. Nick is a big goal scoring center man that most likely will hit the 30 goal mark this year. Along with Bjustad another player needs to reach 30. Most likely it will be sniper Brandon Pirri or former Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeu.
- The blue line stays healthy- We can assume the Iron Man Brian Campbell will play his 5th straight 82 game season, but others like Guddy, captain Willie Mitchell, Kulikov, and Kampher need to stay healthy to give Loungo some help.
- Loungo stays strong- Bobby Lou is at the tail end of his career at 36 years old. Loungo had a great season last year earning a spot on the all star team and helping the Panthers become the most improved team last year.
- Ekblad wins the Norris- Aaron is only in his sophomore campain, but the 19 year old has already become 1st ovr pick, all star, and Calder winner. Watching this kid play the game is poetry in motion he is a rock defensively using the body and the stick. Hes a great offensive player also scoring 37 points in his rookie season witch is 3rd all time for a rookie dman behind Hall of Famers Phil Housley and Bobby Orr. I think he for sure has what it takes to get the award this year but no doubt will be in the running every year for maybe the next 10 years.
10. Radek Dvorak
Dvorak may not have put up crazy point totals in his career, but he did play 613 games in a Cats uniform in 2 different stints with the team.
9. Robert Svehla
Svehla played more games than anyone in a Panthers uniform. He didnt just play; he also racked up points from the defense position with a high of 57 in the 95-96 season.
8. Brian Skrudland
You can’t make a list like this without including the original captain. Skrud did not put up many points in his career because he was mainly a defensive forward. Skrud was a great heartfelt leader for the orignial Panthers.
7. Ed Jovanoski
Nicknamed “Jovo Cop”, Ed Jovanoski was just that, a cop. Jovo was an excellent d-man for the Panthers im 2 different stints with the team. Jovo was a leader for the team in his second term bringing much needed vertern leadership to the young guns.
6. Pavel Bure
Pavel is easily the most talented player to ever wear the Panthers uniform. Pavel won the Rocket Richard trophy as the leagues top goal scorer in one of his 3 years with the team. Pavel is considered one of the greatest goal scorers to play the game.
5. Paul Laus
Laus was the last player you want to drop the gloves with. He was a sure fire example of heart over height. Laus played many years for the team and was a fan favorite for his animal like nature.
4. John Vanbiesbrouck
The Beezer is a hall of fame net minder and won a Vezina trophy with the New York Rangers. Beezer wasnt a big goalie, but very athletic and smart in the way he played one of the most difficult position in sports.
3. Olli Jokinen
Olli played his prime for the Panthers and is first in points. Holding the marks for goals and assists, he was a very overlooked superstar most likely cause of the Panthers lack of success in his time with the team.
2. Scott Mellanby
Mellanby was the star Panther for the earlier years of the franchise. He is second in Panther points and also is famous for creating the rat trick. The Rat Trick was created when Scott killed a rat in the locker room with his stick and then went out and scored 2 goals that game.
1. Roberto Loungo
Loungo is one of the best goalies in the modern era. The Panthers made one of the worst trades in history trading him to Vancouver. Loungo was re-acquired by the Panthers at the trade deadline of the 2013-2014 and is currently the team’s starting goalie. Loungo holds almost every Panthers goaltending records and is still going strong. No doubt when Bobby Lou decides to hang up the pads, he will go down as one of the greats.
Aaron Ekblad was selected number one in last year’s NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers. The 19 year old rookie set multiple Panther rookie records, and ended up being the second Panther in 3 years to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The way Aaron plays the game at his age is incredible; he rarely makes mistake with the puck, uses his body cleanly on defense, has a great point shot, blocks shots, and most importantly stays calm and collected at all points of the game. Things like this make Aaron one of the best rookie defenseman ever. Watching the rookie play is like watching a future Hall of Famer in the thick of his prime. Coach Gallant said “we knew he would be good but we never expected this”. Veteran D partner Brian Campbell who played next to Aaron every game this year is a great partner for the rookie. Campbell was an All-Star earlier in his career, but is now approaching the end of his great career. Young, talented players like Aaron Ekblad look to take the Panthers to being an elite team in the NHL. Only time will tell what this team can do.
The Florida Panthers are undoubtedly one of the upcoming teams in the NHL, with young talent everywhere such as Ekblad, Barkov, Huberdeau, Bjustad and others. But, the Panthers offseason was very quiet with the only real big move being trading power forward Jimmy Hayes and acquiring Reilly Smith. Florida also bought out the contract of veteran goal scorer Brad Boyes who had a rather dissapointing season for the Cats last year. The Panthers had a great year last year, becoming the most improved team in the NHL with a 25 point increase and just missing the playoffs. The Panthers young talent will continue to grow and possibly be a force in the Eastern Conference, but grabbing one of the prized wingers of this years offseason would have been a huge boost. Grabbing a player like Oshie, Kessel, or Sharp would have been a perfect move for the Cats and could have involved one of the Panthers great center prospects like Howden or Grimaldi. The move for a star winger is the number one need for this South Florida hockey club because they are lacking great snipers on offense. The Cats selected winger Lawson Crouse with the 11th pick in the draft and he certaintley fits the bill of the Panthers winger needs. Crouse is a big strong winger that is said to have a huge bang or bust potential; certainly a good pick for Florida. The Panthers offseason was not a great one but it’s fair to trust Panther GM Dale Tallon who is practically responsible for those Chicago Blackhawks.