Injuries Not Necessarily Bad for the Panthers
Early on in the season, the Florida Panthers were plagued by injuries. Their entire first line was out at one point, along with their best young defenseman, Erik Gudbranson, who was out with a shoulder injury and is expected back soon. Key components of their second and third lines, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, and Scottie Upshall, were all injured too.
However, now that Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, and Goc are all back, there are still a few key players out of commission. Those include the likes of Bergenheim, Gudbranson, and the often-sidelined Upshall, who is out for another two to three weeks with an “ankle” sustained against Winnipeg.
Although these injuries were killers for Florida at first, resulting in a single win within their first six games, they also, on the contrary, provided several rookies with great opportunities to showcase their talents.
Drew Shore, who was selected to the AHL All-Star game this season as a rookie, has been the team’s most pleasant surprise. He’s been an force in the faceoff circle (60.7% winning percentage), is a +1, and is now centering the second line.
Assistant General Manager Mike Santos loves the kid, saying, “Drew Shore’s been playing really well. He led our AHL team in points and we’re really happy with him.
With Shore in the lineup, linemates Peter Mueller and fellow rookie Jonathan Huberdeau have thrived; Mueller has four goals in his last five games and Huberdeau is on a three game point streak.
Other than Shore, rookies like Huberdeau and Quinton Howden were also given chances. Huberdeau currently ranks fifth overall out of all rookies with six points and plays on the power play, while Howden was recently sent back down the AHL after just one game.
Forwards Shawn Matthias and Tomas Kopecky have also seen expanded roles. Matthias played on the second line early on and while I’m not fond of Kopecky, he has been a vital part of the power play as a big body screening the goalie.
The extra experience and expanded roles for these players certainly has paid off. The team is on a three game point streak, posting a 2-0-1 record, and is slowly climbing back into the playoff picture. Finally healthy, last year’s top line (Versteeg-Weiss-Fleischmann), which had the most combined points during the first twenty-five games, has been back together for the last couple of games and is beginning to show its dominance. An entirely new second line (Huberdeau-Shore-Mueller) has allowed Marcel Goc to center the third line, a role he is more accustomed to.
Because players like Shore and Huberdeau were able to prove themselves, the Panthers now have three solid lines and are looking more and more like the team we expected to see this year. Since they took the eventual Stanley Cup finalists to double overtime in game seven last season, imagine what the Cats can do this year now that they have a potentially potent second line.
With hard-hitting, tough-nosed, defenseman Erik Gudbranson expected back tomorrow night, plus the hard-working, speedy forward Sean Bergenheim returning as well, the entire Eastern Conference will be seeing red soon enough.