Panthers Headed in Right Direction

By Patrick Hoffman

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When you're a team that is in both a division and conference that features your rival, it's hard to get the attention you crave.

Such is the case with the Florida Panthers. For the last few seasons, the Panthers have watched the Tampa Bay Lightning make it to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons including a Cup Final appearance in 2015.

In turn, the Panthers have made the playoffs just five times since they entered the league in the 1993-94 season. That's pretty awful considering that their rival won the Cup in 2004 and has made the postseason and had success in them more than they have.

With all of that said, however, things are definitely looking up for the Panthers. They had a pretty solid season with 44 wins and 96 points, which was just one point behind the team that had the second wild card spot, the New Jersey Devils.

There are several reasons why Panthers fans should be excited about their hockey club. For starters, they have a lot of exciting young forwards who can put up points.

It starts with Aleksander Barkov. He was an absolute force for the Cats this year has he totaled 78 points (27 goals and 51 assists) to lead the team in scoring. He's a terrific skater, he can dangle, and he's such a great passer that he makes playing with him very easy.

Following Barkov are guys like Vincent Trocheck (75 points), Jonathan Huberdeau (69 points), Evgenii Dadonov (65 points), and Nick Bjugstad (49 points). This team has scoring depth and considering the division they are in, that will always be a good thing.

Secondly, this team has more than solid goaltending. When healthy, starter Roberto Luongo is still one of the best goalies in the league.

In 33 games this season, Luongo, 39, went 18-11-2 with a 2.47 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts. Not bad for someone who should be on the back nine of his career, eh?

Back-up goaltender James Reimer was not bad either. His numbers may not have been as good as Lou's but he still had 22 wins, a .913 save percentage, and four shutouts. At 30 years of age, Reimer should have more than a few good years in him.

Head coach Bob Boughner is another major reason that the team has a lot to look forward to. The team definitely bought into his system and as a result, they played fast, created plenty of scoring opportunities, and learned how to play well in tight games.

As a first year man behind the bench, Boughner was instrumental in allowing his best players to have creative freedom. This is why players like Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau, Dadonov, and Yandle all had solid seasons.

This team may have missed the postseason by a point, but there is certainly a lot to like about this franchise moving forward.

Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.caKukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

For comments and hip checks, feel free to contact Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com or on Twitter at @pathoffman35.

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