Previewing the East: Florida Panthers
NOTE: Over the next several weeks, BlueJackets.com will take an extensive, in-depth look at the Jackets' new opponents in the Eastern Conference. Be on the lookout for photo galleries, analysis, video highlights and more!
Head coach: Kevin Dineen
Captain: Ed Jovanovski
LAST YEAR: 15-27-6 (36 points); 15th in the Eastern Conference
VS. CBJ in '13-14: 2/1, 3/1, 4/12
OUTLOOK: If the Florida Panthers have one thing going for them, it's that there's nowhere to go but up. Last season was a disappointment of the highest order for the Panthers, who broke a long playoff drought in 2011-12 by winning the Southeast Division. By unseating the mainstay Washington Capitals - who seeminly had a monopoly on the Southeast - the Panthers established a new standard of success in south Florida, but 2012-13's shortened campaign was not kind to Kevin Dineen and his club. They finished last in the East, drew the second overall pick (and took Aleksander Barkov to the surprise of some) and have started to build a solid group of young forwards with Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau coming off a terrific rookie season. They lost long-time Panther Stephen Weiss in free agency, but have maintained their forward depth and if Jacob Markstrom can put together a full season between the pipes, there's no reasy why Florida can't hang around in the playoff conversation.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
This one's obvious, but the reigning NHL rookie of the year is a special talent who can impact a game in many ways. He can score goals, make plays and play all forward positions. Last year's debut campaign was just a glimpse of what Huberdeau can do - and he's poised to dispel all notions of a sophomore slump this fall.
Another of the Panthers' many talented young forwards, the 6-foot-6 native of Minneapolis is on more than just Florida's radar for a breakout season. The 21-year-old was the Panthers' first-round pick in 2010 and after two strong seasons at the University of Minnesota, saw his first 11 games of NHL action in 2013 - and most recently, he was one of 48 players invited to Team USA's Olympic camp. He's a rangy, skilled two-way center who has a deceptively strong shot and isn't afraid to play a physical brand.