Ahead of this game, Kevin Kraczkowski of Litter Box Cats had three questions about the New Jersey Devils. I responded and my answers are over at LBC. I had three questions about the Florida Panthers esponded. Here are his answers.
Question 1: While Jaromir Jagr continues to Play Forever and currently lead Florida in scoring, I'm more concerned about the future. Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau are who I would consider to be the future for Florida up front. Will they achieve their potential? If not, what more does Florida need other than the ageless wonder of Jagr?
Kraczkowski: "Will they achieve their potential?" Heck, only God knows the answer to that. Of the three you mentioned, Sasha Barkov is the closest to fulfilling his potential - and he only turned 20 three months ago. Since Jagr showed up three-quarters of the way through last season, Barkov has been a (nearly) point per game player (0.9 per game, to be exact).
Bjugstad led the club with 24 goals last season, and it’s a good bet that he can do that again - he seems to be a pretty good lock for 25 per season in the future. Huberdeau only has 40 goals in 222 career games, but he wasn’t expected to light the lamp with any regularity. Huby was selected as a facilitator - and I don’t think he’s anywhere near where he could possibly be.
As to what Jagr may need to continue to be good - he needs those that you mentioned already and Florida’s extended stable of youngsters (Vincent Trocheck, Rocco Grimaldi, Connor Brickley, Garrett Wilson, Reilly Smith, Logan Shaw, Brandon Pirri, and Quentin Howden are all also under 25) to continue to learn how to play at NHL speed. That and a healthy diet with lots of fiber.
Question 2: We know Aaron Ekblad is quite good. But how good could he become as a defenseman? As an overall player? Enough to be one of the best in the NHL one day?
Kraczkowski: Ekblad already won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding rookie, last season. His combination of size, vision, nose-for-the-net, and "hockey IQ" are considerably off the charts for a 19-year-old kid. Remember what you were doing when you were 19? Think about it.
You ask if he "could" one day be one of the best in the NHL - but who am I to judge anyone’s potential? This is a country where a WalMart grocery bagger can be elected president, after all. You’re asking me to play God - but I’m not Dr. Moreau.
Of course he "could" be the best defenseman since Bobby Orr - although I doubt he becomes the "best ever." If I were to map out his career trajectory to this point, and extend it out 20 years, I’d say that he makes the Hall of Fame easily. But who’s to say, really? 20 years is a long time. Injuries happen, players lose that "edge," teammates who you find yourself "gelling" with get traded or leave through free agency.
Question 3: Why is Florida such a poor possession team? Even with the swing of play in Columbus, they're still right with the Rangers with a ~46% CF. Is it the coaching? Are the players not fitting in to the style? Is it just the players themselves? What's going on?
Kraczkowski: Florida’s greatest strength is also one of their greatest weaknesses. Their stable of mostly young forwards are still learning the in’s-and-out’s of the NHL speed game. This answer is not to make any excuses - "Can’t you see he’s just a baby?" I only mention it as a possible mitigating factor.
You ask about the coaching - Gerard Gallant is an effective motivator. I don’t know first hand, because I’m not a part of the team and I don’t get to visit the dressing room, but judging by their resiliency they’ve shown during this recent winning streak he has something. I’ve often thought that one of his great weaknesses was his propensity to make excuses for bad performances to the press. Conversely, this also endears him to the players (I’m assuming).
Thanks to Kevin Kraczkowski for answering my questions about the Panthers. Go check out Litter Box Cats if you want to know more about the Panthers. Here's their game preview. If you haven't, check out my preview from earlier today. Thank you for reading.