Anton Lundell and his case for the Calder

Anton Lundell has had a stellar rookie season for the Panthers, yet he has not received the national attention he deserves.

Florida Panthers rookie and Calder Trophy hopeful Anton Lundell
Anton Lundell fights off checker Oliver Bjorkstrand in a game against Columbus (via @FLAPanthersPR)

In a season highlighted by breakout rookie seasons across the league, Anton Lundell has managed to fly under the radar. As the season wraps up and awards conversations pick up, his name has not been mentioned enough.

Each year, the NHL awards the Calder Memorial Trophy (known colloquially as the Calder) to the best rookie performer in the NHL. Former winners include Panthers Aaron Ekblad and Johnathan Huberdeau. This year, the Panthers have yet another rookie worthy of receiving this award: Anton Lundell.

In all likelihood, Lundell will not win the Calder. The likes of Trevor Zegras, Lucas Raymond, and Moritz Seider have received too much national attention comparatively. Still, his impact matches, and maybe even exceeds, that of his peers. Hypothetically, if the league wanted to give the Calder to Lundell, this would be the case.

Anton Lundell has the raw stats

Currently, Lundell has 18 goals and 25 assists on the year. This puts him fifth among rookies with 43 points. While that may not stand out initially, keep in mind injuries have limited Lundell to 61 games this season. All the players above him have played over 70.

Additionally, Lundell averages less than 16 minutes on ice per game. Compare that to Zegras and Raymond who average about 18 minutes per game. I am ignoring Seider’s TOI numbers since defensemen typically play more minutes on average. Once the points are adjusted for ice time, the stats become eerily similar. Lundell scores 2.66 points per 60 minutes, almost a dead lock with Zegras’s 2.68 points per 60, and well above Raymond’s 2.41.

This discrepancy is a product of the team around him. The Florida Panthers have an other-worldly forward corps, which means he gets less ice time. It also means he gets no regular power play time, unlike his counterparts. Seider, Zegras, and Raymond all average over two and a half minutes of power play time a game.

Simply put, factors out of Lundell’s control contributed to the points discrepancy shown. Given the same opportunity, Lundell would match, if not exceed, the production of the other Calder contenders.

He is also a defensive specialist

When people call Anton Lundell a miniature Aleksander Barkov, this is the sticking point. On the defensive side of the puck, few rookies have been as effective as Lundell. The coaching staff has taken notice, and use him as a regular on the penalty kill.

Lundell averages almost two and a half minutes of penalty kill time per game. This number is fourth among rookies, and far more than any other rookie in the Calder race. That defensive responsibility does not show up in the box score, but should be considered in the discussion. Lundell has also notched four short-handed points this season, a top-10 mark in the league.

This strong defensive play contributes to winning more than any single statistic can show. Lundell’s ability to shut down opposing attacks while not sacrificing any offensive output puts him in a rare class of player. His +33 rating leads all rookies by a landslide, and shows the type of impact he has on both ends of the ice.

Lundell makes those around him better

A big part of the Panthers’ dominance this season has been their forward depth. Specifically, the third line of Anton Lundell, Sam Reinhart, and Mason Marchment has been the best bottom 6 line in the entire league.

As the center of this line, Lundell controls much of the pace and flow they play with. His poise and control on the ice has played a huge part in his wingers having career years.

Sam Reinhart was already an established player before joining the Panthers. With Buffalo, Reinhart scored 20 goals and topped 50 points consistently. In his first season in Florida, however, Reinhart has reached new career highs with 28 goals and 48 assists in 73 games. His play has been stellar, but Lundell should receive credit for developing such good chemistry and putting him in places to succeed.

The same can be said about Mason Marchment, who is having a breakout year. In his first full year in the NHL, Marchment has totaled 42 points in 51 games. The 26 year old came to Florida two years ago in a trade with Toronto. After some flashes last year, Marchment has become a genuine offensive threat once the team placed him on a line with Lundell.

As I said earlier, there is little to no chance of Anton Lundell winning the Calder. Zegras has scored too many Michigan goals, and Seider has doled out too many big hits for Lundell to be seriously considered. All of this is to say that anyone who overlooks the impact Lundell has had on the best team in the eastern conference is doing themselves a disservice. He has the most complete game of anyone in this rookie class, and for my money, should be a Calder Trophy contender.

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The Claude Giroux Trade and Possible Panthers Forward Combinations

With Claude Giroux acquired by the Florida Panthers, the team has to figure out how best to fit him into the lineup.

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Claude Giroux is headed to South Florida. The Florida Panthers acquired the 34 year old centreman from Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Owen Tippett, a first round pick in 2024, and a third round pick in 2023. Florida also received a 2024 fifth round pick, Connor Bunnaman, and German Rubtsov in the deal.

In 57 games this year, Giroux has tallied 18 goals and 24 assists. The Claude Giroux trade opens up a world of possibilities for the Cats. The versatile forward can slide in almost anywhere in the top 6. Since Sam Reinhart has found a home on that third line, Giroux’s top 6 spot is secure. With that being said, however, head coach Andrew Brunette has options. Here are a few of the line combinations to look out for in the coming weeks.

First Line Right Wing

This choice appears to be the most obvious. Andrew Brunette’s words after Monday’s practice seem to indicate this will be the option he chooses to start with. In this scenario, Giroux replaces Maxim Mamin on the first line, and Carter Verhaeghe moves over to the left wing. This creates a top line of Verhaeghe-Barkov-Giroux while keeping the Huberdeau-Bennett-Duclair line intact.

The benefits to this are obvious. It adds a new dimension to that first line and gives Aleksander Barkov another scoring threat to set up. It also keeps the rest of the forward group together, which has found so much success thus far. It may not cover up many team weaknesses, but it enhances a formula which has worked wonderfully this season. An extremely low risk move.

Second Line Center

One underappreciated benefit of the Claude Giroux trade for the Panthers is the added center depth. Claude Giroux has been an extremely effective two-way center for over a decade in the NHL. This scenario allows the Panthers to use his rare talents to their advantage.

Here, Giroux will take over as the second line center and push Sam Bennett out to the right wing. Anthony Duclair will slide up to the first line, a combination which worked well last season. Thus, the top six will consist of a Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair first line and a Huberdeau-Giroux-Bennett second line.

This option may be slightly more risky, but it also potentially solves more problems. Claude Giroux’s responsible defensive game can cover for Sam Bennett’s lapses on that side of the ice. It also keeps Johnathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett together, as the two have found great chemistry over the past year.

The Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair line has proven to be extremely effective in the past, and should have no problem reclaiming that magic. Of course, this option may put too much pressure on Giroux out of the gate, and it is unclear if Bennett will be as effective on the wing, but it may be worth trying if the offense hits a skid.

The Scorched Earth Option

The Panthers have the firepower, and its time to show it.

This season Andrew Brunette has not been afraid to pair Barkov and Huberdeau together on the top line when things go stagnant. This scenario takes that concept to the extreme. Claude Giroux takes the right wing, Barkov takes center, and Huberdeau gets deployed on the left wing. That leaves Verhaeghe-Bennett-Duclair is as the second line here.

That combination creates quite possibly the best line in hockey today. Opposing teams would have nightmares trying to stop that line offensively, or finding a weakness defensively. No team would have any answers — if it works as well as advertised.

Of course, this does not distribute the talent equally throughout the lineup, so I would not expect for it to be the standard line. In certain situations, however, this option could give the offense a jolt and leaves opponents’ heads spinning. I would expect to see this line at least a few times this season.

The Panthers are all in on this season without a doubt. Winning the cup will take versatility and resilience. The Claude Giroux trade gives them much more of both. The line options at Andre Brunette’s disposal gives him few excuses to not put a championship-caliber team on the ice. The Panthers are a juggernaut, and hopefully the rest of their season reflects that.

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Florida Panthers Injury Bug: Potentially Beneficial

Florida panthers injury
Credit: Sun Sentinel

The injury bug has officially hit the Florida Panthers.

Despite losing five lineup regulars to injury, have maintained the best record in the NHL through 24 games. The past three games in particular have been an absolute masterclass in effort, poise and discipline. In all three games, the panthers faced a serious uphill battle. It never rattled them. The 4-1 deficits they faced in two of those games would have broken most other teams.

Not this group, this group likes the challenge.

Three games in a row they trailed for the majority of the game, and all three still ended with two points. What could have been a brutal stretch for a team missing its best player has turned into an indictment of anyone who doubted them. The fans have even revitalized the “comeback cats” nickname because of the recent games.

This recent stretch has elevated the Panthers into a different echelon of hockey team. Changes the coaching staff has been forced to make (due to the injuries the Florida Panthers have had) have unlocked a cavalcade of new dynamic weapons. If the roster can regain its health, these new team developments will be the key to cup contention going forward.

Reinhart and Huberdeau: A Match Made in Heaven

When Aleksander Barkov went down with injury, Head Coach Andrew Brunette chose to pull out an old trick. He reunited Anthony Duclair with Johnathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett. When Anthony Duclair went down, Coach Bruno had to think of something new. He decided to place newcomer Sam Reinhart on the top line with the Bennett-Huberdeau pairing.

Right now, that move looks to be a stroke of genius. In the past three games, Huberdeau has nine points (1G, 8A) while Reinhart has six points (3G, 3A.) They have arguably been the biggest contributors to the comeback cats over the most recent stretch. Even when the puck stays out of the net, that line controls play and does not let their opponents generate shots.

Reinhart snipes the game winning goal on a pass from Johnathan Huberdeau (via @JamesonCoop on twitter)

Reinhart has struggled at times this year, as has the Bennett-Huberdeau line depending on who is paired with them. This change seems to be a solution for both. When Barkov and Duclair return, the Panthers have the ability to have two of the most productive lines in hockey. If it comes to fruition, they will have an offensive advantage no matter the matchup.

Lucas Carlsson — The Missing Piece on Defense

Coming into the season, most fans and analysts agreed that the biggest hole on this Panthers team was on the blue line. Injuries placed additional strain on the defense, as regulars Markus Nutivaara and Gustav Forsling have both been out of the lineup. Several replacements have been placed in the lineup, but only one has stood out positively: Lucas Carlsson.

Carlsson, the former fourth round pick for the Chicago Blackhawks, was not considered one of the top defensive prospects in the organization. Most would have considered Matt Keirsted or Chase Priskie to be more NHL ready than Carlsson. When the opportunity arose, however, it has been Carlsson who has impressed. In his last two games, Carlsson registered four points (1G, 3A) all while driving play at a very high level.

Lucas Carlson blasts home a shot (via @FlaPanthers) on twitter

Carlsson’s booming slap shot and willingness to join the offense has created numerous scoring chances for the cats. His instincts and nose for the puck have been matched by his smarts of the defensive end. Carlsson has played like an NHL veteran this season despite playing less than 30 NHL games. If he can maintain this level of play the rest of the season, the Panthers may have enough quality defensemen to solve their blue line woes.

Not The Depth You Expected

In October, the names most commonly mentioned when discussing the forward depth of the Florida Panthers were guys like Frank Vatrano, Owen Tippett, and Patric Hornqvist. Those guys have all had their moments, but I would argue they have not been the game changers in the bottom six the way others have. Namely, two of the biggest catalysts behind the comeback cats of late have been Ryan Lomberg and Eetu Loustarinen. Together, the pair have been textbook at turning defense into offense.

The game against the Washington capitals on Tuesday perfectly exemplifies what they bring. Down 4-1, Ryan Lomberg buried a rebound and Eetu Loustarinen scored on a shorthanded breakaway to bring the cats within one. The Panthers ended up winning that game, and they can thank the two of them for igniting the comeback.

Lomberg and Loustarinen play their roles perfectly, and it allows the Panthers to always generate scoring opportunities even when their best players are on the bench. Having a fourth line that can generate consistent offense from unsung heroes will give opposing teams fits for the rest of the year.

Eetu Loustarinen Scores shorthanded on a great feed from Lomberg (via @JamesonCoop on twitter)

Coming Up

The Panthers begin a three game west coast trip on Tuesday with a rematch against the Blues. hopefully they will have some players returning from injury by then. If not, be prepared for the comeback cats to pull off another one.

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The best and worst cases of the Panthers’ most recent contract signings.

The Panthers played the lottery and won big with several players. Now the time has come to pay them. Will they regret any of it?

The Panthers resurrected an unprecedented amount of careers this past season, and rewarded most of those players with contract extensions. In many cases, these are the first large contracts handed to these players. Will these players live up to their new cap hits? Let’s dive into the best and worst case scenarios for each of the players the Panthers rewarded with new contracts this offseason.

Gustav Forsling

Forsling impressed during the second half of last season with the Panthers. Offensively Forsling drove play with his speed and vision and defensively he used great anticipation and stick checking to make up for his lack of size. He went above and beyond being an injury replacement for Aaron Ekblad on that top pairing. Nothing during his season with the Panthers would suggest any precipitous drop off in play. However, Forsling did not show he could be an NHL caliber defenseman before this season. During his first four seasons in the NHL with Chicago and Carolina, he spent more than half of his time in the AHL. He had shown flashes of offensive excellence during those seasons but could not be counted on defensively. Was this sudden improvement in play a result of a change of scenery and being put in the right position, or just plain luck? Nobody can know for sure, but for only eight million dollars over three years the gamble is certainly worth it for the Panthers.

Best case: strong top 4 defensemen

Worst case: 7th defensemen, gone in 2 years

Anthony Duclair

Duclair has always had strong underlying numbers, but has had issues with upper management at several of his previous stops. In hindsight, it seems those issues were largely the fault of the coaches and management, and less so on Duclair. Regardless, he seems to have found a home in South Florida. Even with his impressive play last season, his shooting percentage was only 9.6%, down from 12.4% career average. With shooting percentage being a good indicator of player luck, it could mean Duclair is in for some positive regression this upcoming season. Even if that regression never comes and Duclair maintains the level of play he had last season, this contract is an absolute win for the Panthers.

Best case: Reliable top 6 forward

Worst case: high ceiling top 9 forward

Sam Bennett

Bennett burst onto the scene with superstar level production during his short 10 game stint with the Panthers last season, registering 6 goals and 9 assists during those games. Those numbers are obviously unsustainable, especially his 15.4 shooting percentage. The former fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft left Calgary as somewhat of a disappointment. He never cracked 40 points in a season (his career high is 36 during his rookie season) and played much of his time as a bottom 6 forward. To his credit, Bennett has talked openly about how a change of scenery was necessary for him. His instant chemistry with winger Johnathan Huberdeau helped Bennett embark on the greatest stretch of his career. With that in mind, it is possible this handful of games with the Panthers could be just the start of what is to come for the 25 year old. The Panthers took a pretty big risk with this contract. His AAV of 4.425 million means he will be expected to produce like a top 6 forward regularly. It could certainly happen, but the sample size of him being an average player is much, much larger than his hot streak with the Panthers.

Best case: second line center

Worst case: bottom 6 forward, bought out in two years

Carter Verhaeghe

Ah, Carter Vergaeghe. Talented, Beautiful, Carter Verhaeghe. The steal of last year’s free agency period exceeded all expectations last season, and is only getting better. Verhaeghe may have the most complete game on the team of any forward not named Aleksander Barkov of Johnathan Huberdeau. The undrafted phenom only had one season of NHL experience under his belt, where he impressed in a limited role with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In a larger role with the Panthers last season, he impressed again. Of course, the shooting percentage may come back to earth a bit, but I would bet against it having a major impact on his production. Strong Defense, wicked shot, and blistering speed, the man can do it all. You take his 4.167 AAV any day and pray you can meet his new number in four years time.

Best Case: Top line winger

Worst Case: really good second line winger

Brandon Montour

I’ll be honest, this one gives me pause. Montour did not play badly for the Panthers by any means. From my point of view, Montour just never stood out. He played like just another cog in the machine for a defense which was simply not good enough against Tampa. 3.5 million dollars per year for 3 years is a big commitment for someone who did not show flashes of anything extraordinary. During his last 3 years in Buffalo, Montour gained a reputation as one of the worst defenders in the league. (Granted, Buffalo is a place where careers go to die.) Montour had been a defenseman worth that amount during his tenure in Anaheim, but last played for the Ducks three years ago. Florida wanted to re-sign him even before the season ended, so maybe they see something I don’t. If I had to bet on a contract from the bunch to age poorly, however, this would be the one.

Best case: mid tier top 4 defenseman

Worst case: AHL defensemen being paid like a top 4 defenseman

Sam Reinhart

Speaking of Buffalo reclamation projects, the Panthers may have snagged the best of the bunch — Jack Eichel notwithstanding. What makes Reinhart such a tantalizing player is he actually managed to be good in Buffalo. He netted 20+ goals in each of the last four seasons. The second overall pick in the 2014 draft has as much raw talent as anyone on this roster. He has not quite lived up to his lofty draft expectations — likely a product of being stuck on the Sabres — but the possibility still remains that a new team will allow for that theoretical pre draft Reinhart to become reality.

This season will show if his ordeal with Buffalo stunted his all around hockey development or just masked it in a thick layer of garbage. 6.5 million dollars per year is a steep price, and that comes with expectations, but expect Reinhart to be very productive this upcoming season.

Best case: Elite top line winger

Worst Case: Disappointing but still productive second line winger

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