Tag: Brian Campbell

Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad

In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Panthers have managed to win a few here and there


The Florida Panthers may play in front of a lot of empty seats, they may lose a lot of money, and they may have even eclipsed the Arizona Coyotes in terms of relocation speculation.

But you know what?

The Panthers are actually playing some decent hockey these days.

Florida (4-2-3) enters tonight’s contest in Boston riding a two-game winning streak and on a six-game points streak. While no team has played fewer times than the Panthers (9), it’s still worth mentioning that no team has fewer regulation losses than their two.

The shot-stopping of goalie Roberto Luongo has been a major factor in Florida’s early success, as the 35-year-old has compiled an impressive .933 save percentage in eight starts. The Panthers are also among the league’s top possession teams, even if it needs to be noted they’ve only played three opponents that made the playoffs last season.

Besides goaltending, Florida also boasts a decent collection of blue-liners, including first overall pick Aaron Ekblad, who’s logged 21:25 per game while paired with veteran Brian Campbell.

In a recent interview with a Winnipeg radio station (audio), Panthers owner Doug Cifu said Ekblad “looks like the second coming of Ray Bourque.”

Granted, we’re not sure making statements like that is the best way to manage expectations, but Ekblad has looked pretty good for an 18-year-old.

The Panthers’ next 10 games…


…should provide a good test for this team.

Related: Luongo says ‘we need to start winning some games’ for Panthers’ attendance to improve

Sabres to name captain following training camp


On Tuesday, Buffalo head coach Ted Nolan informed reporters he’d name his new captain at the commencement of training camp.

The Sabres have been without a captain since March, when Steve Ott was dealt to St. Louis as part of the Ryan Miller deal. Ott had previously served as a co-captain with Thomas Vanek, who wore the “C” for less than a month before getting shipped off to the Islanders.

It’ll be interesting to see what direction Nolan takes with his new leadership group. Historically speaking, the Sabres have often utilized a rotating staff — under Lindy Ruff, the club used Michael Peca, Stu Barnes, Miroslav Satan, Chris Drury, James Patrick, J.P. Dumont, Daniel Briere, Jochen Hecht, Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell, Jaroslav Spacek, Jason Pominville and Craig Rivet. But it’s possible they could go with a more traditional format under Nolan.

In what might be a glimpse into the head coach’s thinking, three veterans will serve as alternates for Tuesday’s preseason home opener against the Hurricanes: Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Matt Moulson.

Panthers sign first overall pick Ekblad

Aaron Ekblad
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On Wednesday, Aaron Ekblad — the No. 1 selection at this June’s draft — took a major step towards beginning his NHL career by signing a three-year, entry-level contract with Florida.

“We are very pleased to have signed Aaron,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said in a statement. “He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career.

“We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition.”

Financial terms of the deal weren’t released but Ekblad, 18, is limited by the CBA for what he can earn annually (last year’s top pick, Nathan MacKinnon, had a $925,000 cap hit but made $3.775M with signing and performance bonuses.)

As for his spot with the Panthers…Ekblad looks to be in line for a top-6 spot next to Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen. That said, he will be challenged by a pair of fellow youngsters (Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic), and there are reports claiming veteran d-man Shane O’Brien is headed to Florida’s training camp on a PTO.

It’s also worth noting that, as per Tallon’s statement above, Ekblad will participate in both Florida’s prospects and full training camp, meaning he’s cleared to play after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game on Aug. 4 during Canada’s world junior summer development camp.

Looking to make the leap: Aaron Ekblad

Aaron Ekblad
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For the first time since the 1994 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers had the first overall pick in June, and just like they did in ’94, the Panthers used their No. 1 selection to take a defenseman.

Twenty years ago, it was a kid by the name of Ed Jovanovski out of the Windsor Spitfires organization, who was tabbed to be the franchise’s next star.

In 2014, those pressures are squarely on the shoulders of blue liner Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad may be just 18-years-old, but comparisons to fellow fresh-faced rookies begin, and end, there.


At 6-foot-3 and 216-pounds, Ekblad is a behemoth among his peers and its that size, coupled with his hands, which the Panthers are hoping will help the Belle River, Ont. native make the leap to the NHL just three months after selecting him.

“I’m really impressed with his hands,” Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon told the Florida Sun Sentinel last month. “I knew he was a well-rounded player, but I’m really happy with his skills … how he handles the biscuit, how he moves it and how he shoots it.

“He’s really got tremendous skills for a kid that size and that young.”

Billed as a two-way defenseman with a cannon for a shot, Ekblad would be a welcome edition to a Panthers blue line, which is taking shape nicely.

In addition to Ekblad, Florida has budding stars Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson to go along with savvy veterans such as Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell.

Bryan McCabe, who is on the Panthers’ player development staff, knows a thing or two about making the leap to the NHL. During the 1994-95 season, as a 20-year-old, McCabe played his rookie season with the New York Islanders.

“He can move; he has a heavy shot from what I saw; he’s composed and mature for his age,” McCabe told the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, not cocky, but he believes in himself, which is a great attribute for a young kid.

“We certainly don’t want to rush any kids, but if he comes into camp and proves he can play we’re certainly not going to sent him back.”

Ekblad is learning from the NHL veteran.

“Just how much it takes,” Ekblad told NHL.com last month. “We had a good talk with Mr. McCabe. It’s just amazing how much mental toughness and how physically and mentally prepared you have to be to make it to the next level. It’s a big jump and I’m really excited and aware of what I have to do.”

Eklbad still has two issues as he moves forward to Panthers’ mini camp in September.

First, he’s coming off of a concussion suffered during an exhibition game at Canada’s player development camp earlier this month.

Ekblad, who is symptom free, has not skated since suffering the injury Aug. 5, but according to TSN is expected to get back on the ice this week.

He is also without a contract.

Tallon didn’t appear concerned when talking about Ekblad’s contract situation last month.

“We’ll wait until rookie camp,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon told the Miami Herald. “He handled himself very well as prospect camp, did a good job. I’m not worried about that. We’ll get him signed when the time comes.”

According to Bob Duff of the Windsor Star, Ekblad should expect the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement for rookies.

Ekblad will likely receive a three-year entry-level contract with a base salary of $925,000. As Duff points out, the maximum signing bonus allowed is 10 percent of the base salary, which amounts to $92, 500 in each of the three years.

Under the CBA, Ekblad is allowed to earn bonuses, which cannot exceed $2.85 million per season.

So Panthers’ fans should expect Ekblad to sign a three-year deal in the neighbourhood of $11.325 million in the coming weeks leading up to the start of the 2014-15 season in October.

Related: Panthers’ power play can only improve next season

Panthers’ power play can only improve next season

Scottie Upshall,  Brian Campbell
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The Florida Panthers’ jarringly awful power play (and special teams) from last season inspires a lot of questions, but one of the most amusing ones might be: how much worse would things have been without Brian Campbell?

As much as the scoring defenseman gets grief for a still-bloated $7.1 million cap hit, one wonders if he felt strangely alone at times in Florida. He easily led the Panthers’ woeful power play in points with 12 in 2012-13, factoring into a significant chunk of their disastrously low 27 total power-play tallies.

One way or another, that number should climb next season unless baffling things happen once again.

Comically bad

The Panthers were far behind even the second worst unit for sheer goal scoring on the power play, as the Buffalo Sabres settled for 36. The Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks are the only other teams who fell short of 40 (both finished with 39). Not surprisingly, Florida’s pitiful 10 percent success rate was easily the worst in the NHL.

Now, some will – reasonably – explain these problems away by noting the Panthers’ lack of on-paper talent.

That’s understandable, yet some of the numbers argue that Florida is likely to rebound from that 2012-13 level of “moribund” to merely just bad (or maybe even good if things swing the Panthers’ way). Based on some numbers from the now-defunct stats site Extra Skater, here are a few intriguing facts:

  • The Panthers’ shooting percentage on the power play was easily the NHL’s worst at 7.6 percent. No other team was below 9.3. If the Panthers merely enjoyed that second-worst percentage, they would have scored six more goals. That’s not going to propel them to a playoff berth, yet it would certainly leave them at far less of a disadvantage.
  • Florida generated 669 “Corsi For” events on the power play, good for 21st in the NHL. That indicates that they were at least creating a respectable amount of chances … at least compared to those absolutely abysmal totals.

Gallant’s opportunity

What does this all say?

The Panthers have a strong chance of being better merely by better luck, but new head coach Gerard Gallant could look brilliant if things roll his way. There’s reason to believe that the team will improve thanks to a combination of busy offseason signings and the maturation of young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. If Gallant (or a plucky assistant) can help that group generate better-than-average chances, people might start to get some hype for a “brilliant turnaround.”


It’s easy to dismiss the impact of special teams and just as easy to underrate how much that area can impact a league noted for its parity. An improved power play wouldn’t guarantee a leap for the Panthers next season … but it’s hard to imagine them being hindered by such an awful unit like they were in 2012-13.

Then again, they could also trade Campbell and make that prediction a little less confident …

Related: Panthers’ owner uncertain of future in Florida