On paper, the Florida Panthers have all the makings of a future Stanley Cup contender.
Talented, young forwards already in the organization include Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Pirri, and Rocco Grimaldi. Meanwhile, on the back end, they’ve got a potential Norris Trophy winner in Aaron Ekblad.
For three of those players, they can thank all the losing they’ve done. The Panthers were able to draft Huberdeau with the third overall pick in 2011, Barkov second overall in 2013, and Ekblad first overall in 2014.
The Panthers also have the third overall pick from the 2010 draft in defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Even if the big, tough 23-year-old has yet to become a star, the club still considers him “one of the building blocks for our team.”
On top of all that, the Panthers have the 11th overall pick in the upcoming draft, of which they’ll be the hosts.
“We view this as one of the last pieces that we’re going to acquire at the draft that could really help us get to the next level sooner rather than later,” Panthers director of scouting Scott Luce told the Sun-Sentinel earlier this week.
“We’ve got a good young corps, so we feel that with this draft we can take that final step and add one more final piece to the core that will be our core for hopefully close to the next 10 years.”
In a lot of ways, the Panthers look a lot like their state rivals from Tampa Bay did a few years ago. Remember that the Lightning were able to translate losing seasons into drafting Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick in 2008 and Victor Hedman second overall in 2009.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee the Panthers will have the same success as the Lightning, who’ve done a lot more to build a contender than just draft Stamkos and Hedman.
But Panthers fans have every right to believe a winning team is around the corner, even if most of the national focus on the franchise has been negative.