Tag: Willie Mitchell

Boston Bruins v Florida Panthers

Panthers’ biggest question: Can the old guys hang on while the young guys get better?


The Florida Panthers are a bit of an odd team, in terms of their mix.

They have Jaromir Jagr, who at 43 is the oldest player in the NHL by a considerable margin. They also have a couple of 38-year-olds in Willie Mitchell and Shawn Thornton, plus a couple of 36-year-olds in Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell.

Yet you can’t call the Panthers an old team. These aren’t the New Jersey Devils we’re talking about here.

Not with 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad, the league’s reigning rookie of the year, and 22-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau, who received the same honor in 2013.

Also, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Pirri, Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic, and Dylan Olsen. All of them under 25 years of age.

Oh, and don’t forget Lawson Crouse, the 18-year-old winger that could make the team. And Rocco Grimaldi, the 22-year-old forward who had 42 points 64 AHL games last season.

You get the point.

“We’ve got young players that are very capable of playing for us next year,” said GM Dale Tallon. “We don’t want to shut the door on that. We want those guys to get every opportunity to be on our team. I want to be the youngest team in the league and the best team in the league at the same time.”

The key next season will be for the old guys to hang on while the young guys get better. If that happens, the Panthers have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, and even making some noise once they get there.

On the other hand, if key veterans like Jagr, Campbell and Luongo start showing their age and/or the youngsters experience too many growing pains, they could stumble.

Related: Roberto Luongo is under pressure

Panthers leading goalscorer Bjugstad (back surgery) ‘feeling 100 percent’


For the most part, this was a tremendous year for Nick Bjugstad, who scored a career-high 24 goals and inked a six-year, $24.6 million extension.

The only downer was the way it ended.

In late March, Bjugstad underwent season-ending back surgery, a procedure that kept him out of Florida’s playoff push and from representing Team USA at the World Hockey Championships.

Thankfully for Bjugstad and the Panthers, recovery is going well.

“Basically, I’m feeling 100 percent,” Bjugstad said this week, per the Panthers website. “I don’t feel any tingling or soreness in my back. They just have to remind me all the time that you can’t rush it, you can’t overdo it right now.

“Just trying to get back into shape which is nice. I feel like I could play a game right now, but obviously they’re not letting me get to that extent.”

The club’s first-round pick (19th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bjugstad has been rock solid for the Panthers sign becoming a regular last season, in what was his rookie campaign; the University of Minnesota product led the Panthers in points, with 38, and finished 13th in Calder voting.

This year, Bjugstad proved a quality scorer at even strength — his 17 goals put him on par with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Jeff Carter and Phil Kessel — and averaged a career-high 16:35 TOI under new head coach Gerard Gallant, while gaining invaluable experience from playing alongside veterans like captain Willie Mitchell and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who joined the team at the trade deadline.

“Obviously a big help from the older guys, the team was a whole different dynamic, as far as leadership,” Bjugstad explained. “Who we had playing, we had a lot of winners, Stanley Cup winners on the team. It changed the whole morale and attitude of the team.

“It was good learning a lot from those older guys, they’re all really good with the younger guys. It did nothing but help me this year.”

Many reasons — including plain, old luck — to explain Kings missing playoffs

Darryl Sutter

Ask Darryl Sutter why his Los Angeles Kings are going to miss the playoffs less than one year after winning the Stanley Cup and he first points to the “disparity” in the home (24-9-7) and away (15-18-8) records.

On top of that, he concedes that all the hockey, regular season and playoffs combined, the Kings have played the last three years “probably” took a toll.

You may also recall earlier in the season when Sutter noted how it’s a “quite a bit different team on the back end” (without Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell) and how “we need great goaltending,” something the Kings didn’t really get compared to previous seasons.

We’d add their shootout record (2-8) and their overtime record (1-7).

Oh, and a lack of finish. Sutter has talked about that, too.

And their special teams were pretty mediocre.

And losing Tanner Pearson hurt.

And they probably should’ve bought out Mike Richards.

Bottom line: a lot of things didn’t go the Kings’ way. Given all the good fortune they enjoyed during their two championship runs — from getting the Coyotes and Devils as their final two opponents in 2012, to all the overtime victories that could’ve ended differently in 2014 — perhaps they were simply due a dose of the opposite.

It’s always a contentious topic when it comes to hockey: luck. But like it or not, it can be the difference between a good team winning it all and a good team missing the playoffs.

That’s not to say that everything boils down to luck. It obviously doesn’t. The Kings got the job done in 2012 and 2014; they didn’t in 2015. And yes, Dean Lombardi has some work to do this offseason. His team has flaws.

That being said, let’s end this with a fun fact:

If the Kings beat the Sharks on Saturday, they’ll finish with the same record (40-27-15) as they did in 2011-12.

One team finished with a parade.

The other will finish with a meaningless game against San Jose.