The Panthers haven’t fared very well over the last two seasons — finishing 29th and 30th overall in consecutive years — but, according to veteran goalie Roberto Luongo, that lack of success wasn’t due to a lack of talent.
“I like it — the talent was always there,” Luongo said in previewing the upcoming campaign, per Vancouver’s Team 1040 radio. “We had a lot of good talent in the young kids, but we needed to surround them with some good veterans.”
Florida has been stockpiling talent for quite some time now, and should (theoretically) reap some of the rewards this season… even though all that talent is still remarkably young. Former Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau, 21, is entering his third professional campaign, while Finnish center Aleksander Barkov — who is still just 18 years old — will embark on his sophomore year.
Big things are expected from another 18-year-old, Aaron Ekblad, the first overall pick at this year’s draft and it’s also worth noting that Nick Bjugstad, last year’s leading scorer, just turned 22 last week.
But as Luongo mentioned, veterans were in big demand to help these kids along. That’s partly why Florida GM Dale Tallon went on a summer spending spree, dropping more than $53 million to bring in the likes of Dave Bolland, Shawn Thornton, Jussi Jokinen and Luongo’s former teammate in Vancouver, Willie Mitchell. In Bolland, Thornton and Mitchell the Panthers inherited five Stanley Cup championships; they also brought aboard a veteran NHL coach in Gerard Gallant with the aim of providing stability after going through two coaches (Kevin Dineen and Peter Horachek) last season.
“I’ve heard a lot of great things about our new coach,” Luongo explained. “I think for our team, honestly, it’s a matter of making sure everything comes together at the beginning of the season with the new coaching staff.
“If we can stay healthy, I think we’ll be in the mix.”