NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Thursday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Lightning-Panthers coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
It’s early in Bill Zito’s run as Florida Panthers GM, but so far, he’s unearthed some real hidden gems. You also have to think that Joel Quenneville’s played a significant role in breakthroughs for the likes of Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe.
Maybe those successes emboldened the Panthers to take on reclamation projects during the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline? Then again, perhaps the Panthers simply believe they can get more out of Nikita Gusev, Brandon Montour, and especially Sam Bennett.
Considering the prices the Panthers paid during the trade deadline — and significant injuries to Verhaeghe and Aaron Ekblad — it’s important that they get something from those new additions.
Let’s take a look at those three Panthers trade deadline additions. Before we do that, do note that they didn’t merely make additions. To open up space, the Panthers also traded away Vinnie Hinostroza and Brett Connolly (the latter as part of a package that also included an intriguing piece in Henrik Borgstrom).
Can Panthers, Quenneville get more out of Sam Bennett?
Granted, Bennett has some snarl to his game, can grow an absolutely bewildering mustache (sometimes with a bushy beard), and also displays an uncanny knack for being more effective in the playoffs. After being traded to the Panthers, Bennett definitely played up that angle.
“I’ve always been a guy that tends to get up for big games and elevate my game,” Bennett said. “I love the style of playoff hockey — it’s physical, it’s fast. I think that compliments my game. I’m looking forward to the playoffs, for sure.”
(Bennett’s scored 19 points in 30 playoff games [.633 points per game], versus 140 points in 402 regular season contests [.35 points per game]).
For a Panthers team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1995-96, a player who (seemingly) can “turn it on” during the postseason sounds nice. But it’s fair to wonder how much you can take from 30 playoff games, especially since they’re spread over four postseasons (no more than 11 games in any single stretch).
Over the years, the Flames could’ve used that Playoff Sam Bennett more often. Maybe they wished they could’ve hypnotized him?
Despite needing more support, the Flames deployed Bennett in a reluctant role, and his ice time slid as time went on. During the past three seasons, he’s averaged 13:28 TOI per game or less.
Sam Bennett (to Florida) is a middle-six forward. pic.twitter.com/oJMbR6U5SE
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 12, 2021
Medium-sized gambles, at best
On one hand, Sam Bennett can turn a page. After all, the Panthers aren’t the team that drafted him fourth overall.
But they did spend a pretty penny to trade for Bennett. For a player whose impact is sometimes understated, Panthers fans might remark “We gave up a second-rounder for him?”
Considering the prices beyond the strangely squalid return for Taylor Hall, that’s probably not a totally fair way of looking at things. Even so, if you look at results the Panthers trade deadline, they did move around quite a bit to accommodate the combination of Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour.
Really, Montour and Nikita Gusev stand as the bolder trade deadline reclamation projects by the Panthers.
Recalling that the Sabres gave up a first-rounder for Montour, it’s worth considering that he’s a defenseman teams talk themselves into. Bill Zito referred to Montour as “always a guy that we really liked.”
Should they, though?
Brandon Montour, reportedly acquired by FLA, has been one of the league's worst defencemen in the past three seasons. His production has been decent but his underlying numbers have been brutal at both ends since before the Sabres traded for him. #FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/hZRGNOHWbY
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) April 10, 2021
No, the Panthers didn’t give up the world for Bennett and Montour, but these are also the type of players you’d prefer to “buy low.”
That’s the standout thing about Nikita Gusev. The Panthers scooped him up on the waiver wire, so it’s low-risk, aside from maybe moving someone out to make space?
Nikita Gusev (signed to FLA) has struggled in the NHL so far but might work out for the Panthers (?)
Probably better than giving assets up for a replacement-level fourth liner pic.twitter.com/4A2ZstfWFp
— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) April 11, 2021
Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Panthers in year one under Bill Zito, and Coach Q’s second rotation. At the moment, the Panthers’ 2021 NHL Trade Deadline moves feel more questionable, but we’ll find out if we see more big transformations (even if it might be a while before Bennett can play against teams like the Lightning).