Panthers mailbag: You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers
Just like the weather in Sunrise, the Florida Panthers are staying red hot throughout the cold winter of the NHL regular season.
In the midst of a three-game winning streak, and having already won four of their first five games on their current road trip, the Panthers are turning heads around the league as they continue to look more and more like legitimate playoff contenders.
For all your burning Panthers questions, FOXSportsFlorida.com’s Jameson Olive is here to answer anything and everything regarding the team’s past, present and future.
@marksy2112: When will the Panthers start looking for a starting goaltender of the future and how will they acquire one?
OLIVE: In conversations with general manager Dale Tallon during the offseason, it’s clear that he has some level of confidence in the team’s current crop of goaltending prospects, most notably University of Denver netminder Evan Cowley. A fourth-round pick in 2013, Cowley is sporting a 7-5-1 record with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .925 save-percentage in his sophomore season with the Pioneers, and in my opinion, should have garnered more consideration for Team USA’s backup job at the most recent IIHF World Junior Championships. That being said, I don’t believe that Florida will bank its future on the hopeful development of a 19-year-old. If Roberto Luongo’s All-Star season has taught the team anything, it’s that an elite goaltender can be the No. 1 factor in whether or not you spend your offseason in the playoffs or in the draft lottery. Right now, the team has several goaltending projects, but look for them to finally nab a blue-chip netminder in this year’s draft, possibly as early as the second round.
@BarryARothman: What are your thoughts on defenseman Alex Petrovic and do you think he has a future with the Panthers?
OLIVE: Well Barry, Petrovic certainly has been an enigma since the Panthers selected him with the 36th overall pick in the 2010 draft. At 6-foot-4, 206 pounds, he certainly has the look of an NHLer, but in his two stints with the Panthers his play hasn’t lived up to his aesthetics — notching just 1 assist in 13 NHL games over parts of two seasons. Yet, there is reason for hope. In 34 games with the San Antonio Rampage (AHL) this season, he has tallied three goals and 17 points, which already matches his career-best single-season point total as a professional. He’s showing improvement and will certainly get another shot to prove his worth in the future. However, with the arrival of top-defensive prospects like Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen on the horizon, the 22-year-old will have to right the ship quickly or risk tumbling down the organization’s crowded depth chart.
@ChiefCub: Is Nick Bjugstad the future captain of the Panthers?
OLIVE: When Tallon signed defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a two-year deal this past summer, he spoke openly about his desire for the 23-year-old to someday become captain. Personally, I think he’s right on the money with that notion. Gudbranson, who the Panthers selected with the third-overall pick of the 2010 draft, is a vocal leader both on and off the ice and has already earned the respect of the locker room. That is, however, not to say that Bjugstad won’t have some sort of leadership role with the team in the future. He served as an alternate captain during his final season at the University of Minnesota and I think that’s a position that he could very well end up with here again in Florida.
Robert, Pembroke Pines: How many goals will Jimmy Hayes score this season for the Panthers?
OLIVE: Brace yourself; Florida’s big man could score 30. After netting his 13th of the season in Edmonton on Sunday, Hayes is now on pace to hit the 30-goal mark if he stays healthy and in the lineup for the remainder of the season. As it stands now, his shooting percentage of 16.4 percent is only slightly higher than his career average of 14.6, so his current scoring pace appears to be sustainable. Additionally, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound winger may also see a surge in his goal total if the Panthers can remedy their 29th-ranked power play. Last season, Hayes scored 27 percent of his goals with the extra attacker, compared to just 15 percent this year.
@AndrewHirsh: Which ’80s coming-of-age movie would you say the Panthers embody the most?
OLIVE: Finally, we get to the hard-hitting questions. Well Andrew, I think the most obvious answer would have to be Steven Spielberg’s 1985 classic, The Goonies. Much like the Panthers, the heroes in this movie are a group of youngsters -- led by Sean Astin’s character Mikey — attempting to find treasure. However, it is only when Mikey’s older brother, Brand, joins the crew that they really become a well-rounded company of adventurers. Likewise, the Panthers young talent has found success this season thanks to the arrival of several older veterans of their own like Willie Mitchell and Jussi Jokinen. I can also tell you that if the Panthers make the playoffs this season, I’m sure that all of South Florida will be doing the truffle shuffle.