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Florida Panthers Re-Sign MacKenzie Weegar to a One-Year Contract

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On July 25th, at 3:45 pm, it was announced that the Florida Panthers and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar agreed to terms on a one-year, one-way deal. Weegar, who previously filed for salary arbitration, was expected to receive his hearing on July 30th.

Instead, a hearing was avoided, and both parties worked out an agreement that would keep Weegar in South Florida for another year. Panthers GM Dale Tallon had this to say about the freshly signed MacKenzie Weegar:
“We are pleased to have agreed to terms with MacKenzie. He is a versatile, young two-way defender who made big strides in his development during his rookie season. We’re excited about keeping our group of talented young players together after their contributions to our strong finish last season. We look forward to watching our club build from that success this coming season and for years to come.”
In 60 games played for the Cats this season, the Canadian-born defenseman recorded 2G, 6A, and 8 points. The previous year (2016-17), Weegar featured in 3 games, failing to register a single point. But despite going pointless during those three games, it was the learning experience that ultimately mattered for the young MacKenzie Weegar.

At 24 years of age, Weegar has shown that he can step in and out of the lineup at any time, contributing on a consistent basis. He isn’t a defenseman who will rack up a ton of points, but it’s his defensive presence on the bottom pairing that shows his worth.

That’s also not to imply that he can’t score or contribute offensively, because he can. Just take a look at his first career NHL goal which was scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins. A beauty, isn’t it?
Weegar provides needed stability at the back moving forward and offers the Panthers a reliable option on the bottom line. He likely won’t play in every game this year, but when he’s called upon to play, he’ll be ready.

MacKenzie treats every game like it’s a tryout, knowing very well that if he slips up, his spot on the team is up for grabs. For a rotational defenseman, he plays his part well, and can only improve as he matures with age.




Florida Panthers Debate: Two Young Guns, One Roster Spot

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Both of these players proved their worth with their respective clubs last year and look like they’re ready to make the jump to the NHL in the 2018-19 season. However, there is a huge logjam in the forward position, so ultimately one of these players will most likely find themselves in the AHL if eligible (Borgstrom in this case) or back to juniors (Tippett in this case).

In this piece, my good friend and site expert (Danny Janicas) and I will be pinning these two players head-to-head to figure out who we see fit to be on the Panthers roster. Without further ado, allow me to introduce our competitors:
In the red corner, standing at 6’3″,185lbs, hailing from Helsinki, Finland, we have Henrik Borgstrom. 20-year-old Borgstrom was selected 23rd overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and is the older of the two contestants. Borgstrom played his junior hockey with the University of Denver, featuring in 40 games and scoring 23 goals and 52 points last season.

And now… in the blue corner, standing at 6’2″, 203lbs, hailing from Peterborough, Ontario, we have Owen Tippett. 19-year-old Tippett was drafted 10th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and is, of course, the younger of the two contestants.

He played his junior hockey with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, amassing 51 games played, while potting 36 goals and 75 points this past year.

The way this will work is simple, we’re going to be judging these two on five major components: skating, 200-foot game, offense, defense, and creativity.

The player we deem most NHL ready through these components will be nominated the winner and wins… absolutely nothing because we’re just bloggers with an opinion that may very well be different to Dale Tallon’s.
Skating
Colby: For me, this was a hard decision, as both players move with the puck extremely well, but I’m going to have to go with Owen Tippet on this one. Both players have exceptional speed and can beat their opponents to the net, but I honestly love what I’ve seen from Owen Tippett.

For a guy his size (standing at 6’2″, 203lbs), Owen Tippett flies out there on the ice like a rocket even with the extra weight he’s added on. He uses his speed to get around the opposition and uses his shot (which we’ll talk about later) to put up a massive amount of goals.

Danny: To choose between the two aforementioned players isn’t an easy decision, but seeing I have to select one, I’m going to have to go with Henrik Borgstrom. Both players are fast; they possess enough speed to beat their opponents in a foot race.

However, because Borgstrom has longer strides in his skating ability, it ultimately shows that he can cover more space on the ice in fewer strides than Tippett.

This also isn’t to discredit Tippett either, who possess speed in his game too. But Borgstrom has shown me that he’s the quicker player with and without the puck on his stick. Because of that, I have to take Borgstrom.

200-Foot Game
Colby: This decision was much easier for me, as Owen Tippett lacks some parts of the game involving the puck not being on his stick, and with that, I’ll have to go with Henrik Borgstrom. Borgstrom is a player who’s put much effort into every facet of the game and it really showed during his tenure at the University of Denver.

He also looked very promising in all three zones of the ice during his four-game stint with the Florida Panthers at the end of last season. Although only putting up one goal, he helped the team play smart hockey in all three zones of the ice which helped the team win when they desperately needed two points throughout the last few games of the season.

Danny: For me, this is an easy decision. I’m going with the Finnish native yet again. At the University of Denver, Borgstrom showed me that he can play in all three zones of the ice in any part of a game. His vision when spotting a player from across the ice is second to none, while his ability to play a two-way style of game is just the cherry on top for me.

Tippett, on the other hand, has shown flashes in the offensive zone, but apart from that, there are some question marks placed with his game in both the neutral and defensive zone. One of the areas that Owen needs to work on is rounding out his game. He doesn’t possess that complete game like Borgstrom does, nor does he play a 200 ft. style of game.

With all the factors taken into consideration, to me, this is just easy. Borgstrom gets my vote a second time.

Offense
Colby: Although both players are elite offensive dynamos, my vote will have to go to Owen Tippett. He has an elite shot, and that shows with the 36 goals he put up with the Steelheads last season. Tippett also put up 10 more assists than Borgstrom did, with a staggering number of 39 of those capping off his point total at 75 (in 51 games).

Tippet always finds ways to put the puck in the net, and it really showed during Tippett’s tenure in Mississauga. In my opinion, Tippett is definitely the most fit to translate his offensive game into the NHL, although Borgstrom isn’t far behind him at all.

Danny: Yes, Tippett scored more goals in juniors than Borgstrom did in college, but I still take the Finn in this category. Some of you may question why? I’ll give you my reason: Borgstrom scored against higher quality goaltenders.

As you know, Henrik played at the NCAA level the last couple of seasons, while Tippett featured in the OHL for Mississauga, respectively. One league, you’re playing against older players in their 20s and even 30s, while the latter (OHL) you’re up against kids in their teenage years. You tell me which is better competition? I think it’s self-explanatory.

With all that factored in, it’s quite clear that while Borgstrom scored at a lower rate than Tippett did, do take into account that Borgstrom scored his 23 goals on maturer goalies, while Tippett racked up his 36 on a bunch of 17 and 18-year-oldsFurthermore, if the situations were reversed and Tippett was on Denver and Borgstrom was on Mississauga, I can assure you that Tippett would score at a much lower rate than Borgstrom did in the past couple of seasons with Denver.

Don’t let Tippett’s 75 points (36G, 39A) fool you. His points were racked up in a league that is widely considered less competitive/skilled than the league (NCAA) Borgstrom was playing in. The level of competition in which both players played in matters, and in that case, Borgstrom wins solely for putting up point-per-game numbers in a superior league.

Defense
Colby: Do I even need to write an answer for this one? Everyone who follows the Florida Panthers’ prospect pool knows that Henrik Borgstrom is far and beyond further developed on the defensive side of the ice than Owen Tippett.

Tippett has been known to have his problems in the defensive zone, while Borgstrom hasn’t. He’s been looking like a very promising piece in the defensive end, being where he needs to be to stop a play from being created and has quality defensive awareness to his game.

Although he’s not a guy like Anze Kopitar or Patrice Bergeron, I can see Henrik Borgstrom being a quality asset to the Panthers on the defensive side next season.

Danny: Some of you may know where I’m going with this debate, but for the fourth time in a row, I’m taking Borgstrom again. Henrik by no means is considered a perfect defensive player, but in comparison to Tippett, he’s shown me that he’s far more responsible in the defensive zone. Tippett lacks defensive awareness, and it’s his positioning in the defensive end that kills him.

He’s so used to floating up high, waiting for a stretch pass to go the other way. That certainly works against kids in the OHL, but when you’re playing against tougher competition in the NCAA or even in the NHL, that simply doesn’t fly, and you often get benched for that type of play.

Borgstrom has been molded into a player who can play in all three zones, and because of that, his ability to defend is competent enough to exit the defensive zone quickly, starting a rush down the ice into the opposition’s end.

There’s a lot of work to be done with Tippett’s defensive game, and for the Panthers’ sake, they better hope that he learns how to defend. If not, he may never see an opportunity to play in a top-six role.

On the other hand, Borgstrom has shown that he understands where to be and what to do when the puck is in his end, which ultimately implies that his defensive game is more polished than Tippett’s.

Creativity
Colby: Yes, both players have made goalies look like fools in their respective leagues, but my vote lies with Owen Tippett. The guy is possibly the most versatile player in the Florida Panthers’ farm system.

Owen can do it all. He can go to the dirty areas and knock home a rebound, he can snipe home a shot from the slot, and he can straight up embarrass an entire defense with his speed and dangles to get in and score on another nice deke to fool the goaltender.

When I think of creativity, I think of a guy who can do it all on the offensive side of the ice, and that’s what Owen Tippett is. He can automatically kick-start an entire power play unit by screening the goaltender or being an option to pass to so he can unload that mammoth of a shot he has.

Owen Tippett has one thing many players in this league don’t have, and that’s versatility.
Danny: Don’t get me wrong, both players in their own ways are creative, but it’s Borgstrom who’s displayed the most creativity since his time in College. If you look back at both their highlight clips, you see more dangles performed by Borgstrom on defenders.

I can’t quite say the same about Tippett. And it’s not only limited to one single area, it also extends to the style in which either player beats the opposing netminder with.

Whether it’s scoring goals, creating open ice for teammates, or simply displaying creative puck handling skills, all of this is awarded to Borgstrom in my opinion.

The Finn has shown tremendous ability to find open space in tight areas while dancing and prancing around defenders at the same time. Additionally, his goals are scored in a more creative fashion, ending with a notorious backhand top-shelf. With Tippett, it’s just not the same.

Most of Owen’s goals were scored off one-timers and wrist-shots from the slot. Those goals are not discredited in any way, shape, or form, but nor are they as spectacular as some of the goals Henrik has produced.

Furthermore, Tippett doesn’t nearly possess the same quality of hands as Borgstrom does. Henrik is able to make a play out of nothing, turning it into a scoring chance or goal. Tippett doesn’t.

There’s a reason why Henrik Borgstrom is referred to as a ‘wizard’ or ‘magician.’ And that reason is simply that he’s able to turn nothing into something with the puck.

I think it’s clear who’s the more creative player, and it’s not really a debate in my eyes, either.

The Winner
Colby: It took me long and hard to make this decision, but by a vote of three to two, the winner of my selection is Owen Tippett. Sure, he’s yet to polish the defensive aspect of his game, but he’s far and beyond the better offensive player out of these two.

Owen Tippett is a great third line shooter that can fit with Nick Bjugstad and Denis Malgin like peanut butter and Nutella (I’m sorry guys, I’m not the biggest fan of jelly.) Both guys are nice two-way pieces who can feed the puck to Tippett and allow him to do his magic offensively.

Tippett will also be a nice piece to the Panthers’ powerplay as his aforementioned versatility is second to none and will allow the Cats to consistently put up points on the man advantage.

I could very well be incorrect, as both players look great and will be lighting the lamp in the future in Sunrise, but my vote ultimately goes to Owen Tippett.

Danny: After breaking down these five areas for both players, I honestly believe that Henrik Borgstrom will turn out to be the better NHL player.

Borgstrom’s ability to combine creativity and skill while packaging it all with a two-way style of game is what NHL coaches are going to be afraid to go up against. Borgstrom has played against older men, and he hasn’t struggled to play against them either.

His game from Europe has evolved nicely over into North America, which will continue to grow and flourish at the NHL level with Florida. Dale is always looking for skilled, two-way players, and that’s what you’re getting with Borgstrom.

Henrik has proven that he’s more NHL ready than Tippett, and it looks like the Finn will take place in his first full season with the Cats this upcoming year.

I could be wrong of course, and I do hope that both Tippett and Borgstrom succeed in Florida, but at this stage in their careers and from what I’ve seen in their games, Borgstrom is looking like the more complete and ready NHLer.




Florida Panthers: Playoffs Should be the Expectation for this Season

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They were only the second team in the history of the league to get to 96 points yet miss the postseason.

As it has been well documented in this space, their horrific start to the season doomed them to missing the postseason no matter how well they played down the stretch. In 47 games before the All-Star break, they had 44 points.
In 35 games after that, they had 52. That kind of form might be good enough to win the President’s Trophy if extrapolated out to a full 82-game slate, and last year’s Panthers team was fatally flawed in multiple ways.

They had no secondary scoring or depth down the lineup. Their specialty teams up until December was some of the worst in the league, both on the kill and power play. Defensively, they gave up too many shots and quality chances.

If even that flawed team could make the run they did, couldn’t a team theoretically much better on paper make it to the postseason in a top-heavy Eastern Conference? Not only can they, but they should, and it should be the expectation.

Coming into next season with the addition of Mike Hoffman, the Panthers will be returning with six 20-goal scorers from the previous season, not including Aaron Ekblad who had 16 and Nick Bjugstad who had 19.

Only one other Panthers team has had five 20-goal scorers on it: the division title-winning team in ’15-16. Over the entire season, the Panthers had a PDO of 100.1, indicating they weren’t unlucky or lucky and were around 50% in terms of score-adjusted CF%, meaning they were also playing to their level. This includes both the terrible start and the hot finish.
During the offseason, the front office targeted two needs and acquired players to fill those needs without a minimum of fuss. They needed a top-six winger and acquired Mike Hoffman, baggage and all.

They needed a shutdown lower pairing defenseman and signed Bogdan Kiselevich. Both players directly address key needs and both should be able to easily fill those roles. Barring injury, the rest of the Panthers lineup from last season will return relatively intact. There’s also no reason to think that some Cats who had their best seasons yet in ’17-18 aren’t poised to do even more this year.
Aleksander Barkov set a career high in points, assists, and games played while playing the second highest average ice time for a forward in the league (22:04 compared to Anze Kopitar’s 22:05). Vincent Trocheck set a career high in goals, assists, and points while also playing with perhaps 20 different line combinations during his second straight season not missing a game.

Jonathan Huberdeau also set career highs in everything after playing in a full NHL season for the first time. Evgeni Dadonov chipped in 65 points while having a RelCF of 6.3, better than two forwards who played in some other sunbelt market not to be mentioned.

Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad for their faults as a pair had individually solid seasons, certainly better than the disasters both had in ’16-17. Yandle was three up in goals, 12 up in assists, and Ekblad was only one point shy of his career high in his rookie campaign. Mike Matheson, who was of the only Panther to have a good ’16-17 season, improved by playing more even strength and specialty minutes.

Coaching also improved throughout the season. Bob Boughner and his staff seemed a little lost at times in November and December trying to implement their system of run-and-gun, high event hockey, but by the time Jonathan Huberdeau moved to the second line, the team didn’t just pick up the system, they played it almost perfectly.

Boughner also knew when to push buttons with line changes and man management better than he did at the start, and there can be no doubt that both the power play and penalty kill improved.

So why then in 2018-19 can’t this team take the next step? With no coaching change, and settling in after a chaotic season previous, they should be able to hit the ground running. For all of the off-ice controversy surrounding Mike Hoffman, he is a 20 goal, 50 point forward that should fit in seamlessly into the Panthers’ top six.

There will be full seasons of Henrik Borgstrom and presumably Owen Tippett to add more youth, skill, and speed to a team already teeming with it. As Bob Boughner and Jack Capuano didn’t change the defense pairings almost at all last year, there shouldn’t be any problem for that group to pick right up where they left off last season.

While the Panthers have improved in a big way over last season, their competition for those final few playoff spots in the East really hasn’t. Columbus added decent depth in Riley Nash, but if they have to trade Artemi Panarin, then they lose their best forward and a big part of their goal scoring push.

The Devils, who were a normal Taylor Hall away from being a lottery contender, didn’t add anyone this offseason, and pretty clearly overachieved last season. Carolina finished closest to the Panthers after that, and they only had 83 points.

With the Rangers committed to a rebuild, the Islanders losing John Tavares, and the rest of the East falling off, there’s no reason to think the Panthers shouldn’t be a top eight team in the East next year.

Last year figured to be a difficult one both on and off the ice for the Cats, and they exceeded all expectations. Now that they’ve addressed needs and have a quieter offseason from which to build on, and a weaker Eastern Conference around them, the expectation for the Panthers should be to make the playoffs.




Florida Panthers: Moving Jonathan Huberdeau to the First Line Would be Advised

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In late January of last season, head coach Bob Boughner made a gutsy decision in preparation of their upcoming game against the Washington Capitals.

The move consisted of dropping winger Jonathan Huberdeau to the second line to play with center Vincent Trocheck. This came as a surprise for many fans since Huberdeau had always played with assistant captain Aleksander Barkov.
With Huberdeau on the second line, forward Nick Bjugstad was promoted to the first line with Barkov and Evgeni Dadonov. This change was a blessing in disguise as this was one of the main factors of the big run for the Cats that almost sent them to the postseason. But after a few changes in the offseason, it may be time to move Huberdeau back to line #1.

First off, last season’s primary issue was obviously scoring depth. This is the main reason why the big line adjustment was made. Although, now after a few acquisitions in the offseason, scoring can be distributed evenly even with Huberdeau on the top line.

An example of this can be shown by the summer arrival of scoring winger Mike Hoffman. With Hoffman’s addition, the 28-year-old can play alongside Vincent Trocheck on the second line, allowing Huberdeau to return to the first line with Barkov and Dadonov.

Secondly, as soon as the 2017-18 season began, the first line of Huberdeau, Barkov, and Dadonov just showed pure domination offensively. They displayed unbelievable chemistry as they continued to put pucks in the net. Not only did they excel on the offensive side of the game, but they were clean and tidy defensively too.

A sample of their incredible goal scoring ability comes from a game against the Anaheim Ducks in late October of last season. In the play, Huberdeau starts out with a neutral zone pass to Barkov who enters the offensive zone.
While fighting off the checking defender, Barkov slides a pass right onto the tape of Dadonov, as if he knew he would be there. This play by itself can describe how great these players are together and why they should be together once the new season rolls along:
Lastly, as mentioned before, chemistry was always a big thing with this line last year. Even though Huberdeau created some chemistry with Trocheck on line #2 towards the end of the season, his main man has always been Barkov. If you put those two back together, the chemistry factor will show an effect on the stat sheet.

What this means is that the stats for Huberdeau, Barkov, and Dadonov can only rise as they continue to play together. During last season, Huberdeau finished with 27 goals and 69 points (a point short of the 70 mark).

If he played with the other two first liners for the entire campaign, he could’ve jumped over the 70 point mark and maybe even gone north of 30 goals. While this can apply for all three players, the idea still lies true where if these 3 men play together for a full season, not only will their stats improve tremendously, but so will the overall state of the team.





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