In anticipation of tonight's tilt between the Senators and Panthers, Kevin Kraczkowski of SB Nation Panthers blog Litter Box Cats answered three questions about his team. Feel free to also check out our answers to their three questions.
1. 23-year-old Nick Bjugstad has been an intriguing player for a couple years. This year he has 23 points in 51 games playing about 15 minutes a night. Do you think he's a budding top-six player, or more of a third-line centre who's getting chances because of his age?
Nick Bjugstad has always had lot of potential. He led his high school team to three straight Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournaments, and closed out his prep career by getting named the 2009-10 Mr. Hockey for the entire state of Minnesota (as a junior). He then had 54 goals and a total of 98 points over three seasons with the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the collegiate level.
After leading the team in points, with 38 in 76 games playing 16 minutes a night in 2013-14, he led the Panthers in goals last season with 24 in 72 contests, also playing 16 minutes per game. In-game, he’s sometimes hard to knock off the puck, and at 6’6", 218 lbs, he’s not very easily intimidated. It’s not all puppies and rainbows, though.
He’s struggled with injuries this season, and with the emergence of the Jagr-Barkov-Huberdeau line, as well as young forwards Logan Shaw, Kyle Rau, Connor Brickley, and Rocco Grimaldi, he hasn’t really had to step up. With this being said, he has not quite lived up to the level that we here in South Florida have come to expect. He’s currently playing on the third line and producing at a third liner’s level. On the bright side, his PDO is well below sea level, at 98.3, so he is due for some bounce-back numbers.
2. The Panthers' two most valuable players are 44 (Jaromir Jagr) and 36 (Roberto Luongo). Do you worry that could mean a big drop-off in success for next season?
There’s a generally predictable drop-off in performance once hockey players reach a certain age, and superstars are no exception to the rule. Remember this is the oldest goaltender AND the oldest overall player in the NHL.
Jags has defied the odds to this point - they’ve obviously broken the mold on him. Modeling his future with predictability models based on other, less durable players has proved to be a futile effort. All bets are off on this guy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play another season with the Panthers, and possibly more, if not with the Cats, then somewhere else at hockey’s top level.
Luongo’s had a lot of drop-off here in the last few games. He’s just 4-3-1 over his last 10, with an .888 save percentage after starting off the year with a 23-13-5 record and a .930 mark. Still, he currently ranks 10th in the league in the category. I’d say a regression for him is far more likely than for the wonder that is Jagr, although I’d love to be proven wrong.
3. Florida surprised many pundits by charging into a playoff spot this season. Barring a huge meltdown, the Cats will finish top-three in Atlantic Division. How well does the team have to do in the playoffs to consider this a successful season?
The team has been struggling lately, going 1-3-2 over their last six, but most predictor models have them finishing at 100 points, which will assuredly get them into the playoffs. Even just 11 points in their last 16 games will get them a better-than 50% chance to get into the postseason.
Once there, Florida’s most likely dance partner seems to be the Boston Bruins, who thus far have had the Panthers' number this season, with three wins in three games. The Bruins match up extremely well against the Cats, and would be the most likely to make short work against our team.
If the Panthers manage to make it out of the first round, most here in Florida will consider the season a rousing success. It’s what we’ve been waiting for patiently for many many seasons of hockey that would best be described as substandard.