Here’s a look at the Top 8 Prospects for the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers as an organization have had quite a bit of change over the past year-and-a-half. First was the hiring of Head Coach Joel Quenneville, who is known as one of the best (if not the best) coaches in the NHL, and led the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup Championships between 2010-2015.
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While that move was great for the Panthers, they have also made some questionable ones in recent memory, none more so than signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract. The 32-year-old Russian netminder has had a fantastic career, but giving a player on the wrong side of his thirties a contract that big seems like a very bad call. Of course, that signing was by former management, as the team also fired General Manager Dale Tallon this past August and replaced him with Bill Zito
As for the team itself, the 2019-20 season was a bit of a rollercoaster. There is no denying the skill they have, but shaky defensive play and goaltending led them to just a 15th place finish in league standings. On top of last year’s disappointing play, they also lost some key players to Free Agency this offseason in Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov. Despite that, it isn’t a complete disaster as they boast one of the better prospect pools in the entire league, and have a few top end prospects that could step in as soon as the 2020-21 season to replace both Hoffman and Dadonov.
As mentioned in every other Top 8 Prospects articles throughout this series, any player who has played in more NHL games than any other league in a season, regardless of the season, will not be included. With that being said, here are the Top 8 Prospects in the Florida Panthers organization.
8. Eetu Luostarinen
Kicking off what is a great group of forward prospects for the Florida Panthers is forward Eetu Luostarinen, who was part of the package they received from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for forward Vincent Trocheck. The 22-year-old Finnish centerman was taken in the Second-Round (No. 42 overall) by the Hurricanes at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft after a rookie season for KalPa Kuopio in the SM-liiga in which he had seven points in 32 games.
Luostarinen played two more seasons with KalPa, where his numbers drastically improved, before heading to North America for the 2019-20 season. He played in 44 AHL games with the Charlotte Checkers prior to being traded, where he had 25 points. He also suited up for eight games with the Hurricanes, chipping in with one assist. Due to the AHL season having not yet started, he once again suited up for KalPa and had a terrific start, posting 15 points in 17 games. He has since left and is currently at the Panthers training camp.
Another talented Finnish forward the Florida Panthers have in their system is Aleksi Saarela, whom they acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks in October of 2019. The 24-year-old was a Third-Round pick (No.89 overall) by the New York Rangers at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Much like Eetu Luostarinen, Saarela was drafted after his rookie season in the SM-liiga, where he played for Assat Pori and had 12 points in 51 games.
Saarela, once again like Luostarinen, spent two more seasons in the SM-liiga before heading to North America to close out the 2016-17 season, and spending his first full season there in 2017-18. He has spent the majority of his last three seasons in the AHL, where he has posted solid numbers. This past season saw him put up 12 goals and 31 points in 43 games with the Springfield Falcons.
Saarela also suited up for nine games with the Panthers, posting four points, as well as one Playoff game. He is currently playing for Lukko Rauma in the SM-Liiga and has managed 12 goals and 18 points in 19 contests. It has been announced that he is staying in Europe for the remainder of the season, and given his age, next season’s training camp with the Panthers may be his last chance to become an NHL regular.