During the 2020-2021 NHL season, the Florida Panther’s power play was average at best. By the end of the season the Cats finished right in the middle of the league as the 15th best power play with a 20.53% conversion rate. Come playoff time the power play percentage jumped up, seeing the team go 27.27% from the man advantage, getting six goals in 22 attempts during the first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. As the 2021-2022 season approaches, the power play is going to look a little different from the end of the previous season. I’m going to talk about a few different options the Panther’s can run on the power play this season.
After Aaron Ekblad was sidelined for the season from injury, the Panther’s special teams looked lost on the 5-on-4. Keith Yandle had to reassume the role of power play quarterback and it didn’t go too well. Florida’s zone entries were extremely predictable; Yandle would carry the puck from behind the net, make a telegraphed drop pass from the far blueline and hope that the other team wouldn’t know what was happening for the hundredth time that season. When the Panthers were able to enter the zone, they often tried to force cross ice passes that often got intercepted. There were a handful of games that saw the Panthers concede short handed goals from their lackluster “man advantage”.
Five Top Picks
This season, the Panthers once again have Ekblad as their power play QB and Yandle has taken his services to Philadelphia. With that, the top power play unit will look different. No team in the NHL can field what Florida can on the PP; put five top-four draft picks on the ice at once. After acquiring Sam Reinhart in the off-season, Florida could put Aaron Ekblad (1st overall, 2014), Aleksander Barkov (2nd overall, 2013) Sam Reinhart (2nd overall, 2014), Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd overall, 2011) and Sam Bennett (4th overall, 2014) all on the power play at the same time. Florida had run this five man PP unit in practice during training camp, and according to George Richards of Florida Hockey Now, “it looks scary good”.
While running this rotation, Barkov would be your center, Huberdeau would be on one of the wings and Ekblad would be the lone man on the blue line. One of Reinhart or Bennett would start the power play on the point and slide to the end boards once the Panthers retain control of the puck. This would have one guy at the point, two along the end boards on the wing, one guy in front of the net, who should be Bennett because of his size and one guy below the goal line who creeps towards the front of the net. I’d want to see Huberdeau down here because of his craftiness with the puck in tight spaces.
Obviously on the man advantage there’s more space, which will have the players moving consistently, but this basic type of “umbrella” power play allows for shots to be fired from all angles of the ice and have one to two players crashing for rebounds in front of the crease.
The addition of Reinhart is going to be deadly for the Cats while running this set. After scoring 20 plus goals for five seasons in Buffalo, the 25-year-old will feast when he has Huberdeau, Ekblad and Barkov feeding him pucks in the slot. If you watched Reinhart throughout his
career, you could see how good of a shot he has. On the other side you’ll have the captain Barkov, who is always dangerous with the puck. Since Barkov can shoot and pass without hesitation, he’s going to draw the attention of the other team’s penalty killers, which could leave a Panther open. At the top they’ll have Ekblad walking the blue line trying to find open players and shooting lanes. Before his injury last season, he had 11 power play points in 35 games.
Despite having so much fire power on the first unit, they can’t stay on the ice for the full duration of the powerplay. Luckily Florida is so deep at the forward position they’ll be able to put out a second power play unit that wouldn’t miss a beat. Carter Verhaeghe is going to be a mainstay on the powerplay this year for Florida after scoring 36 points in 43 games last season. Alongside him I would put Owen Tippett and Frank Vatrano on the ice. Tippett has become more confident in his game since making the jump into Florida’s top-six last season, playing on a line with Huberdeau and Bennett. Like Reinhart from unit one, Tippett can snipe the puck, which is why he will be on the wing for this PP. Vatrano’s speed and ability to score in clutch situations will pair nicely with Verhaeghe, so he will be on the opposite wing from Tippett.
Up front there’s two options I would consider looking at right now. The first one is Patric Hornqvist. When Hornqvist joined the team last season, he brought something that the powerplay didn’t previously have. A feisty net front presence. Nothing gets under a goalie’s skin more than someone who is sitting at the top of their crease and screening them while they try to track the puck. Hornqvist does exactly that and it fires up the rest of the team to keep pushing for opportunities in front of goal. Another option here would be Anthony Duclair. With his foot speed and skill with the puck, zone entries on the rush would be extremely efficient with Duclair on the power play. While he doesn’t bring that net front presence like Hornqvist, he will have more skill with the puck in the lower areas of the zone, which could help open up the other players.
For the defenseman on this unit, there are quite a few options. Florida has given Brandon Montour a few looks on the power play last season and in practice this year. He is good at jumping in the rush and controlling the puck in the offensive zone. MacKenzie Weegar could also be in consideration at some point during the season on the power play. Weegar has continued to elevate his game on both sides of the puck, and is becoming more of an offensive threat at this point in his career after scoring 36 points last season. Put him at the top of this power play unit and I see him filling out a similar role to Ekblad on PP1, quarterback of the powerplay. He looks more and more like a top defenseman and his confidence is through the roof, this could be a good move for Florida. Another player I wouldn’t count out here is Gustav Forsling. If Florida is running one defenseman on this power play unit I don’t think Forsling would get the nod over Weegar or Montour, but if they wanted to run two defenseman, his speed kills and it would make offensive zone entries and defensive transitions a lot easier for the Panthers.
The quality of players Florida has on their roster truly makes their special teams combinations endless. I had mentioned 13 players as potential guys to look for on the power play this year and I kept the likes of Anton Lundell and Joe Thornton off the list, both of whom could potentially find some PP time during the season. Florida is going to have two very skilled power play units to cycle through this year.