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Cullen: New-look Panthers have a long way to go

Scott Cullen
9/12/2011 12:09:49 PM
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The Florida Panthers went on a spending spree this summer so that they could reach the salary floor and while they should be better for acquiring those players, will the newcomers be good enough to make the Panthers relevant?

It's one thing to have questionable talent, but the Panthers also have little continuity. With so many new faces, it's tough to project big offensive seasons.

Holdover Stephen Weiss is the Panthers' featured performer, but he's coming off a 49-point season and that seemingly puts a limit on what kind of offence this team will be able to generate. A consistent two-way player, Weiss doesn't have a great deal of value in fantasy, save for the deepest leagues, because centre is a position relatively deep in talent.

A three-time 20-goal scorer, Kris Versteeg has some appeal on the wing in deeper leagues but, like Weiss, he doesn't have real high-end upside, topping out at 53 points during his rookie season in 2008-2009.

Though Brian Campbell had his offensive ways curtailed in Chicago, he's most likely to return to the role of offensive igniter from the blueline. Last season's 27 points represented Campbell's lowest total since 2003-2004, so even if he isn't going to get back to the 62-point form that he displayed in 2008-2009, Campbell could capitalize on power play time and hit for 40-plus points.

After spending a year as a backup in Minnesota, Jose Theodore moves back into a starter's role with the Panthers. Starting for a team that isn't expected to fare well may not be ideal, but Theodore posted a .916 save percentage in 32 games with the Wild and if he can put up similar numbers over 55-plus starts, he might provide late-round value.

A possible sleeper candidate for the Panthers is Tomas Fleischmann, who went on a tear after he arrived in Colorado last season, scoring 21 points in 21 games before his season was ended by blood clots. Fleischmann has been a complementary player to this point in his career, but if he could break through for 30 goals, that would represent a huge impact for the Panthers.

The most encouraging part of David Booth's 2010 season is that he was healthy and played all 82 games, after missing much of the 2009-2010 season with a concussion. Booth has the potential to be a big scorer -- he scored 31 goals in 2008-2009 -- but he frequently finishes a below-average percentage of his shots on goal, including last year when he managed an 8.2% shooting percentage, making him one of five players in the league to score at least 20 goals and have a shooting percentage below 8.5%.

A breakout season in Chicago puts Tomas Kopecky on the fantasy radar, but after a career-high 42 points, he's still only appealing for the deepest of leagues. Essentially the same thing for centre Mike Santorelli too.

Scottie Upshall tallied a career-high 22 goals last season, so he could find his way into an offensive role with the Panthers and he's agitated enough in his career to accumulate 325 penalty minutes in 361 career games, but since he's never scored more than 34 points in a season, Upshall is also a sleeper or deep league candidate.

A couple of young Russians present some interesting upside -- winger Evgeny Dadonoov and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov. Dadonov burst onto the scene last year with eight points in eight games, then managed nine points in his next 28 games, missing some time due ot injury. He may have trouble earning a spot on a scoring line, but if he does, a 20-goal season is possible.

Kulikov could be due for another jump in production after going from 16 points as a rookie two seasons ago to 26 points in 2010-2011, but it's going to be tough for a defenceman to put up a lot of points with this roster.

If there is a prospect that could make an offensive impact, it might be third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau might need another year in the QMJHL, but he's a skilled offensive player and the Panthers certainly aren't overrun with players of his ilk. As the season approaches, it should be clearer what the Panthers' plan is for Huberdeau.

By season's end, it's also possible that goaltender Jacob Markstrom will be deemed ready for his shot in the NHL, but Markstrom is more a future value consideration at this point.

This could be a long season for the Panthers and none of their players have the kind of individual value that will ease the sting of those losses, but for those in deep leagues or those in need of injury replacements during the season, the Panthers will have some worth considering.

Depth Chart - Florida Panthers

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.



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