There are few surprises bigger in the 2015-16 season bigger than the success of the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are currently tied atop the Atlantic Division with their in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, sneaking ahead based on tie-breakers.
Last season the Panthers missed the playoffs with a record of 38-29-15 and were defined by their modest offense and a defense that struggled to keep pucks out of their net.
It should come as no surprise that few Panthers were fantasy relevant last season despite their winning record. This season has been a very different story.
If not for the fact that the Panthers are a small market team there would be a great deal more talk about the strides they have made this season and that reflects in the fantasy value of their skaters, especially their forward group highlighted by exceptional veteran wingers and invaluable youngsters.
In 2014-15 the Panthers had no players in the top 100 skaters in standard scoring categories in fantasy hockey. In 2015-16 they currently have five. If Aleksander Barkov hadn’t suffered his injury this season they almost certainly would have had six.
Let’s take a look at the half dozen best skaters from the 2015-16 Florida Panthers that should be targets on draft day in every fantasy league in the fall of 2016.
The Finnish veteran has 41 assists this season playing primarily with Smith and Trocheck. Jokinen may not be shooting as much as his fantasy owners might like him to, but he has still crushed his totals from last season despite being 32 years old and playing on the second power play unit in Florida.
Jokinen has proven to be the most valuable fantasy hockey player from Florida after being the 212th most valuable player in standard scoring categories last season. More valuable than Roberto Luongo, more valuable than Aaron Ekblad, and more valuable than Huburdeau.
Not bad for an aging journeyman.
Trocheck was on the radar of very few fantasy hockey managers back in the fall, but his 25 goals, 171 shots, and 44 penalty minutes have caught the attention of those wise enough to take a chance on a relatively unknown commodity. The Pittsburgh-born forward is young, physical, hard-working, and has become a “must draft” player in the fall of 2016 because of what he has managed to do this season with the Panthers.
The offensive potential of Trocheck is mostly unknown, but his jump from 7 goals in 50 games last season to 25 in 75 games this season is all the reason anyone should need to pay attention to a 22 year old forward who is clawing his way towards being a top-50 fantasy player.
Civilization will collapse before Jagr becomes irrelevant in fantasy hockey or, for that matter, actual hockey. He is shooting significantly less in his first full season with the Panthers, but is scoring more than he did last year. The ageless Czech superstar recently hit the 25-goal mark and is going to eclipse the 60-point mark this season playing with two kids (Barkov and Huberdeau) who have a combined age that is two years younger than his.
Expecting Jagr to finish as a top-100 fantasy player next season might be a bit ambitious given his crazy 19.5 shooting percent in 2015-16, but at 44 years old Jagr shows very few signs of slowing down. There are worse gambles to make in the middle of the draft next year than choosing one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
The third overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft missed some games this season, but remains one of the league’s most promising young centers. Huberdeau’s power play production is up, his shooting rate is up, and his point production is up. That steady progress is just what you look for from a former Calder Memorial Trophy winner in his fourth season in the NHL.
Huberdeau does a little bit of everything, which is why none of his numbers jump off the screen as outstandingly impressive. Still, the progress from the highly-touted youngster is a sign that he could one day enter the world of fantasy’s elite players.
The former Bruin has set a new career high in goals with 24 in 75 games and, with a little bit of luck, could set a new career high in points this year playing in the Panthers’ top six and on the second power play unit. The winger’s solid season in Florida has been good enough to keep him in the discussion as a top-100 fantasy player before the season expires which makes the 24 year old player a good candidate for a steal on draft day.
At just 20 years old, Barkov, the 2nd overall pick in 2013, is beginning to look like a beast in the NHL. Since returning from his upper-body injury the dynamic Finnish forward who plays on the Panther’s top line and top power play unit has been playing on another level.
Nine power play goals and 150 shots for Barkov in just 59 games played is a sign of great things to come for a player with a tremendous amount of offensive potential. Make no mistake, Barkov is likely one of the league’s next big stars and his combination of size, magic hands, and speed make him a fantasy asset that cannot be ignored for the 2016-17 season.
Note: Statistics were pulled prior to the start of game play Mar. 29