The Florida Panthers ended the first half of its 2021 campaign just how they wanted to, with a win. Currently sitting in the driver’s seat of the NHL, the Panthers have successfully made a name for themselves throughout 28 hard-fought games.
“You couldn’t say enough good things, but at the same time, we want to get better as we go along here,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a pretty high standard to start with, but let’s look to achieve that.”
If the season were to end today, here is who Florida’s nominees would be for the NHL’s top superlatives.
Record Through 28 Games: 19-5-4 (1st in Central Division, 1st in NHL)
Currently tied for first with the New York Islanders, the Panthers have performed at an elite level. With a +18 differential, Florida is one of the NHL’s highest goal-scorers (99 GF) while also standing strong against goals (81 GA).
A lot of Florida’s success can be credited with their play on the road. Away from home, the Panthers have earned one of the best road records (10-2-1). Their most recent road trip lasted seven days, where the Cats were on the ice for five games. The road trip included traveling to three different cities –Nashville, TN, Raleigh, NC, and Columbus, OH — which many think should put fatigue on a team. But, for some reason, Florida never let its foot off the gas. In that road trip, the Panthers won four of five, outscoring their opponents 22-16.
“We’re just a different team this year and I think the league is starting to notice that,” defenseman Mackenzie Weegar said. “We deserve all the credit that we’re getting right now. It’s fun to be in South Florida.”
Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player): C Aleksander Barkov (12G, 22A)
Barkov has played like the stars everyone sees on national television. He has truly turned into the best player on the Panthers’ roster, with a close second in LW Jonathan Huberdeau.
It doesn’t matter if he is credited with a goal, hit, or an assist, Barkov will be remembered for his extreme effort on every shift and the skill he brings onto the ice each game.
“I think he’s the best player in this league, in the world,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said.
James Norris Memorial Trophy (Defenseman of the Year): D Aaron Ekblad (10G, 10A)
Ekblad is among the top defenders in the NHL for obvious reasons. Currently tied for seventh in points among defensemen, Ekblad has been an automatic goal scorer for Florida. He also has scored the second most goals in the NHL by a defenseman.
While bringing the attention of all towards South Florida, Ekblad has continued to break franchise records, becoming the fastest Panthers defenseman to score 10 Goals. Paired up with Weegar on the top defensive line, the world hasn’t seen the last of Ekblad in 2021.
Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year): C Eetu Luostarinen (3G, 5A)
Although he doesn’t produce many points, Luostarinen has played a key role on the third offensive line for the Panthers. Paired with Frank Vatrano and Owen Tippett, these young studs have been some of the hardest workers for Florida. They have earned 28 Points for Florida (17G, 11A).