By Jameson Cooper, Staff Writer
As the lockout continues to drag on, hockey writers are forced to work in speculation and hypotheticals. We continue to look ahead and speculate on teams in hopes that the lockout will be lifted and our favorite players will return to action soon.
When this season finally starts, the Florida Panthers face a problem they are unaccustomed to – a surplus of talented players. While the Panther’s top three lines are most likely set in stone barring any injury set backs, the fight to make the Panther’s 4th line will be heated.
Here is how I expect the team’s 4th line to shape up when the puck finally drops.
The 4th Line:
- Left Wing: Shawn Matthias: Shawn “Danger” Matthias really began living up to his nickname last season by establishing himself as an incredibly energetic player who isn’t afraid to throw a big hit or drop the gloves at any point in the game. Matthias has a knack for tracking down lose pucks in the offensive zone as well as an above average shot when called upon. His greatest contribution to the team will continue to be the spark that his hustle and energy provides the rest of his teammates. Already gifted with intangibles, Matthias will look to improve on his scoring skill set this season and could potentially earn some power play minutes.
- Center – Jerred Smithson: Smithson came over last season from the Nashville Predators in exchange for the Panther’s 2012 6th round pick. Brought in to be face off specialist – Smithson excelled in the faceoff circle for the Panthers as they made their push towards the Southeast Division crown by winning an astounding 61% of his faceoffs in 16 regular season games with the team. This season the Panthers will look to continue using Smithson to win key faceoffs, as well as potentially using him in some penalty killing situations.
- Right Wing: George Parros: The Panthers made one of the most underrated offseason moves when they signed former Anaheim Duck’s winger George Parros to a 2-year contract. Destined to be a fan favorite, Parros and his mustache will be the main enforcers on the roster this season. The Panthers compiled 31 fighting majors last season – look for that number to rise as Parros brings his own brand of toughness and on-ice justice to the team. Parros’ locker room presence and willingness to drop the gloves will be big contributions to this year’s squad. His Stanley Cup experience with the 2007 Anaheim Ducks will also be a great asset to a young Panthers team that is still trying to learn how to win the big games.
- Mike Santorelli: Although he was a steady contributor in 2011, Santorelli saw his numbers slip in 2012 both due to injuries and lack of play time. Santorelli only managed 11 points in 60 games played last season. With Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad due to arrive in the NHL either this season or next, Santorelli seems to be the odd man out in Dale Tallon’s vision of the team’s future. Barring any major injury setbacks to Panther’s regulars, I expect Santorelli to be traded or sent down this season.
- Jack Skille: This is a tough one. Originally drafted for Chicago by current Florida General Manager Dale Tallon, the acquisition of Jack Skille was one of Tallon’s first moves when he took over in Florida. Clearly Tallon has a soft spot for Skille and saw some signs greatness in him while he was General Manager of the Blackhawks – Skille was taken 7th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago. Although still full of untapped potential, Skille was limited by injuries last season and only played in 46 games. A great hustle player — Skille has still yet to reach the skill level that Dale Tallon originally expected of him. This season I expect Skille to serve as a consistent scratch player for the Panthers, but could potentially earn a roster spot if other Panther players are struggling.