Now now, don't pout. Even though it appears as though all that waiting will be for nothing, the season is approaching none-the-less. Summer has come and gone, and barring some minor miracles, we know the players who will be fighting it out for ice time come October. Training camp officially opens up in just a couple short weeks (although informal practices have been going on down at Incredible Ice). While we know that the David Booths and Nathan Hortons will be there, it will be interesting to see which of the rookies will do enough this pre-season to warrant a starting spot come October 2, and there will be starting spots available.
Defensively, this team will need rookies to have an immediate impact. It looks as though the top 4 is set, with Brian McCabe and Keith Ballard returning from last season, Bryan Allen returning from his injury-cancelled season, and Jordan Leopold coming down south from the Great White North. The final pairing should be an interesting fight between "veteran" Ville Koistinen, 2009 draft pick Dmitri Kulikov, and NHL rookies-to-be Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, and Clay Wilson. Knowing Pete DeBoer like I do, which is to say like any fan "knows" a coach, I'd expect everyone to enter camp on September 13 with a clean slate, and the better performers will see the ice in October. Should anyone slip, someone will be fighting to take their place. And on the optimistic note I try to keep here, competition only leads to better performance, so our defense might not be as bad as initially feared.
On the scoring front... do I really want to get into this? Maybe I should just put it like this. If a bunch of "ifs" come true, we could do OK this year... IF our draft picks finally mature into polished NHL scorers, we could survive. The “Sunshine Express” line should be reunited, with Stephen Weiss (2001 first round), Nathan Horton (2003, 1st round), and David Booth (2004, 2nd round). Throw in 2004 first round pick Rostislav Olesz, who has yet to score more than 14 goals in a season, and you have an amazing amount of untapped potential. Beyond that top line, the Cats will be hoping for more from sophomore Michael Frolik (21 G, 21 A in his rookie year) and then a return to Y2K for Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak, and Steven Reinprecht. IF pretty much everyone on our top 2 lines has a career year, we could be OK. More rookies will be counted on this season on the offense, including Shawn Matthias and Michael Repik, both of whom saw NHL action last season. As of now, however, the top 2 forward lines should look SOMETHING like this... again, just speculation; Booth-Weiss-Horton, Frolik-Reinprecht-Stillman. Beyond that, I must admit, there are players on the Panthers' roster I do not know too much about. We know Olesz, Greg Campbell, and Kamil Kreps bring to that table. But what about Evgeni Dadonov, recently smuggled, err... transplated from Russia? Jamie Johnson, who put up solid numbers in the AHL two seasons ago, but spent last season in Finland? Graham Mink, who put up 87 goals in 200 games over the last 3 seasons, but is past his 30th birthday? And what of Shawn Matthias and Michael Repik? Both saw time with the big club last year, is this the year that they break through and become an everyday member of the Panthers? (See, I knew I shouldn't have even started on the offense...)
Cutting this short, there are so many questions, so many holes, so much potential... it's hard to see this being a competitive team this season, but for now, there is hope. The same hope that all 32 teams are holding on to. Training camp opens in 2 weeks... should be fun.
(and I didn't even get into Tomas Vokoun vs. Scott Clemmensen)