2021-22 Season Preview: Part 7

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Feel free to view Part 1 (Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton), Part 2 (Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle), Part 3 (Vancouver, Vegas, Carolina, Columbus), Part 4 (New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers) and Part 5 (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington) and Part 6 (Boston, Buffalo, Detroit) of our 2021-22 season preview series if you haven't already done so.

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FLORIDA PANTHERS

2020-21 Record: 37-14-5, 79 points

Result: Second in the Central Division. Lost 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

Significant Gains: Sam Reinhart

Significant Losses: Alexander Wennberg, Keith Yandle, Chris Driedger

Strengths: Florida benefited greatly from newcomers Carter Verhaeghe, Patric Hornqvist, Anthony Duclair and Sam Bennett last season. They quickly silenced any concerns about the team’s depth, while meshing nicely alongside star forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov and Huberdeau finished just outside the top 10 among NHL point producers in 2020-21, while Huberdeau was one of just 12 players who managed to surpass the 60-point plateau during the shortened 56-game season. Adding Reinhart to the equation, following an offseason trade with Buffalo, strengthens what was already a very strong top-six forward group. Defensemen Aaron Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar and Gustav Forsling also contributed to Florida’s offense ranking fourth in the NHL last year in goals for per game played (3.36).

Weaknesses: Goaltending becomes a bit of a question mark for the Panthers if the team continues to get inconsistent play from Sergei Bobrovsky. However, it may not end up being much of an issue if last year is any indication. Despite Bobrovsky’s troubles in 2020-21, the Panthers finished seventh in the league with a .910 save percentage and ranked ninth overall in goals against per game played (2.70). Driedger, who played very well, ended up being Seattle’s selection in the expansion draft, so Knight will get to be Florida’s backup this campaign. The 20-year-old netminder showcased plenty of potential last year and could end up stealing starts from Bobrovsky.

Player to Watch: Knight as well as several players who had career years in 2020-21 are worth monitoring, but the utilization of Reinhart could be an interesting situation. Will the Panthers choose to slot him in as the third-line center or will he get to play as a top-six winger. A spot alongside Barkov or Huberdeau would be great for him, but playing further down the depth chart and/or seeing reduced power-play time on the second unit could hurt his fantasy stock if that ends up being the case. His presence in the lineup gives Florida some options and the team will probably do some experimenting during training camp.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

2020-21 Record: 24-21-11, 59 points

Result: Fourth in the North Division. Lost 4-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.

Significant Gains: Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard

Significant Losses: Phillip Danault, Corey Perry, Shea Weber

Strengths: The Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final on an impressive and surprising Cinderella run. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Tyler Toffoli have been the backbone of the team’s offense and they will probably form the top line for Montreal this campaign. Toffoli provided exactly the type of jolt the team was hoping for after he was signed last summer, while Caufield managed to establish himself as a dynamic contributor and Suzuki built on his successful rookie performance.

Weaknesses: Still, Montreal’s offense remains a question mark going into 2021-22. The team ranked 17th in the league in goals for per game played (2.82) and 17th in power-play percentage (19.2%). Hoffman and Brendan Gallagher will look to add some secondary scoring this campaign. Montreal is thin down the middle following the departure of Phillip Danault to Los Angeles via free agency. Losing Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who received an offer sheet from Carolina this past weekend, would be another blow, as he is the favorite to be the team’s second-line pivot. Weber is not expected to play this year because of multiple injuries and it is believed that his career may be in jeopardy. That leaves a fairly big hole on the back end, which the team is hoping will be filled by newcomer Savard and perhaps emerging talent Alexander Romanov.

Player to Watch: Jeff Petry becomes even more valuable, especially from a fantasy perspective, with Weber unavailable. Whoever ends up centering the second line could be worth monitoring as well, but all eyes will be on Carey Price this season. He hasn’t posted particularly impressive numbers over the past two years, but he was a major part of the team’s long playoff run. Coming off offseason knee surgery adds another wrinkle even though he is expected to be ready for training camp.

OTTAWA SENEATORS

2020-21 Record: 23-28-5, 51 points

Result: Sixth in the North Division. Did not make the playoffs.

Significant Gains: Nick Holden

Significant Losses: Evgenii Dadonov

Strengths: Ottawa is cultivating what has the potential to be a strong young core. Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Tim Stutzle and Shane Pinto have plenty of talent. Tkachuk's blend of points, shots and hits has made him a popular fantasy player, while Batherson and Norris became popular fantasy additions in 2020-21. Despite his 254 games of NHL experience, Thomas Chabot is just 24 years of age and he remains an integral part of the team’s defense group. Erik Brannstrom and Victor Mete have upside as well, but remains works in progress.

Weaknesses: The Senators placed 19th in goals for per game played (2.77) in 2020-21. The team desperately needs depth production and for the top players to continue to take steps forward. More importantly, Ottawa needs to shore up defensively and get better goaltending. The team allowed the third-most goals against per game played (3.38), while permitting the fourth-most shots against per game (32.1). Matt Murray had a disastrous first season with the Senators between the pipes. Filip Gustavsson, who posted the best numbers of any goalie on the team, may start the year in the minors. Regardless of who plays in net, Ottawa will need to improve in front of him and cut down significantly on the scoring chances against.

Player to Watch: Norris and Stutzle will attract plenty of attention during their sophomore seasons. Norris was excellent as Ottawa’s top-line center last season, while Stutzle displayed flashes of his offensive talent. Another player who could rise to prominence in 2021-22 is Pinto if he secures a spot as a middle-six forward. He may end up centering the third line, which would hurt his fantasy impact this year, but he has a wealth of long-term appeal for keeper formats.