FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Coming off one of the best regular seasons in Florida Panthers history, GM Bill Zito didn’t rest on his laurels.
The Cats have added a goal-scorer, beloved veteran, tantalizing rookie, and a former fifth overall pick to a team that went 37-14-5 in the shortened 2020-21 campaign.
Here’s a look at the new faces who will helping the Cats on their hunt this season.
The Goal Scorer
South Florida, meet Sam Reinhart. Sam, South Florida.
Serving as an alternate captain with the Buffalo Sabres, Reinhart found twine 25 times last season. Bringing in a goal scorer makes sense. It takes pressure off Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and gives them another attacker to build chemistry with.
In 2014, Reinhart was drafted second overall behind Aaron Ekblad and two spots in front of Sam Bennett. Opponents are going to feel Reinhart’s offensive punch this season as he joins the most talented lineup he’s ever been a part of.
Jumbo Joe Thornton…what can you say? A book could be written about his NHL career.
Thornton is 14th all-time in points (1,529) — ahead of the likes of Teemu Selanne, Brett Hull, and Mike Modano. The 1997 No. 1 overall pick, Thornton brings 1,680 NHL games of experience to the Panthers, and make no mistake he is in South Florida to win his first Stanley Cup. His experience, leadership, and competitiveness give the Panthers an edge, a confidence in the locker room and on the ice.
The Must-Watch Rookie
The Florida Panthers selected Anton Lundell with the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft. Last season, Lundell played in Finland’s top league, leading his team (HIFK) with 16 goals, and NHL Central Scouting ranked him as the No. 3 international skater in 2020.
With the 23-player roster set, signs point to the 20-year-old Lundell centering the 3rd line; it’s a testament to the belief coach Joel Quenneville and GM Bill Zito have in him.
The Newest Cat
Acquired by the Florida Panthers on Oct. 10, 2021, Olli Juolevi is the latest player to join the team. Juolevi (the fifth overall pick in 2016) came to the Panthers through a trade with the Canucks.
In international play, Juolevi won IIHF World U20 Championship with Finland in 2016 and was named to the tournament All-Star team after leading all defensemen with nine assists over seven games. Though much is unknown about Juolevi (having only played in 23 NHL games), his addition provides another young, talented defenseman with potential to Panthers defense corps.