The Florida Panthers will try and erase the memories of last season's losing record when the 2017-18 campaign begins on Friday.
After setting franchise records in 2015-16 and reaching the playoffs, Florida tallied only 81 points last season. It was a season that included injuries, a head coaching change and overall disappointment. The Panthers were expected to build on their 103 points from the previous season, but never found their footing.
This year, the Panthers will have some new faces on the ice and on the bench. Bob Boughner was hired as Florida's new head coach in June, while interim head coach Tom Rowe moved into an adviser role in the team's front office. Boughner previously worked as an assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks.
Florida lost a number of key players during the offseason, including Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Jussi Jokinen. Those four players combined for 72 goals last season and their production will be hard to replace. Florida also recently traded Jason Demers to the Arizona Coyotes.
In the draft, the Panthers selected Owen Tippett and he comes with a ton of promise. Tippett is known for his ability to be a game-changing type player and amassed 75 points in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads. Florida used a 10th overall pick to grab Tippett and he could see a good deal of time on the ice in his rookie season.
Even with the loss of star power and the inexperience of a player such as Tippett, Florida still has plenty of pieces in place to compete. Among the players returning from last season are Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad. Bjugstad and Huberdeau missed time last season, which undoubtedly factored into Florida's losing campaign.
Evgeni Dadonov is a player to watch as he begins a second stint with the Panthers. Dadonov played in Florida from 2009-12, before moving over to the KHL in recent years. Dadonov can be a dynamic player at times and he should be able to make a seamless transition back into the NHL.
How far Florida can go this season will largely depend on the goaltending situation as usual. Roberto Luongo is back for another season in Florida, as is James Reimer. The two could end up spending an even amount of time in the net this season, as the Panthers try and give Luongo ample rest. The veteran goalie is 38 and battled some injuries last season.
The Panthers went 4-1-1 during the preseason, with three of those victories coming against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the games starting to count on Friday, Florida and Tampa Bay will meet up for two contests in a row. Florida's early schedule is anything but easy and includes two games against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Friday's game against the Lightning will begin at 7:30 p.m.