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How the Eastern Conference champion Panthers were built

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The Florida Panthers are set to play for the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row, and there's no more arguing whether they deserve their spot among the NHL's elite.

The Cats faced some criticism in 2023 for an improbable Cinderella run to the final but followed that up with an Atlantic Division crown and a dominant first three rounds of the playoffs. Not to mention, they won the Presidents' Trophy in 2022, further cementing their status as the class of the Eastern Conference.

Florida had been a basement-dwelling team for much of its existence, but hiring Bill Zito as general manager in 2020 changed the trajectory of the franchise. The executive has proven he possesses a remarkable knack for winning trades and has hit on his free-agent signings as well.

Zito inherited very little homegrown talent but has managed to create a powerhouse primarily through bold acquisitions. Below, we break down how the Panthers were built as they face another chance at their first championship in franchise history.

Method Players
Homegrown 5
Trade 8
Free agency/waivers 16

Note: All players played at least one game for Panthers during the regular season


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Aleksander Barkov (June 30, 2013): Barkov was a surprise pick at No. 2 overall 11 years ago, and he's seen the Panthers transform from laughing stock to powerhouse since entering the league at 18 years old. He's blossomed into the league's top two-way player, and a Stanley Cup would bolster an already strong Hall of Fame case.

Aaron Ekblad (June 27, 2014): One year after selecting Barkov, Florida drafted Ekblad first overall for a cornerstone on defense. He may not go No. 1 if we were to redraft that prospect pool now, but he's still a top-pairing blue-liner and an important leader for the Panthers.

Anton Lundell (Oct. 6, 2020): The Panthers struck gold when selecting Lundell 12th overall in 2020. He occupies an important role as the third-line center and sits sixth among his draft class in both games played and points.

Justin Sourdif (Oct. 7, 2020): Sourdif's been a minor part of Florida's campaign, appearing in only three regular-season games. He chipped in 38 points in 58 AHL contests and could be a bigger part of the Panthers' future as they face lots of potential roster turnover this summer with seven unrestricted free-agent forwards.

Mackie Samoskevich (July 23, 2021): He made his NHL debut this season, and the former first-round pick went pointless in seven games. The 21-year-old has been promising in the minors, though, and still has plenty of time to grow.


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Eetu Luostarinen (Feb. 24, 2020): Luostarinen was part of a four-player return in the trade that sent Vincent Trocheck to the Carolina Hurricanes, and he's the only one still with the organization. He's appeared in all of Florida's playoff games this spring, chipping in six points.

Brandon Montour (April 10, 2021): Zito pried Montour from the Buffalo Sabres for only a third-round pick three years ago and has watched the defenseman grow into a monumental role for the club. The rearguard quarterbacks Florida's first power-play unit and is logging nearly 24 minutes per contest in the playoffs.

Sam Bennett (April 12, 2021): Many believed Bennett needed a change of scenery when he was dealt from the Flames, and that couldn't have turned out to be more accurate. His points per game have jumped from 0.35 to 0.68 since moving south, and he's one of the most physically imposing forwards in the league.

Sam Reinhart (July 24, 2021): Reinhart eclipsed the 30-goal mark in each of his first two seasons with the Panthers, then exploded for 57 this year. He has defensive prowess to match his offensive skill and is one of the league's most dangerous finishers.

Matthew Tkachuk (July 22, 2022): The Panthers landing Tkachuk was one of the biggest trades in recent history, and he's quickly become the heartbeat of the organization. He's a pain to play against on account of his antics and his All-Star-level production.

Steven Lorentz (July 1, 2023): Lorentz is a depth piece but offers decent versatility in the Panthers' bottom six. He's chipped in a pair of goals so far in the playoffs.

Vladimir Tarasenko (March 6, 2024): Tarasenko isn't the star producer he used to be, but he serves as a quality depth-scoring threat. He only has three goals in the postseason, but his experience as a past Stanley Cup champion has shown for a Panthers squad looking to erase last year's heartbreak.

Kyle Okposo (March 8, 2024): Okposo has been in and out of the Panthers' playoff lineup and hasn't produced a goal in 11 games. However, it would be a tremendous feel-good story if he captured a Cup in his 17th season after serious injury concerns derailed his career a few years back.

Free agency and waivers

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Sergei Bobrovsky (July 1, 2019): Bobrovsky's seven-year, $70-million deal with the Panthers was met with immediate scrutiny, which was quickly justified after his poor play early in the contract. However, the two-time Vezina winner has regained his form since last playoffs, re-emerging as one of the league's top netminders.

Gustav Forsling (Jan. 9, 2021): The Panthers snagged Forsling on waivers from the Hurricanes three years ago, and what a find it turned out to be. He's grown into Florida's top left-side blue-liner and a rock defensively. He signed an eight-year extension this season, and after eliminating the Boston Bruins in Round 2, head coach Paul Maurice said Forsling is the best in the world at his steady style of defense.

Carter Verhaeghe (July 28, 2021): Something about the Panthers lately seems to bring out the best in new players. After modest numbers in his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Verhaeghe has since developed into one of Florida's best producers. His 76 goals over the past two seasons rank 14th among all NHL skaters. He also has 24 playoff tallies - nine game-winners - in 54 games since joining the Cats in 2021.

Ryan Lomberg (Nov. 25, 2021): Lomberg has played sparingly in these playoffs and is a fourth-liner when in the lineup. He brings energy and physicality when dressed and ranked first among Panthers forwards with 179 hits this season.

Nick Cousins (July 13, 2022): The Panthers are Cousins' sixth team since entering the league 10 years ago, and his role has diminished in the playoffs after suiting up in 69 games this season. Cousins is known to be an agitator for opponents and was involved in numerous controversial plays in 2023-24.

Josh Mahura (Oct. 10, 2022): A depth defense option claimed from the Anaheim Ducks two seasons ago, Mahura was limited to 30 games this season and hasn't played in the playoffs. He's up for a new contract this summer as an RFA.

Uvis Balinskis (April 18, 2023): Balinskis joined the Panthers last year after time in the KHL and Czech league. He hasn't been used in the playoffs this spring but showed enough promise in the minors to earn a two-year extension in January.

Kevin Stenlund (July 1, 2023): Stenlund signed a one-year deal with Florida last summer and has carved out a fourth-line role. He hasn't registered a point in the playoffs but has featured in all 17 games while averaging over 11 minutes per night.

Anthony Stolarz (July 1, 2023): "Stolie the Goalie" had a terrific season as Bobrovsky's backup, posting a .925 save percentage in 27 appearances. He'll be a hot commodity as a reliable No. 2 netminder this offseason if he doesn't re-up with the Cats.

Niko Mikkola (July 1, 2023): Mikkola's finishing the first season of a three-year contract with the Panthers and has proven to be a reliable option on the second defensive pairing. The 28-year-old set career highs in games played, points, plus-minus, and average ice time in his debut year in Sunrise.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (July 1, 2023): The veteran blue-liner was unfairly mocked for being bought out of a lucrative eight-year contract, but he's landed on his feet with the Panthers and provided good value at a modest $2.25-million cap hit.

Dmitry Kulikov (July 1, 2023): Kulikov returned to the Panthers last summer after starting his career with the organization as a first-round pick in 2009. He plays limited minutes at this stage in his career but was an impressive plus-15 in the regular season.

Evan Rodrigues (July 2, 2023): Rodrigues has bounced around in his nine-year career, but he landed some security in the form of a four-year pact with the Panthers. He's a versatile forward with strong underlying numbers, and he's chipped in eight points this postseason.

William Lockwood (July 2, 2023): Lockwood regularly bounced between the AHL and NHL this season and didn't make enough of an impact during his time with the Panthers to earn a shot in the playoffs.

Jonah Gadjovich (Oct. 16, 2023): Gadjovich is a physical winger who logged 104 penalty minutes in only 39 NHL games this season. His lack of offensive impact has kept him out of the lineup during the Cats' Cup chase.

Tobias Bjornfot (March 8, 2024): The Panthers claimed Bjornfot, a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2019, before the trade deadline. He only made one appearance with the club in the regular season but could still have untapped potential as a former highly-touted defensive prospect.

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