NHL Rumors: Florida Panthers Going After Top Defenseman

The Florida Panthers have gone from perennial underdog to legitimate contenders over the last few seasons.  Their young core of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad have all developed into star players capable of leading this team to the playoffs and possibly even the Stanley Cup Finals with their play this season. The Panthers are currently second in the Atlantic division and just 2 points behind the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning with 3 games in hand and they don't appear to be on the verge of a dropoff anytime soon.

In addition to Barkov and Huberdeau upfront, the Panthers have a wealth of talented forwards who are scoring almost at will.  Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe and the aforementioned Barkov and Huberdeau are all on pace for at least 23 goals this season.  Right behind them are bottom-six forwards Frank Vatrano, Eetu Luostarinen, Anton Lundell and Patric Hornqvist who are all on pace for at least 16 goals, as well.  The point is: the Panthers are deep when it comes to forward talent compared to their defence, and while they don't have quite the embarrassment of riches on the other end of the ice, they are still undoubtedly talented and well-rounded.  

Mackenzie Weegar seems to be a great fit beside Ekblad, but the Panthers feel like they could improve beyond their top pairing.  With Weegar and Radko Gudas providing a physical presence (both are ranked in the top 12 in the entire NHL in hits), and with Ekblad (11 PPP) and Brandon Montour (5 PPP) quarterbacking the first and second powerplay units, that leaves former 5th overall pick Olli Juolevi, who just returned from injury, and Gustav Forsling, who has 18 assists this season and a reasonable cap hit at $2.66 million per season.  It's hard to imagine Florida wanting to change much given their success, but it's being reported that the team is going all out in an attempt to win the cup this season, according to Florida Hockey Now's George Richards:

The Panthers are in go-for-it mode and will be players at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Specifically, he says they will be targeting a number of talented defensemen such as Montreal's Ben Chiarot, Seattle's Mark Giordano, Arizona's Jakob Chychrun and Dallas' John Klingberg.  While some would employ more of an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentality, GM Bill Zito is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the Stanley Cup in Florida for one more season, albeit on the other side of the state in Sunrise.

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