The Florida Panthers have made several offseason moves in the name of analytics this summer, including the naming of Tom Rowe as the club’s general manager replacing Dale Tallon who was named president of hockey operations.
The Panthers are coming off a season in which they finished with a franchise-best for wins (47) and points (103) while winning the club’s second division title. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad acknowledged he’s noticed a shift in focus within the team’s front office.
“Its a little bit different, it's been slowly creeping in and our team has been getting better and better because of it,” said Panthers’ said Ekblad. “Not my job to comment on that type of thing, but to play the game to the best of my ability.”
The changes to the front office don’t necessarily mean things will change on the ice. Ekblad, who signed a monster eight-year, $60 million contract extension earlier this month, doesn’t see the team’s style of play changing, despite more analytics hires in the team’s front office.
“We play the game the way hockey players play the game,” Ekblad said. “I think coaches, Gerard (Gallant) and all them, coach the way the way they know how to coach. I've played this game since I was two, three-years-old, I'm never going to change (the way I play) any differently than what the way I do it now, and I think a lot of the players are that way, and the coaches are that way too.”
The 20-year-old, who set a new career high for goals (15) while registering 36 points and averaging 21:41 of time on ice in 78 games last season, is also looking forward to playing alongside offseason acquisition Keith Yandle. Florida acquired Yandle's rights from the New York Rangers on June 20 and signed him to a seven-year $44.5 million deal on June 24.
"A good puck-moving, good foot-speed defenseman," Ekblad said. "He can maneuver himself out of positions that are not favourable to him, and support his defense partner much like Brian Campbell did."
Ekblad admitted the team will miss Erik Gudbranson. The blue liner was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Jared McCann in May. According to Ekblad, Gudbrason had a large presence in the Panthers room.
"He's a strong, physical presence. He's a protector out there, just like Shawn Thornton," said Ekblad. "Cares a lot about his players and everyone's safety on the ice. Can also be very, very good on the defensive side of the puck. That's something we lost, but we definitely gained in other areas.
"It was great to have a guy like that in the room, a true leader, very vocal, making sure everyone was on the same page kind of deal. Great to have him around, for sure going to be missed."
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