The Florida Panthers are one of the best teams in the league, and up front, they’re highlighted by one of the hottest lines.
This isn’t their first stint together; they composed the ‘first line’ in late November for a bit while Aleksander Barkov was out of the lineup. But over this last month is when they’ve really made the most noise.
It was pretty hard to miss them in Florida’s 7-1 thumping of the Stars. Bennett and Huberdeau combined for assists on Gustav Forsling’s goal at even strength, then Duclair doubled the score. Huberdeau notched his own goal, before the centre net two (plus one on the man-advantage). That added to five goals from this line at even strength, as Huberdeau and Bennett notched four points each, and Duclair wasn’t too shabby himself with three.
The following night, they turned around and did even more damage, this time in what became a 9-2 win over the Blue Jackets with another two 5-on-5 goals.
So what’s clicking for one of the hottest lines in the league? Let’s take a look.
Huberdeau’s one of the best wingers in the league. In all situations, he’s second in league scoring with 54 points. Shift to just 5-on-5 scoring to eliminate play on the man-advantage, and he’s still among the best — fourth with 29 points.
For offensive plays, his efforts can start with a takeaway; he’s collected the third-highest rate of takeaways at 5-on-5 on the Panthers (with 29 altogether). Once he has the puck on his stick, he can bring it into the offensive zone with ease.
There, he’s not the most frequent shooter, but he’s effective. Over 65 per cent of his 5-on-5 shots have come from the slot area, and his 10 goals exceed his expected goal total of 7.49.
But above all else, Huberdeau’s an elite passer. With 13.6 attempts per 60, the winger ranks 16th in the league in passes to the slot. Even fewer are as successful in threading those passes to the quality areas of the ice; his 6.22 passes per 60 rank eighth in the league.
Those passes obviously have shined on the scoresheet with 19 5-on-5 assists so far this season, and his primary set ups have often led to shot opportunities for his teammates.
Those teammates, as of late, are Duclair and Bennett.
While Huberdeau can be the primary puck carrier of that line with his transitional play and distributing abilities, he doesn’t have to be. That’s part of what makes this trio so dangerous. Duclair and Bennett rank 11th and 13th in the league, respectively, in controlled entry rate at 5-on-5.
Duclair can also set his teammates up, giving this trio a more versatile attack. The winger can help drive possession and generate those quality set ups, too, which helps both his linemates take those shots from the higher danger areas of the ice. And passes can spring his teammates for off the rush chances, too which is why the team generates so many scoring chances in those situations while he’s deployed.
But shooting is where he really stands out. Like Huberdeau, it’s more about quality than quantity. Over 70 per cent of his shots at 5-on-5 come from the slot — that puts him with the 20th best percentage in the league. That’s contributed to his 10 goals that have been scored at the highest rate of his career. The Panthers have been the best fit for the winger who has shown just how effective he can be in the top-six, whether it’s up alongside Barkov or on this dynamic line.
Then, there’s Bennett to complete the trio. Like Duclair, he’s really found his footing in Florida. After the trade deadline, there were obvious questions about sustainability in his scoring efforts. But between these wingers, he’s playing some of his best hockey.
In the offensive zone, the centre can battle for loose pucks under pressure. In his role as a net-front presence, he can help collect rebounds and get those second-chance opportunities on opposing goaltenders.
That’s the area of the ice he’s at his best. Bennett leads the team in shot attempts from the slot with 10.2 per 60, which lands him 13th in the league. And he’s a frequent shooter in Florida from the inner-slot, too. That ‘shot quality’ has earned him one of the best individual expected goal rates in the league, ranking seventh with 1.28 per 60.
Put those three skilled forwards together and what do you get? A line that is ridiculously tough to stop. That’s why they’ve scored at the extremely high rate of 6.83 goals per 60 which ranks third among all line combinations with at least 50 minutes of ice time. The only lines that have scored at a higher clip this season are Andrei Svechnikov, Vincent Trocheck and Marty Necas (7.70 per 60), and Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello (7.27 per 60).
When a line’s this hot, it always circles back to the same question: can they maintain it?
While the Huberdeau-Bennet-Duclair line may not be the Panthers’ ‘top’ trio, it’s certainly one of their best. Through about 106 minutes of 5-on-5 play, they’re rocking a 61 percent expected goals rate. They’re outscoring expectations and that’s before assessing finishing talent, so they probably should be somewhere in the middle of what they’ve scored and what they’re creating. But they’ve already shown that they aren’t going to score every game, and the team can still survive. They didn’t last night at 5-on-5 against the Oilers in a 6-0 win.
That’s the beauty of having so much depth; if they have an off night or are particularly targeted by defenders, there are other weapons that this combination isn’t too stacked that it takes away from the rest of the lineup. But having two top-calibre lines only challenges opponents more, especially when it comes to matchup deployment.
So as long as they keep clicking, even if not at this phenomenal rate, the Huberdeau-Bennett-Duclair line only makes the contending Panthers that much more dynamic.
Data via Sportlogiq