Potential stardom for Mike Matheson, a bounce-back year for Aaron Ekblad and much more structure from the new coaching staff — those are just some of things Panthers TV personalities Randy Moller and Steve Goldstein see when asked to look into their crystal pucks.
There are less than 10 days left before the Panthers start their 24th NHL season, and the players say their excitement level is starting to build.
Prior to the Panthers’ 4-2 exhibition win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on Tuesday night, Goldstein, who handles play by play, and Moller, who serves as studio analyst and ice-side commentator, gave their opinions on the team they cover.
Perhaps one of the more interesting thoughts came from Moller on Matheson, the 23-year-old defenseman who is coming off his first full NHL season.
“Keep your eyes on Matheson,” Moller said of the player who had seven goals and 10 assists in 81 games last season. “I think he will be a star in this league.”
Matheson may end up on the first defensive pairing with Ekblad when the Panthers open the season at the Lightning on October 6.
Ekblad was the NHL’s first overall pick in 2014 and was named the Rookie of the Year in 2015. Last season, though, he suffered a head injury and played 10 fewer games, recording 21 points — 15 fewer than in his rookie season.
“It was probably the first time in Ekblad’s life than he wasn’t tremendously successful,” Goldstein said of the 21-year-old. “He was never really right last year.
“But in the offseason, he changed everything from his eating habits to how much he was hanging out with his buddies. I think he’s more mature, he’s lighter, and he’s in better shape. He’s more professional.”
Moller said he has been impressed with Ekblad’s business-like demeanor.
“I see a very focused and determined young superstar who wants to prove to himself and to everyone that he’s the player worthy of the No. 1 pick,” Moller said. “He wasn’t fat [before], but he lost some weight. If you are carrying too much bulk, it can affect you. He looks trimmer, and there’s a quicker step to his game.”
New to the team this year is the coach, Bob Boughner, a 46-year-old Canadian and a former NHL defenseman for six teams.
“He has a very structured system,” Goldstein said. “Wherever you are on the ice, you have specific instructions, whether you have the puck or not. Everybody knows what’s expected, and that simplifies things.
“I think he will be a players’ coach because he is very direct. I think anyone, in any job, wants feedback. And with him, there is never any guessing.”
Moller said Boughner’s specialty is working with defensemen, which is another reason why he sees big years coming for players such as Ekblad, Matheson and Keith Yandle.
“I’m quoting some of the players such as Ekblad who have said they’ve never played for a coach so prepared,” Moller said. “He’s focused on details, whether it’s the morning skate, practice or a game.”