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It’s an exciting time to be a Florida Panthers fan.  Just ask the loyal supporters who have stuck with the team year in and year out despite the heartbreaking string of losing seasons.  But now, finally, the team is not only showing signs of life, but they’re on the cusp of becoming a consistent winning team for the first time in, well, ever.

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The rebuild started in 2010 when the Panthers hired general manager Dale Tallon to overhaul the franchise and start constructing a winning team the right way, through the draft with young players.  When you do that, it’s going to take a while to see the results as hockey players generally take a few years to develop between the amateur and junior levels to the pros.  However, the process that began almost five years ago is starting to come to fruition and it’s truly a great sight to behold.

It still remains to be seen if the Panthers strong season will end in a playoff berth, but it’s clear to hockey minds across North American that Florida is a team that is going to be contending for years to come.   The days of losing seasons and lottery picks are a thing of the past.  Indeed, the culture has changed in Sunrise and Tallon is the driving force behind it.  With that said, here are the top reasons to jump on the Panthers bandwagon…while there’s still room.

Young Core Already In The NHL

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

When Tallon began the process of rebuilding the franchise in 2010, he started by stockpiling high draft picks and using them on top-tier young talent.  He clearly has an eye for scouting hockey talent as many of those picks have blossomed into solid NHL players, with still some growing and maturing left to do.  Jonathan Huberdeau (21 years old), Nick Bjugstad (22, pictured above), Erik Gudbranson (23), Aaron Ekblad (19), Brandon Pirri (23), Jimmy Hayes (25), Vincent Trocheck (21) and Aleksander Barkov (19) are all providing for the Panthers at the NHL level and will continue to improve over the next several years.

Players In The System

(Source: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(Source: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

In addition to the young core already up with the NHL team, the Panthers have a plethora of talent waiting in the wings for their shot to join the big club.  Rocco Grimaldi (pictured above), Quinton Howden, Garrett Wilson, MacKenzie Weegar, Jonathan Racine and Logan Shaw are already playing pro hockey in the minors and are on the cusp of starting their NHL careers.  In the college ranks, Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Michael Downing, Kyle Rau and Zach Hyman will have an instant shot to contribute at the pro level once they conclude their collegiate obligations. Also, Jayce Hawryluk is another guy who will likely move up the ladder quickly once he turns pro.  He’s currently playing Canadian junior hockey in the CHL.  All these kids are the cream of the Panthers crop and are expected to have a big impact in the NHL once they’re ready.

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Team Trending Upwards

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

This season is the first one where you can really see the young core starting to develop into the unit that will carry the Panthers for years to come, and the results are showing in the standings.  While they still have a good amount of growing and improving to do, the team is already looking solid and has remained in the playoff hunt since the beginning of the season.  As the young core continues to get better, Tallon will keep adding pieces to the puzzle through free agency.  It’s hard to imagine the team not continuing to trend upwards and have better and better seasons as the years go by.

Great Locker Room Chemistry

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

One thing that Tallon has a deep understanding of is that a successful team must have harmony in the locker room.  On a team like the Panthers which will feature several young and inexperienced players for the foreseeable future, it’s crucial to balance that with veterans who not only have plenty of games under their belt, but also can keep everyone grounded and focused on the team’s ultimate goals.  The players that Tallon has added to the mix in recent offseasons have done a wonderful job of keeping the Panthers a happy and exuberant group that has remained focused without any behind the scenes issues.  Bringing the young players up in that kind of environment will help them become the kind of leaders that can take this team to the next level, and that’s what we’ve seen throughout this season.  That will only continue with Tallon at the helm.

Hall Of Fame Goaltending

(Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

One of Tallon’s best moves since taking over the Panthers was to re-acquire goaltender Roberto Luongo.  Fans of the Panthers are well aware of how good Luongo is based on his first tenure with the team, and he only further cemented that with the success he enjoyed while playing in Vancouver.  The only concerns that anyone can have about Luongo is his age, as he’ll turn 36 on April 1st.  Hockey players’ skills generally start to decline in their late 20’s or early 30’s, but there are always a special select few that play at a very high level well into their late 30’s.  That’s exactly what the case is with Luongo, and the reason why is that he has a spectacular work ethic and stays in great shape throughout the year, whether it’s during the season or afterwards.  Luongo still has three or four great years left, at least, as long as he continues to take care of himself year-round.  Look at a guy like Martin Brodeur, who at age 42 was still playing well and winning games in the NHL.  Luongo, like Brodeur, has always taken great care of his body and mind and I have no reason to believe that he won’t have the same kind of success for the next several years.

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