Regardless of your age, if you’re a hockey fan then the Florida Panthers haven’t mattered a whole lot in your life. Save for a Cinderella Stanley Cup Final run, only to be cut down by the Colorado Avalanche, and 223 games with Pavel Bure in tow – the Panthers have been one of the NHL’s most consistent punch lines. Could the dark days of the Panthers be coming to an end? ESPN released their organizational rankings on Thursday (subscription required), and it’s none other than the Panthers that top the list at No. 1:

The Panthers have the most blue-chippers coming down the pipeline, and Jonathan Huberdeau (third overall, 2011) leads a long list of players who will play, and well, at the NHL level. He is a leader, loaded with desire and talent, and has a knack for making big plays. Eric Gudbranson (third overall, 2010) is ready to make the jump from juniors to the NHL, and there’s also Quinton Howden (25th overall, 2010), and Nick Bjugstad (19th overall, 2010). All the Panthers need now is time to let their top prospects develop.

We can’t really act all that surprised as the Panthers had their fingerprints all over last January’s World Junior Championship. A completely retooled roster courtesy of Dale Tallon combined with a rich system should give the Panthers a realistic chance of taking a step forward in the next couple of years. Hell, maybe they’ll even make the playoffs one of these seasons.


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