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Young Guns

Last year the Florida Panthers accumulated only 70 points, ahead of only Columbus, Pittsburgh and Carolina. Good thing the future looks much more promising than the present. The Panthers have possibly the best young nucleus in the league. They could be cup contenders in years to come.

The main reason lies between the pipes. Roberto Luongo is their goaltender of the future. Classic butterfly goalie, Luongo is as big as Lalime, and moves like a Richter in the crease. He is very confident, and strives in clutch situations. He could be the league's top goalie in a few years.

Another reason, is their core of good young defenseman, most notably, Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester, is an extremely smooth skater, that makes an excellent first pass. He's not overly physical, but will not shy away. He is Florida's top dog on the blueline for years.

Among other young defensemen are Filip Novak and Lukas Krajicek. Krajicek is a future quarterback, with tremendous offensive skills. He's a smooth skater, with a good set of hands. Combine that with a good shot, good vision and hockey sense, you've got a future quarterback defenseman. Novak is the same type of player as Krajicek, but to a lesser degree.

I'm sure you've all learned the name Kristian Huselius by now. He was a finalist for the Calder trophy in 2001-02, racking up 23 goals and 22 assists. His production slipped a little bit in his sophomore campaign, registering 20 goals and 23 assists. A superb stickhandler, with good skating and passing, this winger should be a force on Florida's left side for several years.

Another notable young forward is Stephen Weiss. An all-around great offensive player, with a great scoring touch to top it off. The only thing that could possibly hold him back at this point, would be his small frame, at 5'11, 180 lbs. He played 77 games with Florida last season, notching 6 goals and 15 assists, while centering their thrird line.

The Panthers selected center Petr Taticek with the 9th overall pick in 2002. The 6'3, 188 pound playermaker scored 12 times last season with 45 assists with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL.

Fellow 2003 first round picks and good friends, Nathan Horton and Anthony Stewart, both show good promise. They both play a similar style, physical and determined. Horton is a better skater than Stewart, and is a more complete player. He could be a franchise player some day.

With such great young players under the age of 25, Florida could be Stanley Cup contenders sooner than one may think.

Jared Sexton, The Hockey Zone