Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon is a huge proponent of being strong down the middle of the ice, where tall, strong, versatile centers roam.

That pertains to the draft, where he selected 6-foot-3 Aleksander Barkov with the second overall pick last June and 6-6 Nick Bjugstad, the 19th overall pick in 2010. It also includes his choice of assistant coaches, as evident from his hiring of former NHL centers Brian Skrudland and John Madden to help out first-time NHL head coach Peter Horachek.

"What better people to talk to about the ins and outs of the little things of that position than those two [coaches] who won Stanley Cups,'' Horachek said. "Their knowledge and information they can relay has been really valuable for those guys.

"There's holes in everybody's game. Barkov's 18, [Bjugstad's] 21. But they're contibuting in a positive way. They're big kids, they want to be here.''

It's not a coincidence that both Barkov, the youngest player in the NHL, and Bjugstad, who played only 11 games last season, have thrived since the coaching shakeup, especially in the all-important faceoff circle, where they're ranked second (50.1) and third (48.9) in winning percentage among rookies.