Aaron Ekblad said the Florida Panthers are "the team to beat" this season after their offseason moves.
"Maybe in the past people overlooked us, but right now, I would say we go into this year as the team to beat," the defenseman told The Athletic in an interview published Thursday. "With the players we've brought in and the core we have established, I mean, if we don't (win), you know things are going to go sideways pretty quick. We have to realize and know if we want to stay together, we have to win."
The Panthers finished fifth in the Atlantic Division last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight season. They were 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.
Florida fired coach Bob Boughner after the season and replaced him with three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville, then agreed to a seven-year contract with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers also signed defenseman Anton Stralman and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly, who bring playoff experience to a core led by forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, and defensemen Keith Yandle and Mike Matheson.