Takeaways from Panthers’ final preseason game

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers wrapped up their eighth and final preseason game Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena, losing 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.


With preseason play now over, the Panthers will have to get their active roster down to 23 before the the regular season opener.

Here’s some Panthers’ takeaways from the last tune up game.


Eetu Luostarinen continued a strong preseason 

Eetu Luostarinen’s value to the Panthers is a high one. He plays up and down the lineup, on special teams, on the wing or at center — he’s everywhere.


With Sam Bennett now out with an injury, Luostarinen jumped back up to center, playing on line 2 with Matthew Tkachuk tonight. Depending on how long Bennett is out, he may be getting an extended stint down the middle.

Luostarinen was the best forward tonight in the Panthers’ loss, grabbing a goal and an assist to end off his preseason with four goals. 


Like the rest of the team, Luostarinen is ready to get the 2023-2024 campaign started.


“We’re really excited,” Luostarinen said postgame. “There’s still some things we can do better but I think overall we’re just ready to go.”



Depth forwards pushing the offense

Both tonight and Thursday’s game saw quality offensive contributions from players in the bottom-six. 


Florida’s first goal of the game was scored off the rush, and shorthanded by Ryan Lomberg. 

In back-to-back games, Florida’s favorite hard hitting winger got on the scoresheet with a nice shot past the Lightning netminder.  


Later in the game Florida had another quality chance to get on the board off a rush from Nick Cousins and Zac Dalpe.



When the final roster comes out, the winners of 12-14 forward spots will be interesting to see. Zac Dalpe, Kevin Stenlund, Steven Lorentz, and Justin Sourdif have all had good showings this preseason.

As for what happens with the final roster, Florida has a few days to sort things out.

“The three days before opening night there’s still a whole lot of things that are involved in the cap and the injury situation,” head coach Paul Maurice said postgame. “The numbers will get back down to one room and we can get back to work.”



Still no “clear cut” winner for the seventh defenseman spot

The first five names on the blueline to start the year will probably look like this: Gustav Forsling, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Josh Mahura, Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola. 


As for the sixth defenseman, Mike Reilly’s play during camp and preseason should have been enough to win him that job. So who gets the seventh spot?


After Lucas Carlsson and Matt Kiersted were sent down to the AHL, the two in the running are Casey Fitzgerald and Uvis Balinskis. 


Neither of them really stood out in tonight’s game, however Fitzgerald has stepped his physicality up this preseason, compared to what we saw in his limited games last year with the Panthers.



In this competition for the extra defenseman, Fitzgerald had the “head start” in familiarity, being with the Panthers from mid January through the playoffs. Balinskis on the other hand joined the Panthers organization this offseason after spending his entire career in Europe.


If sent down to the AHL Balinskis would be exempt from waivers, Fitzgerald would not.


Who will claim the Panthers’ final forward spots?

Later this week the Florida Panthers will have their roster finalized for their Oct. 12 season opener in Minnesota. But, before the final cuts are made the Panthers coaching staff will have two more preseason games to determine who stays and who goes.


The next week will be crucial for the bubble players who are still fighting for a job on the regular season lineup. With just a few spots open on the roster, the two remaining exhibition games will be the last shot to make an impression.


Before discussing who can grab the final forward spots, let’s go over how the team probably will fill out up front.


Forward locks

The forward group — at least the top-9 — is pretty much finalized. All the forwards who picked up bumps and bruises in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are fortunately back and healthy for the Panthers. Evan Rodrigues is the lone newcomer who is guaranteed to jump into the top-9 — he’ll most likely start the season on the top line wing next to Aleksander Barkov. 


As for losses, Anthony Duclair is the biggest forward departure from last year’s Stanley Cup Final team. Duclair, who was a top-9 winger for the Panthers, was traded to San Jose in the offseason. For line purposes, the loss of Duclair was offset by the addition of Rodrigues.


This is how I see the Panthers forward depth chart at the moment. 


Centers: Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Anton Lundell, X


Wingers: Matthew Tkachuk, Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues, Sam Reinhart, Eetu Luostarinen, Ryan Lomberg, Nick Cousins, X


* “X’s” are open roster spots 

Projected Lines






Off these initial projections, I have the third line locked up with Lundell, Louostarinen and Reinhart. The trio were very good together in the playoffs and they’ll stick together to at least start the season — giving Florida a very strong third line.


For now, I have Verhaeghe and Rodrigues together on Barkov’s wings whilst keeping the Tkachuk-Bennett duo together. For Bennett and Tkachuk, they found lots of success in the playoffs when coach Paul Maurice inserted Nick Cousins on their line. The trio started the preseason together, however coach Maurice mixed it up in Tuesday’s game against Tampa — putting Cousins on line 4, while slotting Mackie Samoskevich on Bennett’s wing. 


Lomberg and Cousins will both be on the team’s final roster and I’d expect their best usage to be in a bottom-six role, so I project they’ll start the season on the fourth line. 


Based on my projections, this leaves one top-9 winger spot and the fourth line center job open. Keep in mind, NHL teams can carry up to 23 players on their active roster, so there will be extra skaters who don’t get into the lineup but will be on the team, as well as IR players.

LINE 4 Center

Looking at the fourth line center spot, that’s an unclaimed position still up for the taking.


During the early stages of training camp, coach Maurice spoke about this fourth line center battle — saying “there’s some competition for the job” and that having “size and speed” is an important thing for the fourth line.  


The following guys fit that mold.


Steven Lorentz —  Lorentz came to Florida this offseason on the opposite end of the Anthony Duclair trade. After watching him during camp and preseason, I’ve begun to understand why the Panthers’ brass wanted to get him in Sunrise. The 6’4, 206 pound center is a big man on skates, but he moves surprisingly well for a guy of his stature. In 192 career NHL games, the 27-year-old has put up 40 points between San Jose, and Carolina. The stat that jumps out the most for Lorentz is the 247 hits he has accumulated across those games. He likes to get physical — which is important for someone his size. 


Kevin Stenlund — Keeping the theme of big guys on the ice, Stenlund comes in even taller than Lorentz at 6’5, 215 pounds. The Swedish center has 29 points and 125 career NHL games under his belt, splitting that time between Columbus and Winnipeg — also appearing in all five of Winnipeg’s playoff games last season. He doesn’t play as physical a game as Lorentz, but he has had some moments around the front of the net this preseason, which got him in the box score. 


Alexander True — One more 6’5 skater for the preseason squad, Alexander True doesn’t have a ton of NHL experience — appearing in just 27 games — but he’s been doing enough during camp to stick around through the first portion of the cuts. Spending most of his North American career in the AHL, True has been very effective in the minors and even had a run with Florida’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers in 2021-2022 when the Seattle Kraken shared the affiliate.


It’s Important to note that none of True, Lorentz or Stenlund are waivers exempt, so in the chance that they are sent down to the AHL, they’d have to pass through waivers. 

Top-9 Winger 

With possibly one job open in the top-9, who jumps in for that spot?  Realistically, I think the two options to start the season are as follows.


Mackie Samoskevich — The hottest Panthers’ story for the last few weeks has been that of 20-year-old rookie Mackie Samoskevich. In his first NHL preseason, Florida’s 2021 first-round pick has done just about everything he’s needed to have a legitimate shot of playing opening night. 


Samoskevich has made the most of his chances to show the coaching staff that he’s an NHL player. He’s picked up three goals and six points in five preseason games — springing himself up the ladder of players fighting for a spot on the 23-man roster. Offensively Samoskevich has shown in these exhibition games that he can play in the NHL. There’ve been some defensive mishaps by him, but you’re going to see that with kids who are adjusting to the highest level.


There’s two reasons why I can see Samoskevich not making the team right out of camp. One, is that they want him to get more game time in the AHL before coming up to the NHL. Florida won’t play Samoskevich fourth line minutes — which is smart because his game and development is wasted in a bottom-six role. If that was the only option then the AHL would make sense. However, he’s played himself into consideration for a roster spot this preseason, and I think he’s earned it. The main reason why I could see him going down to Charlotte is because he’s waiver exempt. With the other forwards still on the camp roster not being waiver exempt, it wouldn’t surprise me if Florida decides to not risk sending down a player they like who has a high probability of getting claimed by another team.   


Grigori Denisenko — Florida re-signed Denisenko in the offseason on a two-year “prove it” deal. The 2018 first-round pick has shown flashes of his skill and speed throughout his sporadic time in Florida, but the offense has yet to fully translate to the NHL. 


The Panthers haven’t given up on Denisenko, who did appear in a Stanley Cup Final game last postseason. The 23-year-old hasn’t played a lot this preseason after picking up an injury last week. Heading into camp it seemed like Denisenko would have a shot at slotting into a top-9 slot to start the regular season, however the lack of exhibition games and emergence of Mackie Samoskevich makes me wonder what the next plan will be for Denisenko when healthy.


I don’t think Florida would want to play a game of roulette and see if he clears waivers in efforts to reassign him to the AHL. Does he get that top-9 chance? Could they keep him in Florida as a scratch? If Denisenko is ready to go sooner than later, the final roster moves are going to be interesting.

Depth forward options

Besides the last man out of the fourth-line center competition, here’s a list of possible depth options for the 13th forward.


Zac Dalpe — Panthers fans are very familiar with Zac Dalpe, who was part of Florida’s 2023 playoff run. The Charlotte Checkers’ captain spent a large portion of last season in Florida — whether he was getting game time or just skating as a scratch. Maurice knows what Dalpe brings as a depth forward and has trusted him in important moments, like desperation time in elimination playoff games. He’s a reliable guy on your fourth-line that does his job and the guys love him. If he sticks around, I see him back in that 13th forward role.


Brett Ritchie — Ritchie, 30, was brought into camp as the lone player on a PTO, and the veteran is still around after a few waves of cuts. The 6’4 forward has been in the league since the 2014-2015 season, playing in 391 games between Dallas, Calgary, Boston and Arizona. Ritchie hasn’t been able to get on the board in his three preseason games this year, and he’s been held out of the lineup in Florida’s last two matches. He may have one more chance to get into a game before the final cuts are made, which will probably be his last shot to get a deal with the Panthers.


William Lockwood — Lockwood is the most interesting depth option for me. In his preseason debut against Nashville he looked like one of the best players on the ice — getting a goal and an assist. Weighing in at 5’11, 172, Lockwood is one of the smallest guys on the camp roster, but he hasn’t played like it. It was impressive how he worked in front of the net to create chances, and it lead to quality scoring opportunities. Maurice said after the first set of preseason games against Nashville that he liked Lockwood’s game that night, but that he “also liked his whole camp.” He was a “decision guy” as Maurice put it following the Nashville game last week, and has made it to the 35-man roster. I think when the final 23 comes out, Lockwood will be assigned to the AHL, but if he can clear waivers he’ll be a sneaky good option for an in-season call up.

Five Standout Players from Panthers Two Split Squad wins over Predators

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers returned to Sunrise on Monday afternoon for their first set of preseason games, taking on the Nashville Predators in a split squad doubleheader.


In the first matchup of the day, Florida comfortably took down Nashville, winning 5-0 off multi-goal performances from both Eetu Luostarinen and Mackie Samoskevich.


The last game on the schedule was another good result for the Panthers, with the second group matching the first’s goal total in a 5-2 win. Newly reacquired Panther Dmitry Kulikov was the first star of the game for the second group with two goals and an assist.


Here’s five players who were worthy of a mention from the two split squad games.


Mackie Samoskevich

The man that many Panthers fans will have a close eye on this preseason is 2021-first-round pick Mackie Samoskevich.


Samoskevich made his NHL preseason debut in the first game of the day — playing on a line with Panther’s regulars Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen. 


“Having the first game out there is pretty special,” Samoskevich said. “”It was a fun one for sure, I had a blast out there.” 


The 20-year-old looked more than in place in his first game against NHL competition, finishing the game with two goals and an assist.


Going from college to the AHL and now the NHL preseason in just a matter of months takes some adjusting, but Samoskevich didn’t let the transition affect him too much.


“The building is pretty big so it kind of gets to your head a little bit, but I loved it,” Samoskevich said. “I’m not one to get too nervous, I like to stay pretty before the game so it wasn’t too bad.”


Samoskevich has a legit shot to make this team, and tonight’s showing was a step in the right direction.


Oliver Ekman-Larsson

OEL comes to South Florida with 902 NHL games under his belt. The Panthers brought in the two-time All-Star this offseason to bolster up a blueline that will be missing Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Mountour — two of their top three defenseman — for the first few months of the season. 


Ekman-Larsson paired up with his fellow countryman Gustav Forsling on the top unit in group 1’s 5-0 win. He finished the game with three assists, in 20:58 of ice time. 


During preseason you’ll see a lot of guys get ice time on special teams, even if they wouldn’t necessarily be a first or second option during the regular season.


Ekman-Larsson on the other hand could definitely eat up special teams minutes during the year and he was given the opportunity Monday night, playing on both the penalty kill and power play.


Last season when he was with Vancouver, Ekman-Larsson suffered an ankle injury in mid February, which would ultimately end his season. Monday night was the first game the 32-year-old has played in since Feb. 15.


Paul Maurice said after the split squad games that you’ll see less NHL players over the next few preseason matchups as they’ll be evaluating which bubble players make the final roster. 


“I mean, I think I don’t need to see Forsling right,” Maurice said when talking about the future exhibition games.  


It’s a shoo-in that Ekman-Larsson will be on the opening night roster, but he may get a few more exhibition games compared to the other NHL guys since he is returning from an injury.


“Ekman-Larsson, we’ll have lots of discussion because he hasn’t played for a while, he missed a bunch of games and he likes to play them to get into his rhythm,” Maurice said postgame “Priority one here is to get your NHL guys ready, that’s the first thing we have to do.”


Eetu Luostarinen 

The Panthers really missed Eetu Luostarinen in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. The 25-year-old Finn can play anywhere in the lineup — on the wing or down the middle — and special teams. 


In his first game back since getting injured in the Eastern Conference Finals, Luostarinen didn’t miss a beat — scoring twice for the Panthers.


“It was fun,” Luostarinen said after the game. “I felt 100 percent so that’s a good thing.”


Luostarinen was a regular and important player for the Panthers last year, so a bad showing in the preseason wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Nonetheless his first competitive action since breaking his tibia in May was positive. 


Luostarinen signed a three-year extension earlier this summer — keeping him under contract through the 2026-2027 season. 


Spencer Knight 

The last time Spencer Knight played in an NHL game was Feb. 18 against Nashville. He left the team later that month to enter the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. 


Now back with the team, he started his first game in over seven months today with the first group. 


There wasn’t a whole lot for Knight to do in the 29 minutes he played tonight, but he still shut the door, stopping all 13 shots he faced.


“It was a good game, good to get back into game action,” Knight said. “I think after a while the practices get kind of repetitive and you need to play the game.”


Knight came out with his story a few weeks ago in an interview with Ken Campbell of The Hockey News — where he talked about enrolling in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program for help in dealing with an ongoing case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


“It’s been good, you know there’s nothing to hide and I think I’ll become a better person and player from it,” Knight said when asked about coming forward with his story. “Hopefully there’s someone out there, they read my story and hopefully it helps them too.”


Ever since he returned to the organization in July to take part in development camp, Knight has been showered with love from Panthers fans, which was once again the case on Monday night. 


“It’s great… The fans have always been so supportive, so passionate, everytime I interact with them they’re just awesome.” 


Sam Bennett 

Florida had most of their NHL regulars in the lineup across the two games today, and their NO. 2 center was a big part of the second victory today. 


“It was good to be back out there and play in a real game-like situation, ” Bennett said. 


Sam Bennett had a goal and two assists in the second group’s 5-2 win — centering Matthew Tkachuk and Nick Cousins. Panthers’ head coach Paul Maurice gave this line combination another go after their success together in last season’s playoffs. 


“I think it’s almost a little bit of a benefit of playing so long into June that you don’t lose the feel and you still have that chemistry,” Bennett said about playing with Tkachuk and Cousins. “Definitely looking forward to starting the season with those two.”


Bennett’s linemates also got on the board, with Cousins picking up two assists and Tkachuk with one. 


“Those two make it so easy for me,” Cousins said about Tkachuk and Bennett. “I thought chemistry was back tonight and probably just keep that going.”

Matthew Tkachuk speaking to media

The Florida Panthers hit the ice for training camp

CORAL SPRINGS — It’s been a little over three months since the Florida Panthers were last together on skates.  The offseason was a short one – at least in comparison to most of the league – with the Panthers only getting about 100 days off between Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and the start of training camp. 


With the NHL summer wrapped up, the Cats were back on the ice today to kick off what they hope to be a long and fruitful  2023-2024 NHL season.


“Honestly it feels like I was here a couple weeks ago talking after the season so that’s exactly what we want,” said Panthers’ captain Alekasnder Barkov at media day. “We want to have seasons as long as possible and that’s what we work for. We worked hard last year and we deserved to be in the finals. We want to do the same thing this year again.”


While the Stanley Cup Final loss wasn’t long ago, the players’ focus is on the season ahead, not the run of yesteryear.


“I personally hate talking about last year,” Matthew Tkachuk said ahead of training camp. “There were some great memories but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, so you cannot dwell in the year’s past but you can keep it in your mind.”


“We got to create some new memories this year.”


The 59-man training camp roster composed of many of the guys who were part of Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last year — mixed in with some new faces who got their first taste of Panthers’ hockey today in Coral Springs. 


Year two of head coach Paul Maurice’s training camp was as physically demanding as year one. By the end of the respective 90 minute sessions guys were leaning over their sticks as they tried to catch their breath. 


Maurice works his guys hard in camp, focusing heavily on battles down low, rushes, puck possession and end of session bag skating. 


“It’s a hard camp, last year it was hard and this year seems to be just as hard so we’re prepared for it,” Sam Bennett said following day 1 of camp. “It’s gonna be good for us.”


While Bennett knew what to expect coming into camp, off-season signing Evan Rodrigues was one of the new Panthers who got his first formal on ice experience with the team today. 


“I think that we’re going to work, that’s kind of the team’s identity… we’re going to try to skate teams through the ground,” Rodrigues said. “That’s why I signed here, I thought it was a perfect fit for me, it’s fast paced, it’s skilled, it’s hard.” 


Going back to last season, Maurice would constantly reflect on how hard the guys worked in training camp — laying down the groundwork that would follow them through their rollercoaster of a season.


The same message was planted into the ground, or ice, today. 


“It has to be at least as hard this year as it was last year, we should have increased the capacity to endure,” Maurice said. “I also think there’s a lot of danger in believing that when I come to camp that we’ve got this thing figured out. We have lots of room to improve on the systematic basis.”

As for last season, Maurice was fine talking about it as this new campaign is set to get underway. 


“For me it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. Instead of thinking about the highs and lows and the excitement, just ask the question. Why?” Maurice said when asked about the 2022-2023 team. “What is it about this group of guys that made that room the way it was? “


“We have to fight for the culture of hard and that togetherness they have.”


The players haven’t forgotten about what they experienced as a group just a few months ago, but they also recognize it’s a new year, new season and new chance to get back to June.


Florida will continue camp through Sunday, before starting preseason action with a split-squad double header at home against Nashville on Monday.

The Panthers will not be sitting any of their available veterans on Monday, per Maurice.

Five Panthers prospects to keep on your radar after Development Camp

After five days of on and off-ice activities, the Florida Panthers  wrapped up their Development Camp Friday in Coral Springs.


As the guys go their separate ways for the summer, here are six players who stood out at camp and should be on your radar.


Mackie Samoskevich — Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)/Charlotte Checkers (AHL) — FORWARD (20)

It was no surprise to see Florida’s top prospect Mackie Samoskevich turn heads at development camp.


The 2021 first-round pick of the Panthers had an impressive sophomore season at the University of Michigan, putting up 43 points in 39 games on route to a second consecutive Frozen Four appearance with the Wolverines. 

Samoskevich turned pro at the end of the college season, joining Florida’s AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers for their playoff run.


The 20-year-old was undoubtedly the most NHL ready player at development camp this week — pulling out all the tools in both the on-ice drills and Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage.


Samoskevich is probably the only player from development camp that has a chance to crack the Panthers’ roster out of camp — which is a goal Samoskevich set out for this season. 


“I’d love to play down here [in Florida]. I think that’s the main goal,” Samoskevich said. “I don’t think it’s a far-fetched goal, I know I can do it, I think I can play up in the big leagues.”


Samoskevich’s tool bag is impressive — between his skating, shooting, hands and hockey IQ, he has the skill to play in the NHL now. 


Jack Devine — Denver Pioneers (NCAA) — FORWARD (19)

Florida’s seventh-round pick in 2022, Jack Devine caught my eye early on during camp. 


The University of Denver forward was great on his feet in close-quarter situations like the 3-on-3 and board battles drills. 

Coming in at 5-foot-11, Devine had no problem getting around bigger players — mostly because of his explosive first step.


He has an extremely quick shot release that stood out all week and he pairs it well with his skating. 


Devine will return to Denver for his junior season as he tries to win his second National Championship with the Pioneers. 


The 19-year-old looked a lot better than many guys at camp who already had pro experience under their belt — he’s a hidden gem in Florida’s prospect pool.


Evan Nause — Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) — DEFENSEMAN (20)

While I don’t think Evan Nause will be NHL ready this season, I do think he is one of the best blueline prospects Florida has. Geordie Kinnear and his staff in Charlotte should be excited to get Nause for his first professional season in the AHL.


Nause is a 6-foot-2 smooth skating defenseman who isn’t afraid to jump up in the rush but understands his role as a 200-foot blueliner. 


The former Quebec Rempart won the Memorial Cup just one month before the start of development camp. 


Nause has a big frame, but he’s surprisingly mobile for someone of his size. 


His edge work and puck handling reminded me slightly of a younger Aaron Ekblad — who even now is still crafty with the puck for someone that is 6-foot-4. 


Defensemen traditionally take longer to develop than forwards and with the amount of NHL blueliners the Panthers signed this offseason plus the bodies they already have in Charlotte, Nause will have plenty of time in the AHL to learn the pro game.


Kai Schwindt — Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) — FORWARD (19)

Mississauga’s Kai Schwindt is Florida’s most intriguing prospect for me. 


The first thing that immediately stands out for Schwindt is his size, the kid is 6-foot-4. But while there’s a lot of tall guys in hockey whose calling is being big, this isn’t why I have Schwindt on this list.  


I say Schwindt is an interesting case because at times during camp he looked like a guy that should absolutely tear up junior hockey.


He isn’t the fastest guy but he moves well for a guy that big. The lack of elite speed is offset by him using his size effectively to carry the puck. He can shoot — during development camp I saw him go top shelf four to five times off the rush in about 15 minutes. 


He had an impressive camp that ended off with a snipe in the intrasquad scrimmage. Rookie camp should be another good week to evaluate his game.


Saying this, his offensive production in the OHL the last two seasons doesn’t translate to what he’s capable of. Last season in the OHL, Schwindt had 25 points in 67 games with the Steelheads.


“Schwindt needs to drive the play more,” Intermission Sports Steelheads beat reporter Mitchell Fox said. “He has the speed and energy to be an effective, gritty winger, but he needs to put it all together.”


Schwindt has the upside needed for a professional and if he can put it all together, I could see him in a fourth-line to bottom-six role on an NHL team one day. But he’ll need to have a better year in the OHL next season as one of the more experienced players on a young Steelheads team before anything.


Josh Davies — Swift Current Broncos (WHL) — FORWARD (19)

Ryan Lomberg is a fan favorite in Florida with his gritty play and sneaky offensive skill.


If you want a Ryan Lomberg 2.0, bring in Swift Current forward Josh Davies.


A sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2022, Davies is a 5-foot-9 forward who hits hard and plays  in the dirty areas. Does that ring a bell? That’s Ryan Lomberg.


Davies had 34 points and 131 penalty minutes in 62 games with the Broncos last WHL season. When the WHL season was over, Davies signed an Amature Tryout Agreement with the Checkers — getting in one game with the team before their playoffs started.


The 19-year-old is hard to bounce off the puck and has a pair of wheels on him that will be crucial to his game as he eventually makes it to the pros.


He will return to Swift Current next season for his final year of junior hockey.


BONUS: Matteo Giampa — Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL)/Canisius College (NCAA) — FORWARD (19)

I went a little off the board here with this ‘bonus’ pick and took Matteo Giampa, an undrafted, unsigned player who was a camp invite by the Panthers.


Giampa tore up the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season with 92 points in 54 games with the Bonnyville Pontiacs,  while leading the AJHL in playoff scoring with 22 points in 16 games.


He’s going to play Division 1 hockey next season with Canisius College and will be 20 by the time the season rolls around. Playing D-1 hockey for the next few years should be a good indicator of how much Giampa can develop his game.

Giampa stood out the most during the 3-on-3 drills, where he was weaving in and out of tight spaces while getting quality looks on goal. He seemed to be really strong on his lower half, which is a good trait to have for a guy that clocks in right at 6-foot. 


In the scrimmage, he pulled out a trick from his hat, flipping the puck to himself and batting it in midair during the shootout — capping off an impressive week in style. 


Giampa going undrafted means no team owns his NHL rights and with him going to college, he can’t sign a deal with the Panthers or any team for that matter without losing his NCAA eligibility.


He had a really good camp so I decided to still include him in this list despite him not being a Panthers’ prospect.



Sandis Vilmanis — Sarnia Sting (OHL) — FORWARD (19)

Kasper Puutio — Lahden Pelicans (Liiga) — DEFENSEMAN (21)

Ludvig Jansson — Lulea HF (SHL) — DEFENSEMAN (19)

Florida Panthers goalie Ludovic Waeber prepares for first professional season in North America

While NHL development camp rosters are predominantly filled with players in their teens to early twenties, the Florida Panthers had a more experienced face take the ice in Coral Springs as they kicked off their development camp earlier this week.


26-year-old Ludovic Waeber is the oldest player at Panthers development camp and is without an NHL/AHL game under his belt, however the Swiss goaltender isn’t a newcomer by any means. 


Despite never playing professional hockey in North America nor outside of Switzerland, Waeber is by far one of the most experienced players at development camp.


The 6 ‘1 goaltender spent the last six seasons playing in Switzerland’s National League (NL), one of the top men’s professional hockey leagues in the world. b


His last three seasons in Switzerland were with the ZSC Lions, a consistent playoff team in the National League. His final year in Zurich saw him post a 2.50 goals against average, and a .914 save percentage in 19 NL games. Waeber signed a one-year deal with the Panthers this offseason.


As Waeber makes the move to North America, he and his family are getting ready for life in a new country.


“There’s a lot of challenges like just changing countries,” said Waeber. “Back home you have like a cocoon, you’re near family and stuff… so it’s a big change.” 


“The wife is coming with me and it’s gonna be a good year,” he added.


Coming to North America from Europe is usually a big on ice transition for skaters because of the style of game and size of the rink. That case is the same for goaltenders.


“Back home you have a little bit more time to adjust,” said Waeber. “Here everything goes a little bit quicker. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”


While there are no other Swiss players  in the Panthers’ organization at the moment, Waeber’s good friend and former Lions teammate Denis Malgin was with Florida from 2016 to 2020.


Waeber said Malgin spoke to him about the Panthers after he signed with the team a few weeks ago.


“We talked a little bit together, he’s a good friend of mine,” said Waeber. “He told me it was a good organization and I should enjoy myself here.”


Behind the scenes of the Panthers’organization, the goaltending excellence department boasts names that have gotten the goalies at camp excited to mention.


Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo and long-time NHL goalie coach Francois Allaire are big parts of that.

“When I had the first zoom call with Leo [Luongo], Francois Allaire and Roberto [Luongo], it was a big deal,” said Waeber. “I used to go to Francois Allaire’s training camp in Verbier, Switzerland, so I knew about the demand and his philosophy of goaltending.” 


As for Roberto Luongo, Waeber was a fan of his growing up in Switzerland.


“Back home I had a poster of him on my wall in my room, so it was kind of impressive for me to talk to him.” Waeber did specify later that Luongo was wearing a Canucks jersey on the poster. 


Waeber says he plans to return to Switzerland following development camp to finish his offseason training with HC Fribourg-Gotteron before coming back to South Florida at the end of August. 


While Waeber is expected to begin the 2023-2024 season with Florida’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, past seasons have shown that goaltending situations in the NHL are never entirely written in stone. 

Matthew Tkachuk and Jimmy Butler led the Panthers and Heat to the finals.

Pressure Point: Heat, Panthers give S. Florida rare gift, face challenges

The malaise felt today in South Florida is the hangover from two exhilarating months of thrills and delights from an improbable dual championship pursuit by the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers ending with an abrupt thud on consecutive nights.

These two teams in very different sports linked by geography adhered to parallel scripts all the way to the bitter end, from No. 8 seeds that barely made it into the playoffs to riding companion waves of destiny that carried to their respective finals but washed out short of the trophy presentations.

We certainly hoped for a parade or two, but couldn’t have expected any more effort than these two teams gave us.

That was underscored in the wake of the Panthers’ humbling 9-3 exit at Vegas on Tuesday night when Panthers coach Paul Maurice revealed that four of his players had broken bones, including superstar Matthew Tkachuk with a fractured sternum.

In the spirit sharing the pain, Heat star Jimmy Butler sprained an ankle during the playoffs and appeared limited in the NBA Finals, though he discounted it was a factor. (Certainly doesn’t account for why he rushed that last desperation shot with 17 seconds left and ample time to work for something better.)

Playoffs take physical toll

Injuries aren’t an excuse. By any objective assessment, the Heat and Panthers were beaten in every phase of the game in their finals. The Panthers, for chrissakes, went 0 for 14 on the power play in the Stanley Cup final and gave up a short-handed goal to begin the Game 5 blowout.

The Denver Nuggets and Vegas Golden Knights were the superior team and deserving champion in each final series.

Still it is a letdown for South Florida because of how difficult it is to get to a championship series, and we may never see the likes of this again.

The Panthers and Heat nearly didn’t make the playoffs this year and will find it challenging to get back next season.

The Heat was overpowered by the Nuggets’ big men, just as they were by the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals. More brawn is needed in the front court, has been for years.

But it will be difficult just to keep key parts of this roster together due to salary cap constraints.

Heat in salary cap bind

The Heat already has $176 million in payroll commitments to 10 players for 2023-24; the cap is expected to be around $134 million. Three of five starters in the Finals — Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Kevin Love — will be unrestricted free agents.

The team is committed to one more season at $29.6 million for aging guard Kyle Lowry. Duncan Robinson, relegated to a reserve role for most of the season though a bright spot in the NBA Finals, is owed $18.1 million next season.

Still, Pat Riley and salary cap guru Andy Elisburg have been painted into a corner by burdensome contracts before and found creative ways out. Already rumors and speculation are linking Portland’s eight-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and Washington Wizards veteran guard Bradley Beal to the Heat.

So expect the offseason to be intriguing, though far less entertaining than the playoff run.

Bill Zito, in three years as Panthers general manager, has also proved to be astute at roster reshaping, notably swinging the deal for Tkachuk while up against the salary cap ceiling.

With the Keith Yandle contract coming off the books, Zito has about $10 million in cap space to work with this summer.

Several Panthers facing surgery

The problem for the Panthers will be in recovering from this grueling playoff run. Maurice said Tuesday night that several players will need surgery and face months of recovery.

The NHL season opener is about four months away.

The physical toll and effort expended by both teams lends perspective to the spectacle of the past two months in South Florida sports.

“You can appreciate it now. What we went through is miraculous,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who during the playoffs broke a foot, twice dislocated a shoulder and tore an oblique.

“The way some guys played and collectively as a team the way we played was pretty incredible.”

The region has had a fair share of championships but having a pair of lovable overachievers locked in on the same pursuit simultaneously was remarkable to experience.

Dual playoff runs captivated South Florida

For weeks we ate dinner in front of the TV or flocked to sports bars and arenas in neighboring counties (even for away games). We stayed up until 2 a.m. to see the Panthers win in four overtimes over the Hurricanes at Carolina to open the Eastern Conference finals.

We saw the Heat squander a 3-0 series advantage in their Eastern finals, losing a heartbreaker at home in Game 6, only to somehow throttle the Celtics in Game 7 in Boston.

Watching the Heat and Panthers win their respective Game 7s to eliminate Boston teams in their shared arena were high points of the whole postseason from a South Florida perspective. The opposite feeling is shared now.

Or as Maurice said, “This is one of the top four or five bad days of your life when you lose in the Stanley Cup.”

Then he added, “but even now standing here, I love those guys. They gave me a great year of my life.”

The Panthers and Heat have given all of South Florida a great gift. Now the baton passes to the baseball Marlins (currently in playoff position) and the football Dolphins and Hurricanes.

Hopefully dream chasing becomes contagious around here.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

GAME 3 Stanley Cup Final: Florida Panthers gear up for the biggest game of their season as series shifts to Sunrise

SUNRISE — The situation the Florida Panthers find themselves in is less than ideal, but it’s not the end of the world — yet.

The Stanley Cup Final transitions from Vegas to Sunrise on Thursday night with Game 3 b​​etween the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers taking place at FLA Live Arena. Vegas defended home ice or the “Fortress”  as they like to call it — taking a commanding 2-0 series lead to start off the finals. 


The Panthers will play in front of their  home fans for the first time in two weeks tonight. They’ll face a daunting challenge as they host their first Stanley Cup Final game since 1996. Down 0-2 in the series, a loss in Thursday night’s game won’t be the end of the season for Florida, but it will be as close as to having the writing on the wall as possible. 


 “This is by far the biggest game of our season,” said Panthers’ star forward Matthew Tkachuk.


Florida has been in uncomfortable situations before. They went on an improbable run to sneak into the playoffs as the lowest seed in the league — then they had to claw back in the first-round against a historic Boston Bruins team that held a 3-1 series lead. The Panthers have beaten the odds before, but this is no doubt their toughest challenge yet.


Florida hasn’t been outplayed by an opponent to this extent since the early games of the Bruins series way back in April.  They also haven’t seen consecutive losses — or multiple losses — since that series either. 


The Panthers ran the gauntlet of the East, losing just one game between rounds two and three on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. Going into this series the Panthers knew it wouldn’t be easy to get by Vegas and so far the Knights have thrown everything at the Panthers and then some. 


“They’re a different team than anyone we’ve played in these playoffs,” said Panthers forward Sam Bennett. “I think they’re most similar to maybe Boston’s size and physicality… we’ve definitely been able to handle that in the past.”


Florida was able to figure out Boston before it was too late, which is the reason they are here. They’ll need to do the same quickly against Vegas, otherwise they won’t be the happy team in the final handshake line of the year.


The hole the Panthers are in isn’t great, but the silver lining is that they can finally play at home. Defend home ice tonight and it’s a different series going into Game 4.


“I think the boys are fired up, a lot of emotions,” said Anthony Duclair this morning. “We just need to be a little smarter in certain situations.”


There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and then next two will be at the Panthers’ barn, a place that has been electric all postseason.  Throughout this run the Panthers have fed off the crowd and they’ll need it tonight. 


“The way we’ve been playing at home all playoffs, our fans are a big part of that,” said Duclair. “Just being home, having our crowd by our side and us being comfortable playing in front of our home fans has been a real huge key for us.”


Panthers’ fans will be packing FLA Live Arena for what will be the first Stanley Cup Final game in South Florida in 27 years — and the first ever in Sunrise.

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Florida’s veterans and former champions prepare the Panthers for the Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE —  From the moment they put on their first pair of skates, young hockey players dream of winning the Stanley Cup. Whether they pretend to be Bobby Orr in 1970 or Patrick  Kane in 2010,  scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal has probably played out in more than a few hockey players’ backyard fantasies. 


Playing in the NHL is an opportunity presented to only the most talented of hockey players. Yet, the chance to play for the Stanley Cup may never come for many of the NHLers. 


The Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights are in a position this year that 30 other teams wanted to be in — the Stanley Cup Final.


This June, both organizations will get a second chance to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Vegas, the second youngest NHL franchise, made their only SCF appearance in their inaugural 2017-2018 season, where they lost to Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. Florida is back on the big stage for the first time since 1996 — where they were swept by a Patrick Roy led Colorado Avalanche team.


Vegas has a few of their original Knights remaining from their 2016 Cup Final team, in addition to a few Stanley Cup Champions like Alex Pietrangelo, Phil Kessel, Alec Martinez and Jonathan Quick in the room. 


Florida’s roster doesn’t have as much experience in the Finals, with only three players having a Stanley Cup to their name; Eric Staal (2006), Patric Hornqvist (2016,2017) and Carter Verhaeghe (2020). Marc Staal is the only other Panther to have played in a Stanley Cup Final. 


With most of the Panthers not having a finals appearance under their belt, their veteran leader behind the bench is also without a Stanley Cup to his name. 


In his 25 season NHL career, Panthers head coach Paul Maurice has coached over 1800 games between the regular season and playoffs. Maurice is sixth all-time in regular season wins by a head coach, and fourth all-time in games coached — yet in his two and a half decade career, he has only made one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. 


The team and Maurice knows how big the opportunity at hand is — and Florida’s few cup champions have reminded them of that. 


Maurice said the champs have stepped up in team meetings, speaking to the rest of the roster about what they are about to experience.


“Those guys have great voices,” Maurice said. “There’s so many things that until you’re there you haven’t experienced it.  It’s so much better if it’s a player telling them, so much more impactful to them.”


Panthers defenseman Josh Mahura got his first taste of playoff hockey this year in Florida. The early season waiver pick up is now just a few days away from skating in the Stanley Cup Final. Mahura said he wants to “soak” in the experience. 


“It’s pretty crazy from the start of the year until now,” Mahura said. “Honestly it would have been tough to believe you if you would’ve said that [I’d be playing in the Stanley Cup Final].


Despite never playing in the Cup Final, Panthers forward Nick Cousins got close in 2020 during his time with Vegas, making it to the Western Conference Finals. 


“There’s also guys who have won a Stanley Cup too, played a lot more games than me,” Cousins said. “But whenever guys here are looking to get some intel, I’m always there.”


Cousins and the rest of the team is ready to get this series rolling after an extended break. Florida will go 10 days between games by the time they hit the ice Saturday for Game 1 in Vegas. 


“We just want to make sure we keep going here, the first three rounds were really good for us,” Cousins added. “Our team’s clicking right now, we just got to make sure that we pick up where we left off.”



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The Florida Panthers Stanley Cup Playoffs journey reaches its final chapters

This Florida Panthers season was a journey begging to be written, dating all the way back to the summer of 2022. 


If we were to break the season down like a book, Chapter one began in June. 


Panthers General Manager Bill Zito made the call to bring in Paul Maurice for interim head coach Andrew Brunette. Replacing the coach who just won the Presidents’ Trophy for someone who had resigned from their previous head coaching job the season prior was met with many questions from the hockey world. Nonetheless, this was the first domino to fall.


The second chapter would come a month later — with an even more jaw dropping move from Zito. After a disappointing end to what looked to be a Stanley Cup potential season , Zito sent shock waves through the hockey world — trading fan favorite Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to Calgary for then 24-year-old Matthew Tkachuk. 


The Panthers entered 2022-2023 with a new coach, a new star player and many big departures from the Presidents’ Trophy winning team of the previous season.  


If we were to skip ahead in this story, the chapters that take up most of the ‘rising action’ were ones that had many questioning the future of this team. 


For months, the Panthers were teetering between wins and losses — with no continued streak of success to be found. November to late January was a rough stretch for the team, one which made it seem like their playoff chances were in the mud. 


The team faced plenty of adversity through their mediocre spell towards the middle of the season. They ran into depleted lineups; not able to play their full team together for months because of injuries or illnesses. They had an extremely grueling January schedule — playing nine road games across all of North America. 


Results weren’t favorable, and the criticism was loud. 


If you just got started following the Panthers as this playoff run began, you may be surprised to know that a good portion of the fan base were calling for Paul Maurice’s head just a few months prior. That discourse seems like ages ago as he is now just one win away from tying Doug MacLean for most playoff wins by a coach in Florida Panthers history, but more importantly — four wins away from the Stanley Cup. 


Through the “dark” months of this journey, there were sprinkles of brightness that would eventually become major factors in the future success of the season. 


Players thriving amidst the calamity included Brandon Montour, who was bumped up the lineup after the offseason trade of MacKenzie Weegar. More minutes and bigger opportunities from the new coaching staff saw Montour set franchise records, including points by a defenseman in a single season. 


Carter Verhaeghe would be another bright spot in Florida’s imperfect regular season. The 27-year-old would become the second Panther player ever to score 40 goals in a season, something that had not been done since Pavel Bure did it twice in the early 2000s. 


If goaltender Alex Lyon didn’t come into the lineup at the end of March and win six straight games with the regular season winding down, Florida would not have made this magical run to the Stanley Cup Final. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs.  


There’s been many great stories that have been carved out of this season, with even more being written this postseason. 


Matthew Tkachuk wouldn’t get a chapter in this book — he’d get his own arc. The new man in town, or should we say superstar, was consistently the most important player for the Panthers this season. When the team was losing, Tkachuk was performing. When the team was winning, Tkachuk certainly was a factor. 


When the postseason began, Tkachuk’s stardom reached new heights. His game winning OT goal against Boston in Game 5 kept the Panthers dream alive. A month later in the Eastern Conference Final he managed to one up that historic goal… three times. 


“He’s unbelievable,” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov said about Tkachuk after they won the Eastern Conference Final. “It’s been eye opening how great of a person he is and how he breathes hockey… it’s unreal.”


As we reach the climax of this story, the one who is sitting atop the throne has to be Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. 


Bobrovsky, or ‘Bobrovka’, as TNT analyst Charles Barkey referred to him as, was monumental in every series this run.


In the Boston series, he won three consecutive games facing elimination. Against Toronto, he shutdown the Leafs’ elite forwards for most of the series. And as the Carolina storm surged toward his net, he backstopped the Panthers to a sweep. 


“He’s our backbone, he’s our best player,” Verhaeghe said earlier this week about Bobrovsky. 


Following their Eastern Conference Final win, Paul Maurice gave his team a heartfelt speech, which was posted to the NHL social media accounts. The speech was what you’d expect of Maurice — somewhat poetic, and motivational in simple words. 


“We are going to go now into, for all of us, the greatest time in our lives. It’s a lifetime of work to get to this, and there’s something so much more important,” said Maurice. “It’s actually not the trophy, it’s the time we’re going to spend together.”


The early doubts from this story were answered as the playoffs ensued. Whether that was the Paul Maurice hire, the Matthew Tkachuk trade or the endless discourse surrounding Sergei Bobrovsky — none of those are being debated anymore.


Now the Panthers are preparing to write the final pages of this story — one which they hope to have a happy ending. 


This last stretch is what the players have worked their entire lives for. Getting the chance to play for the greatest trophy in team sports — the Stanley Cup. “It’s something you dream of since you started to play hockey.” Anton Lundell said. 


12 wins down, four more to go. If the Panthers can place the final puck on their Stanley Cup journey board — they’ll be champions of the hockey world.