SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers keep an eye on what's happening to the east.
Many consider the Kontinental Hockey League to be the second-best professional hockey league in the world, and Florida has dipped into its talent pool more than once.
The team's most successful move so far was bringing forward Evgenii Dadonov back to the National Hockey League after five years in the KHL, including three spectacular seasons with SKA St. Petersburg.
Since returning to the Panthers in 2017, Dadonov has 135 points (56-79-135) in 156 games while forming one of the potent offensive lines in the NHL with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Florida swung and missed last summer after signing defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich away from CSKA Moscow following an All-Star season.
Kiselevich played just 32 games with Florida and was eventually traded to Winnipeg at the trade deadline after going as a healthy scratch for several weeks. He never played a game for Winnipeg and eventually returned to the KHL after re-signing with CSKA.
The Panthers have also loaned prospects to KHL teams for professional seasoning before bringing them back to sign pro deals. One is 2018 first-round pick Grigori Denisenko, who is entering his second full season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The 19-year-old is expected make the jump to North America after this season when his KHL contract expires.
Clearly, the traditional route of bringing players west to the NHL has been to go through the KHL. But that doesn't mean it's the only way to do it, and the Panthers have a strong scouting presence overseas that certainly isn't exclusive to just KHL games, keeping an eye on players in the DEL, the German professional league; Liiga, the Finnish Elite League; and others.
Florida is hoping that Latvian forward Rodrigo Abols will the next European transplant to find a home with the Panthers.
He was signed to a two-way deal in May and said at the time that he would "head to North America and fight for my place in the NHL."
Abols, who will turn 24 in January, is a player that Florida had been scouting for several years.
He was a seventh-round pick of Vancouver in 2016 but never played a game for the Canucks, instead spending the past two years with Orebro, of the Swedish Hockey League.
He's considered very coachable, which makes perfect sense considering his father, Artis, is a former professional player and current assistant coach on the Latvian national team and the KHL's franchise in Latvia, Dinamo Riga.
Abols is preparing to leave Riga in the coming days and head to South Florida for Panthers training camp, but he made a quick appearance on Latvian national television Monday to discuss his pending journey.
"I have a two-way deal, which means that I will be playing up and down in both leagues," he said, speaking of the possibility of moving between the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds and the Panthers.
Before signing with Florida, Abols did his homework and knows the organizational depth the Panthers have, especially at the center position.
It certainly appears that he knows what he's getting into and has no misconceptions about what he'll need to do in order to succeed.
"It's going to be hard to make the roster straight away," Abols said. "It's very realistic to end up in Springfield but, if so, I just have to fight and prove to them that I deserve to be up with the big squad."
While Abols has the ability to play wing, scouts indicate that his hockey attributes are best put to use at center.
Since he has a strong two-way game and is reliable in the faceoff circle, it makes sense for Florida to continue developing those skills.
Entering training camp, the Panthers seem to have four center spots locked up with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Henrik Borgstrom and Noel Acciari.
That doesn't mean things won't change , whether it be through injuries or prospects coming into form, as nothing is ever set in stone.
Abols knows that anything can happen, but he said his future starts with a strong showing at training camp and during the preseason.
"It's all in my hands," he said. "I will have to prove myself as much as I can. Then they will make their decision on where I'm going to start the season."
Regardless of where Abols begins his latest North American hockey stint, he'll be one to keep an eye on developmentally as the season progresses.
The Panthers begin training camp with rookies arriving on Tuesday, Sept. 10. Full camp will open on Friday, Sept. 13.
The rookie camp roster can be found here. Abols will wear jersey number 96.