Panthers call up Dominic Toninato for important role as fourth line center
Mike Matheson will return to Florida's lineup Thursday
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – We're not even a quarter into the Florida Panthers 2019-20 schedule, but the team's depth continues to be tested.
After 14 games, it's a test that, so far, Florida has passed with flying colors.
Following Wednesday's practice, head coach Joel Quenneville said centers Vincent Trocheck and Noel Acciari would not be playing Thursday against the visiting Washington Capitals.
Trocheck has not played since scoring the shootout winner in Nashville on Oct. 19. Brian Boyle has filled in nicely for Trocheck on a line with Brett Connolly and Mike Hoffman.
As for Acciari, Quenneville said Monday that he "pulled a little muscle" early in practice.
Wednesday, Q called Trocheck and Acciari day-to-day with lower-body injuries.
He said they would skate Thursday, so there is hope that one or both could play this weekend when Florida hits the road for back-to-back afternoon tilts against the Islanders and Rangers in the Big Apple.
In the meantime, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon called up forward Dominic Toninato from Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield.
A big-bodied, two-way center, Toninato slid into Acciari's spot on the fourth line between Dryden Hunt and Colton Sceviour during Wednesday's practice.
The former 2012 fifth round pick was acquired by Florida in June when they shipped defenseman Jacob MacDonald to the Colorado Avalanche.
One of the final cuts prior to opening night, Toninato didn't get discouraged about not initially making the team and has played very well for the Thunderbirds, picking up six points (4-2-6) in 12 games while earning a reputation as a consistent two-way center.
"I thought I had a good preseason," Toninato said. "Obviously, things didn't work out the way I wanted them to, but that's OK. I went down (to Springfield) and worked on my game and had fun down there, and I got the call."
When asked what he hopes to bring to the Panthers, Toninato said he considers himself a "200-foot, reliable centerman."
Considering the spot in Florida's lineup Toninato will fill Thursday, that seems like exactly what Quenneville will want from the 25-year-old.
"Down in Springy, I think he was doing the same type of things that we're looking for him to do here, and they play against a lot of the top lines and (have) more of a checking role," Quenneville said. "I thought he brought pace while watching him in practice today. I think he's got real purpose to his game."
A defensive-minded forward, with size, that can score, but isn't shy about being physical.
Sounds like he's a quintessential Quenneville-guy, alliteratively speaking.
Q's going to throw Toninato right into the fire, as Florida's fourth line is expected to match up against the Caps' top unit of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
While some coaches might hesitate to throw a fresh AHL call up with just 39 NHL games under his belt up against a line with that kind of firepower, Quenneville seemed almost enthused about the idea.
"He's going to get some pretty good assignments tomorrow, and a pretty great test as well, so we're looking forward to him playing and getting to see how he adapts," Quenneville said.
MATHESON TO REUTRN
Defenseman Mike Matheson will return to the Panthers lineup Thursday after missing five games with an undisclosed injury.
Matheson last played Oct. 22 against Pittsburgh.
"I'm really excited," he said Wednesday. "It's frustrating when you're not in the lineup and battling an injury. It's tough to stay positive, but the team's been doing really well so that's been really great to see."
Matheson skated with Anton Stralman during practice this week after shedding his yellow, noncontact jersey. The two had been paired up for several games prior to Matheson's injury.
A major key to Florida's defensive future, the former first round pick has looked better than ever this season.
Matheson's return will being some stability back to the Panthers defensive corps, which saw a rotation of Mark Pysyk and Riley Stillman in his absence.
"Certain guys jumped in and did a good job in his absence," Quenneville said. "I thought he was playing good hockey prior to getting hurt and I think watching him today, he looks like he's ready to go."
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