SUNRISE, Fla. – Anyone complaining about the lack of news in the hockey world over the final months of 2020 must’ve been in heaven on Monday.
Teams across the NHL took the ice for the first time since at least last summer as training camp practices got underway, and that includes the Florida Panthers.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville, seeing many of his players for the first time in months, split the roster into two groups, Team Red and Team Blue.
Both units participated in separate practice sessions at the BB&T Center, as Team Blue kicked things off with the first skate at 10 a.m. followed by Team Red at 12:30 p.m.
As the practices proceeded, it was clear that the drills were ramping up in intensity and detail. First the passing, then the assignments, then the in-zone placement, then you go 5-on-5…it’s a fun process to watch play out, and the pace will only continue to pick up as Opening Night grows closer.
“We have balance in the two groups right now,” Quenneville said following Monday’s workouts. “Tomorrow we’ll have a couple of practices comparable [to today’s], with a little more competing in drills and battle drills as well.”
Between the action on the ice and news off of it, Day 1 was full of interesting information to digest. Here are some of the highlights.
UNFIT TO PLAY
Of the 39 players on Florida’s training camp roster, five were absent from the two on-ice workouts that took place Monday at the BB&T Center.
Forwards Patric Hornqvist and Juho Lammikko, defenseman Markus Nutivaara and goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Samuel Montembeault were held out of the Day 1 practices.
According to Quenneville, they have all been deemed “unfit to play” as the team complies with league protocol.
Unfortunately, it’s meant to be vague, so whether they are injured, sick or out for something Covid-related, the team will not be saying.
Once the season begins next week, the league will be identifying players that test positive for COVID-19.
For the time being, this is the only answer we’re going to get from Coach Q:
“They are unfit to play right now and we will see how that all plays out as we progress though training camp.”
The next update on the subject will likely come on Tuesday, when the team is back on the ice and we see whether any of the five are out there.
THE DUKE OF TOPLINEINGTON
One of the biggest questions of Panthers camp is which player would end up skating on Florida’s number one forward line.
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov and All-Star winger Jonathan Huberdeau are elite players just entering the prime years of their respective careers, and the two of them succeeding this season will be a major key to Florida’s push for a playoff spot.
The first forward to be slotted in with Barkov and Huby was 25-year-old sniper Anthony Duclair.
Signed just last month, Duclair is a speedy, offensive-minded winger that could add a new element to Florida’s top line.
The trio appeared to click right off the bat, with Duclair constantly getting open and showing off his accurate wrist shot while also being the recipient of several easy tap-in goals off sweet feeds from his (possible) new linemates.
“I have one job and that’s to get open,” Duclair said Monday through a smile. “Those two guys are pass-first mentality so for myself, being a shoot-first guy, I think I fit in pretty good.”
Said Huberdeau: “Today we told him he needs to shoot the puck. He’s really fast and a great shooter. Today he had a good practice, I think he scored 30 goals. I think he can be a great asset on our line.”
It was as good of a start as anyone in Sunrise could’ve hoped for, taking into consideration that it was still just a training camp practice.
Keep in mind that Quenneville has said he plans to move players around the lineup as he evaluates all the new guys during camp, so don’t be surprised if Duclair has new linemates at some point.
Of course, that could all change if Q liked what he saw from the unit on Monday and decided that he wanted to see where it could lead.
“I thought Duke and had a really good practice,” Quenneville said. “You notice him with his quickness and his pace, and he complemented Huby and Barky’s possession game.”
Q CALLS OUT WENNY
While speaking to the media after practice, Quenneville was upbeat as he recapped the day’s events.
Overall Q said he was pleased with the effort from both groups, though he did make a point of saying that Team Red “had a little bit more today.”
A player on that squad who made a strong first impression on Quenneville was offseason addition Alexander Wennberg.
Another one of Florida’s free agent signings, Wennberg is looking for a fresh start after being bought out of the final three years of the six-year, $29.4 million deal he signed with Columbus.
The former first-round pick inked a one-year, $2.25 million prove-it deal with the Panthers and is expected to center the second or third line.
When asked if anybody stood out on Day 1, the first name out of Quenneville’s mouth was “Wenny.”
“I was really happy with Wennberg,” Q said. “I didn’t know him to that level, but I loved how he can skate and he definitely caught a lot of guys eyes today.”
Quenneville had Wennberg centering a line with Frank Vatrano and Brett Connolly, calling the group “pretty effective” while praising Team Red following practice.
The Cats will be back on the ice Tuesday morning.
Wennberg and the rest of Team Read will be up first, taking the 10 a.m. slot.
Team Blue will practice at 12:30 p.m.