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10 Observations: Panthers training camp scrimmage reveals which rookies may be ready for spotlight

The Florida Panthers participate in an intrasquad scrimmage at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2021.
The Florida Panthers participate in an intrasquad scrimmage at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2021. (WPLG)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The benches were full. The cameras were rolling. The ice crew was on alert. The giant scoreboard hovering over the ice was…keeping score.

It may have only been a training camp scrimmage, but the sights and sounds of hockey season coming back to life was a sensory delight and on display for all to see, or stream, at the BB&T Center on Thursday night.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville split his camp roster into two not-so-evenly matched teams (based on the final score) for a complete dry run of what a typical game experience would be for the players and coaches.

The Panthers played a full three period, sixty-minute game, complete with a referee and two linesman, an overtime session and a shootout.

Team Red featured Joanthan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Eetu Luostarinen, Owen Tippett, Serron Noel, Mason Marchment, Cole Schwindt, Riley Stillman, Anton Stralman, Brady Keeper, Radko Gudas, Chase Priskie, Max Gildon, Philippe Desrosiers and Samuel Montembeault, who played the entire game in goal.

Team White’s roster included Frank Vatrano, Alex Wennberg, Brett Connolly, Vinnie Hinostroza, Noel Acciari, Ryan Lomberg, Grigori Denisenko, Aleksi Heponiemi, Scott Wilson, MacKenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Kevin Connauton, John Ludvig, Jake Massie and Chris Driedger.

Team Unfit to Play continued to include Sergei Bobrovsky, Partic Hornqvist, Markus Nutivaara and Scott Darling. Priskie, who missed the previous two practices, returned to the ice Thursday.

Team Red came out on top after three periods by the score of 8-1, with Tippett, Marchment and Verhaeghe all netting two goals apiece.

Despite the lop-sided final score, head coach Joel Quenneville said afterwards that he felt it was a fairly even game in which, “both teams played hard. A lot of guys had good nights and some guys were alright.”

“I liked the tempo of the game,” Quenneville continued. “I liked the setup in the rink with the crowd noise and I thought it was fun sitting in there watching it. I’m sure that guys had a little bit different taste than what was going on in the bubble.”

One surprise was Florida’s top line of Barkov, Huberdeau and Duclair failing to register a single one of Team Red’s eight goals, though the trio did generate several scoring chances.

Overall, the chemistry between Barkov and Huberdeau was as apparent as ever, though there was some rust that will need to be shaken off. Additionally, they are adjusting to a new linemate so it makes sense that they were better when moving through the three zones with speed than in the tighter quarters of the offensive end.

“I think they had some good moments,” Quenneville said of the line. “I thought they had some dangerous opportunities on the rush.”

At the mid-point of training camp and after this simulated gameday experience scrimmage, it felt like a good time for another edition of 10 Observations.

I took a bunch of notes on Thursday night from up in BB&T Center pressbox, and my key takeaways are listed below.

Before getting to the list, here are some final thoughts on the scrimmage from Q:

“I thought there was enough pace in that game. I don’t know if it was as physical as we’d be if it was against an opponent. There’s some guys in camp that we’ve liked. The guys who scored the goals tonight, I think those guys really helped themselves. Those guys, who are kind of new to our team, I think they’re looking at not just getting in the lineup, I think they’re looking to enhance their positioning on the team.”

And on that note…

TIPPETT LOOKS LIKE HE BELONGS – Of Florida’s two former first round picks vying for a spot on the Panthers Opening Night roster, only one appears to be earning that role. Owen Tippett absolutely looked the part on Thursday night, keeping his assignments in all three zones while knowing when to jump up during a play and get to the right spots on the ice. His two goals were reminiscent of many that he collected while leading AHL Springfield in scoring last season; putting himself in a high-danger spot and making sure he didn’t miss when the puck found its way to his stick.

Said Q: “He’s got all the makings to be a real power forward in the League. I think he could be a real top scorer, consistently, season in and season out. Putting it all together, that consistency is something that I really think he’s improving at. He has a great knack of knowing where the open spaces are and he can get a shot up at the highest level of the top scores in our game, so it’s just a matter of time and putting it all together.”

DENISENKO A NO-SHOW - The other of Florida’s recent number one picks appears to have a bit more work ahead of him before he can show he’s ready for an NHL job. Did Denisenko have a couple good moments with the puck? Sure, but so did most of the forwards on the ice Thursday. Did Denisenko come anywhere close to standing out the way that Tippett did? Or Luostarinen? Or Marchment? No, he did not. With so many young, inexperienced forwards pushing for two or three spots on the roster, Denisenko will have to hit a new gear if he wants to be near the top of that list.

TOP LINE POTENTIAL – There is no denying the beautiful music made by Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau when they’re on the ice together. They’ve been skating on the same line for several years and have grown accustomed to the other’s habits and tendencies. Sure, some rust may have shown during the scrimmage, but that’s to be expected during training camp. Adding a shoot-first sniper like Anthony Duclair to their wing could take the line to new, perhaps never before seen heights.

MARCHING TOWARD A JOB – At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, it’s hard to miss Mason Marchment on the ice. He made sure of that during Thursday’s scrimmage right from the jump, throwing his massive frame around while exhibiting the speed and hands that allow him to be more than just a big body on the ice. Marchment showed he’s got vision, a nasty wrist shot and the ability to play well defensively and without the puck.

Said Marchment: “I honestly just tried to play my game. You only get one scrimmage, so it was nice to finally get back into a game tempo kind of thing. It felt good, and luckily a couple went in.”

Said Q: “I think he’s coming on in training camp. He gives us some size; he’s got some deceiving quickness and he can shoot a puck. He had a nice night.”

PRISKIE SHOWS PROMISE – Despite missing Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices while falling into the Unfit to Play category, Chase Priskie returned to the ice for Thursday’s scrimmage and he looked pretty darn solid. It’s clear that both he and fellow young rearguard Brady Keeper have above-average offensive capabilities. Priskie also displayed the hockey sense to know when to jump up into the play and push the puck forward, and at least on Thursday, he did not miss and leave his team in a bad spot defensively.

MONTEMBEAULT COOL, CONFIDENT AND IN CONTROL – The issue with Montemnbeault in the past has been consistency. He’s put together strong periods and segments of games but struggled to keep it all together for a full sixty minutes. Well, he did that and then some on Thursday, and looked extremely comfortable in the process. Breakaways, point blank opportunities, breakdowns around the crease…nothing fazed Monty on this night. If this night was a sign of things to come, Florida will be in a very good spot with its three top goaltenders.

Said Q: “They’ll be pushing one another right now as we get closer to the first game, but Monty certainly helped himself tonight with a real good game.

“I think he’s stood out, not just today, but every day we’ve been here.”

VERHAEGHE LOOKS LEGIT – From the first day of camp it’s been clear that Florida may have found themselves another diamond in the rough in Carter Verhaeghe. Flipping through my notes on the 25-year-old throughout the first week of camp, the same words pop up on each page: ‘quick first step, great hands, confident with the puck, deceptive acceleration, shifty.’ Q also seems to really like what he’s seeing from the Stanley Cup champion.

Said Q: " Carter Verhaeghe has been doing a lot of good things, whether it’s scoring goals and making plays or doing the right things in the puck area. He’s very noticeable. I like his complete from the start of the shift to the end.”

EKBLAD-WEEGAR PAIRING COULD BE AMONG LEAGUE’S BEST – There’s not really a whole lot to unpack here. Ekblad’s play has been ascending every season as both a defender and offensive weapon. Weegar has been developing just as quickly but injures have keep that train from picking up momentum. This could be the year that these two open a lot of eyes around the league. Expect a ton of ice time for them both, and another career year for Ekblad (especially if he ends up on the top power play unit).

LOMBERG IN D-ZONE – Ryan Lomberg stood out during the scrimmage in ways that are difficult to judge during practices. His play recognition in the defensive zone and instincts of when to pursue the puck and jump into passing lanes was on full display Thursday night. In terms of responsible and smart play in your own end, there is a lot to like about Lomberg’s game.

FORGETTABLE NIGHT FOR DRIEDGER – Florida’s de-facto number one goalie (I haven’t seen Sergei Bobrovsky anywhere this week, have you?) will want to put this night in his rearview mirror. It started with a fluky deflection of a simple wrist shot from the point that seemed to freeze Driedger as the puck slid through his legs, and that was just 90 seconds into the scrimmage. Hey, Spencer Knight had a rough first night at the World Juniors and he turned that bus around rather quickly. Driedger will more than likely do the same; a goaltender as technically sound as he should be able to bounce back quickly.

Said Driedger: “Honestly, tonight was just about getting my routine set and getting the feel of the game. We weren’t really too worried about the results going in, it was more for me just getting in the feel of what I do before a game and go through that so it’s familiar. There were definitely some moments before the game during warmups where you’re kind of forgetting…you’re like ‘alright so I did this part of my pregame routine, what’s next here?’ So you sort of have to take a second and think about them, but it’s nice to just do that, and I remember what I’ve done, and take that and move that into when it counts.”

Said Q: “I think that one goalie had a really good night, and the other goalie had a difficult one.”

BONUS OBSERVATION!

ACCIARI NO FLUKE – Last season Noel Acciari’s offensive game exploded, and he was right back to doing the same ‘predictable things’ on Thursday. He’s got a knack for knowing the soft spots in the offensive zone and getting himself open for good looks on net. He scored the only Team White goal by doing just that, and he got behind Team Red’s defenseman for potential breakaways more than once.


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