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Scrimmage 2.0: With many jobs up for grabs, several Panthers impress coaching staff during intrasquad tune-up game

Opening Night for Florida is Sunday against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks

Florida Panthers players participate in an intrasquad scrimmage at the BB&T Center on January 12, 2021.
Florida Panthers players participate in an intrasquad scrimmage at the BB&T Center on January 12, 2021. (WPLG)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers had some unexpected free time this week, so Head Coach Joel Quenneville decided to hold another scrimmage.

The postponement of the Panthers first two games of the season provided some additional practice time for the team to continue getting acclimated to one another on the ice, and for Q and his coaching staff to further evaluate the new-look squad.

Florida’s training camp roster was split into two teams Tuesday: 15 players on Team Blue and 15 players on Team Red.

Philippe Desrosiers acted as a universal backup goalie of sorts and the same three players, Sergei Bobrovsky, Markus Nutivaara and Juho Lammikko, were again deemed Unfit to Play.

Below you’ll find the lines and pairings, followed by highlights from the scrimmage that was three periods in length, plus a full five minute three-on-three overtime.

Keep in mind that each team had five defensemen, so the pairings were somewhat fluid due to the odd number.

Team Blue:

Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair

Connolly-Acciari-Hinostroza

Wilson-Schwindt-Denisenko

Weegar-Ekblad

Connauton-Keeper

Priskie

Montembeault

Team Red:

Huberdeau-Wennberg-Hornqvist

Vatrano-Luostarinen-Tippett

Marchment-Heponiemi-Lomberg

Stillman-Stralman

Forsling-Gudas

Yandle

Driedger

Overall the scrimmage was tightly contested, with both teams generating a decent amount of scoring opportunities.

Regulation ended with the score tied at two before Team Red exploded for three goals during overtime.

While giving his assessment of the scrimmage, Coach Q had a lot of praise to hand out and gave off a vibe of positivity and optimism.

“I really liked the pace of the scrimmage,” Quenneville said. “I thought we did a lot of things right technically. I thought our D were very active in the attack. I thought there were some confrontations around the net. I thought we did a lot of good things. When we try to reinforce good habits, I thought we saw a lot of that demonstrated. If we play at that type of pace a lot of things are going to happen. We liked what we saw.”

SCRIMMAGE 2.0 HIGHLIGHTS

Just like during the first intrasquad showdown last Thursday night, Mason Marchment stood out once again. He played some purposeful shifts early in the scrimmage and came on again during the third period. Marchment knows how to use his size to his advantage and body opponents off the puck or shield it when in possession. It’s also not easy to get the puck off his stick.

Chase Priskie plays like a very intelligent defenseman. He picks the right times to jump up in the play and communicates well with his teammates when making a move away from his position. He also moves well with the puck at the blue line, opening up shooting lanes and getting the puck to the net. I asked him after the scrimmage how much the coaching staff was encouraging him to lean into those offensive skills, or if they wanted him to focus more on the defensive element of his game.

“It’s definitely more focused on the D side, but they definitely want me to play to my strengths. They know that I can create in the offensive zone and get up in the rush and be that second or third wave of attack to help score goals, but for me it’s just coming in and showing the staff and showing management that I can consistently defended in my own zone, break pucks out and be a good defenseman because it does no good if the pucks are piling up in your own net.”

Newly claimed defenseman Gustav Forsling looked very comfortable with the puck in all three zones. He did not get lost while covering in the defensive zone and showed strong offensive instincts. Last season Priskie and Forsling skated together while members of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers and when asked for his assessment, Priskie gave a glowing review of his new-old teammate.

“I love Forsling. We played a lot together in Charlotte and we complement each other’s game extremely well in my opinion. He’s your modern-day defenseman. He is a puck moving defenseman, he gets up in the rush, but he plays extremely solid defense and he’s tough. He’s a tough competitor out there. I think he’s going to be a great fit here. I don’t have enough good things to say about him. He moves the puck well, plays hard and is just a great defenseman.”

Sam Montembeault turned in another solid scrimmage to continue his excellent camp. He has looked relaxed in the crease and in control of his movements. His hand placement has also been consistent, helping to track pucks and push rebounds to the corners and away from the middle of the ice. If I’m picking an Opening Night starter based solely on camp, it’s got to be Monty.

After a rough night in Florida’s first scrimmage, Chris Driedger bounced back nicely the second time around. His hands were active and rebound control was much better. If there is such a thing as ‘vintage Driedger’ that’s what we saw Tuesday.

“I thought the goalies were really good,” Quenneville said after the scrimmage. “Really solid.”

The forward line of Alex Wennberg centering Jonathan Huberdeau and Patric Hornqvist was tenacious in the offensive zone, forcing turnovers and keeping possession better than any other trio. Having an alpha like Hornqvist out there with a pair of pass-first playmakers doesn’t hurt either.

“I think they have good possession time and I think they all do something a little bit different,” Quenneville said of the line. “They all make plays and they do have patience with the puck. You like the way they all see the play and they all want the puck. They all have dangerous plays in tight and they all know how to score.”

I tried to keep an eye on Grigori Denisenko every time he played a shift, hoping to see some progress after a very average first scrimmage. He unfortunately got lost out there, rarely getting involved in the play. He did not move his feet, often coasting or gliding through the neutral zone. His one scoring chance came midway through the third period when he got loose in the slot and fired a one-timer that was saved by Driedger’s blocker, and his best play of the day came during overtime, blocking a crossing pass while defending a 2-on-1.

“I think he’s going through camp here,” Quenneville said when asked for his assessment of Denisenko to this point. “I think he’s learning a little bit of how we have to play and what we have to do in all situations. I think that the pace is something that we’re looking for more consistency in. I think that he’s grasping things as we go along. I like his attitude and I like his approach in the game.”

Riley Stillman was possibly the best player on the ice Tuesday. Sure, he scored two goals (one of which came on a penalty shot) but it was his play in the Panthers defensive end that really impressed. It looks like he worked on his skating and lower body strength because nobody was able to go wide and get around Stillman on a rush. He’s using his 6-foot-1, 196 pound frame much more effectively, playing a physically imposing game, particularly below the circles.

“Stillman had a big day today,” said Quenneville. “You look around at who was the top guy on the ice today and you have to put Stiller in that mix. He had a couple very big goals and nice moves as well, but I thought defensively he had good movement. I thought he and Stralman were a good pair, very noticeable.”

One thing I noticed about Owen Tippett on Tuesday was his play without the puck in all three zones. He was extremely active on the forecheck and forced multiple turnovers as a result of his pursuit of the puck.

“I thought Tippy had a really good day,” said Q. “I thought he was one that had really good pace.”

Frank Vatrano was very active on a line with Tippett and center Eetu Luostarinen. Frankie got to the net several times, ending the day with a pair of goals from below the circles, one of which came during the 3-on-3 overtime session.

Radko Gudas moves around quite well down low in the defensive zone, very light on his feet for a big defenseman. He’s quick to change directions and his head is constantly moving to check his surroundings.


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