SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are bound to get calls about Eetu Luostarinen ahead of the Trade Deadline.
They probably already have.
It makes sense to those of us who see him on a regular basis that Luostarinen would be one of the more under-the-radar coveted players at the deadline.
He’s an incredibly responsible two-way center that has proven he can play just as well on the top line as he can on the third. He’s also under 25 and should only improve in the coming years. He plays an integral role on Florida’s penalty kill, and his hockey IQ is off the charts.
But wait, there’s more.
Luostarinen is also under contract through the end of next season at the bargain rate AAV of $1.5 million, and as if that isn’t handsome enough on its own, when his deal expires next summer, he’ll be under team control as a restricted free agent.
How much did Nashville get for Tanner Jeannot again?
It may not take a haul that size to pry Luostarinen away from Florida, but based on the aforementioned facts, it would more than likely take a substantial offer to get Panthers GM Bill Zito to consider giving up the ascending youngster.
“He’s definitely an underrated part of our team,” said Panthers winger Carter Verhaeghe, who has played the past few weeks on a line with Luostarinen. “He does everything well, and he’s always in the right spot.”
Luostarinen had eight games of NHL experience when he became a member of the Florida Panthers.
He was part the Trade Deadline deal that sent Vincent Trocheck to Carolina back in 2020, and at the time, probably the least recognizable name in the exchange.
Back then, Luostarinen was playing in his first North American season after being a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2017.
Inside hockey circles, the young Finn was known as a smart, two-way center, but there is always mystery surrounding a player making the transition from a life of European hockey to the way the game is played on this side of the pond.
After arriving as a fresh-faced 21-year-old following a few seasons in Liiga, Luostarnen has steadily improved during his time in the NHL, much to the enjoyment of Panthers management.
The defensive elements of his game began as the keys to his ability to stick in the lineup, and while he’s continued to grow as a strong, intelligent center, his offensive talents have gradually improved as well.
Speaking to Luostarinen after a recent Panthers practice, he described his growth in the purest of terms, simply working hard on each individual part of his game, such as skating, shooting and taking faceoffs.
“I’m getting more confidence and I just feel stronger out there,” he said. “Just the little pieces, but putting them all together.”
It’s clear that Luostarinen’s dedication to his craft and attention to detail are paying off in a big way.
Any coach will tell you it’s easy to trust a dependable center, but gaining that kind of a reputation is something that generally comes with age and experience.
A young, two-way center with some offensive upside? That’ll raise more than a few eyebrows and turn more than a few heads.
“What you need eventually is the center iceman has to carry the line, and he is a young player who is able to carry a line now,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of Luostarinen. “I think we could put another young player with him and they’d still be very good, or you could put a more one-dimensional player with him, and he could still be very good, because he can carry the line defensively.”
Bottom line, Luostarinen, at his age and with his contract status, is exactly the kind of player you want to have around.
It’s why teams will continue to show interest in him, and if he remains in Florida, it’s why Zito and his staff will have offered a friendly ‘thanks but no thanks’ to any prospective suitors.
It’s the outcome that Luostarinen would prefer. He is enjoying his life in South Florida, with his fiancé and their fur babies, and sees it as somewhere he could live for a long time.
“There are a lot of good restaurants, and the weather is really, really nice,” he said with a smile. “We have two dogs now, so we take them for walks a lot, once in a while to the beach.”
The trade deadline is Friday at 3 p.m.
Maurice insisted earlier this week that the Panthers would not be sellers.
Florida enters Tuesday’s game against the Lightning sitting three points back of the final Wild Card spot, tied with two other teams, and with more games played than the three teams ahead of them.
Are the Panthers a move or two away from becoming a potential playoff team, and one that can do more than just qualify for the tournament?
Perhaps, but if Florida is not a seller, then Luostarinen and other names that have recently come up in the rumor mill, such as Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Radko Gudas, would be staying put (barring some unexpected Tkachuk-like deal coming about).
We shall see.