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Coyotes visit Florida Panthers In Battle Among Old Friends

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Arizona Coyotes center Nick Bjugstad celebrates his overtime goal against the Colorado Avalanche with Lawson Crouse on Nov. 30 in Tempe. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

If you notice some familiar names on the backs of the Arizona jerseys tonight in Sunrise, it is because several Coyotes have a connection to the Florida Panthers.

Three current Coyotes were Florida draft picks — two getting their NHL start with the Panthers.

The biggest name, of course, is Nick Bjugstad.

A first-round pick by the rebuilding Panthers in 2010, Bjugstad spent three years at the University of Minnesota, went pro with the Panthers without ever playing a game in the minors.

Bjugstad may have been slowed by injuries, but he was a very popular player with the Panthers as he spent parts of seven seasons in Florida, reaching a career-high of 24 goals in 2014-15.

He is perhaps best remembered for his game-winning goal in 2014 against the Washington Capitals.

It came in the 20th-round of the shootout — the longest in NHL history.

 Josh Brown, a heavy-hitting stay-at-home defender, was a sixth-round pick by Florida in 2013.

After knocking around the AHL and ECHL, he spent part of 2018-19 and the entire next season with the big club, where he impressed with his willingness to mix it up.

 With an ample supply of young defensemen under contract, Florida traded Brown’s rights to the Ottawa Senators just before the 2021 season in return for a draft pick. That became defenseman Mike Benning, who is currently playing in Charlotte.

Lawson Crouse was Florida’s first-round pick at the 2015 draft held in South Florida, but he never played a game for the Panthers.

Crouse became a victim of the business side of hockey.

Before the 2016-17 season, Florida GM Tom Rowe cleared some salary cap space on Arizona’s John Chayka, who had plenty of cap space and was stockpiling draft picks and young talent.

Part of the price for Rowe to dump the contract (three remaining years at $5.5 million per) of an injured Dave Bolland was Crouse.

Crouse has flourished in the desert.

The two draft choices Florida received in the deal resulted in the selections of Serron Noel and Max Gildon, neither of whom ever played an NHL game.

The pipeline in the other direction was equally active.

Matthew Tkachuk was born in Arizona while his dad, Keith, played for the Coyotes.

Unlike Auston Matthews, who grew up in the Phoenix area, Tkachuk moved on to St. Louis as a youngster when his dad was traded to the Blues.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson was probably one of the Coyotes’ all-time greats.

The former captain of the Coyotes spent eleven seasons in Arizona, when the team made the playoffs only twice. He still holds the franchise record for goals by a defenseman in a career (128).

Nick Cousins spent two seasons with Arizona, establishing himself as a solid bottom-six forward. In 2017-18, he recorded a career-high of twelve goals. He later moved on to Montreal, Vegas, Nashville, and Florida.

Despite the familiarity, tonight’s battle will not be friendly. 

The much-improved Coyotes are in a position to earn their second playoff appearance since 2012.

They enter tonight’s contest fresh from a victory over the Penguins.

Bjugstad and Crouse are both enjoying renaissance seasons, and the team has star power in Clayton Keller.

Goalie Connor Ingram is on a career season pace, with a ​2.47 GAA and .911 save percentage.

It should be a fun one in Sunrise tonight.

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ON DECK

ARIZONA COYOTES @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series — At Arizona: Panthers 4, Coyotes 1 (Jan 2). At Florida: Wednesday.
  • Last Season: Tied 1-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Tied, 20-20, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Friday at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.

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