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Early Peek at How the Florida Panthers Could Look on Opening Night



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Taking a look at how the Florida Panthers could lineup from newcomers to mainstays such as, from top right, Evan Rodrigues, Dmitry Kulikov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Anton Lundell and Sasha Barkov. // Photos by AP, Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

It has not even been a month since the Florida Panthers saw their season come to a close but yet many changes have already been made to the team and who will be on it for the 2023-24 season.

With injuries to a number of key players — Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett among them — the Panthers will look different when training camp opens in September.

But how different?

The core of the Panthers will return with a number of key players although the blueline will be retooled.

Florida moved on from Eric and Marc Staal, Colin White and Givani Smith.

Radko Gudas left to sign with Anaheim, Anthony Duclair was traded to to San Jose and Alex Lyon left for the Red Wings.

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Florida did, however, did add a number of players.

Let’s take a look at what the Panthers’ opening night lineup could look like.

With some salary cap breathing room — Florida still has about $400,000 under the salary cap with at least one of its two injured defensemen likely starting on long-term injured reserve allowing the Panthers to have 23 players on the roster.

The Panthers open their new season on Oct. 12 against the host Minnesota Wild.


Florida has a couple of newcomers to give themselves some depth with Kevin Stenlund expected to center the fourth line with Steven Lorentz playing on the right side.

The Panthers also signed Grigori Denisenko to a two-year, one-way deal so he may have a spot in the top-9 if Bennett is unable to start the season.

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In this scenario, Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen would center the second and third lines; since we do not know Bennett’s status right now, we’ll keep him in the opening night lineup.

Evan Rodrigues, signed to a four-year deal after the Duclair trade, is capable of playing throughout the lineup but we’re going to give him a shot to play with Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe right away.

Carter Verhaeghe — Sasha Barkov — Evan Rodrigues

Eetu Luostarinen — Sam Bennett — Matthew Tkachuk

Nick Cousins — Anton Lundell — Sam Reinhart

Ryan Lomberg — Kevin Stenlund — Steven Lorentz

Extras: Grigori Denisenko, Aleksi Heponiemi

In the Mix: Rasmus Asplund, Mackie Samoskevich, Zac Dalpe, Alexander True


Both Ekblad and Montour will miss the start of the season with at least one of them likely to begin on LTIR for the cap relief.

Still, with four defensemen signed — and Lucas Carlsson brought back — on July 1, the Panthers now have plenty of depth to work with.

Florida should be fine defensively.

Now, who goes where?

We expect coach Paul Maurice to mix-and-match throughout the preseason to try and find some chemistry among his defensemen but here is what we’ve got:

Gus Forsling — Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Dmitry Kulikov — Mike Reilly

Josh Mahura — Niko Mikkola

Extra: Lucas Carlsson

In the Mix: Matt Kiersted, Uvis Balinskis

Injured: Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour


This is actually a pretty interesting situation for the Panthers as there is no doubt who comes into the season as the starter, but who is the backup?

Florida signed Spencer Knight to a three-year extension which pays $4.5 million but he stepped away from the team in February.

If he comes back in a good frame of mind and looks good — starting in development camp this week — one has to think Knight has the advantage over newly-signed Anthony Stolarz.

But we’ll see.

Starter: Sergei Bobrovsky

Backup: Spencer Knight

No. 3: Anthony Stolarz


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John Reidinger

What injury does Bennett have ?


First I’ve heard about a Bennett Injury possibly keeping him out of the start of the season. That will hurt. His absence was noticeable last year just due to the fact that it shuffled everybody throughout the lineup, forcing guys into roles that maybe they weren’t used to or ready for, heck, It’s going to be tough enough just trying to teach four new defenseman Maurices system. As I recall, I think it took us more than two and a half months before the team appeared to fully grasp it. That was with, of course, only the coaches teaching, now… Read more »


I think the system is more difficult for the forwards than the D-men, to be honest. It’s a man-on-man system so the D just need to make sure they stay on their assignment.


I hear what you’re saying but there are still defensive systems to learn, they don’t necessarily play a true “man on man” in hockey, guys “switch” all the time, and knowing when to make that switch and when to stay on a guy is different in each coach’s system, plus each specific player is going to be different in there tendencies, obviously , like when do guys tend to pinch and when do the decide to hold the line as opposed to dropping back, all that has got to be learned by their defensive partners,which usually doesn’t happen overnight, granted… Read more »


Questions: Why, on your lines, did you inexplicably break up Cousins/Bennett/Tkachuk? Luostarinen needs to be on that 3rd line with Lundy & Reino. Please, explain…

Also, I do not understand what problem this organization has (and it goes back to the D.T./Coach Q days) with Lucas Carlsson… He needs to be on the opening night roster and is a MUCH BETTER D-man than Josh Mahura. It is a real head scratcher, that’s for sure.

Last edited 2 months ago by Tom

Assuming that the team thinks that starting in the A is a better plan for Knight, how much of his cap hit gets buried?


$1.15 million would be the cap relief if sent to the AHL, So still 3.35m on the cap basically making enough room for Stolarz 1.1m.

Cats and Leafs

One of the most interesting things to watch will be who makes it to the top 6 on D once Ekblad and Montour come back. With Forsling and Mikkola, 4 of the positions are pretty much locked. We will see who succeeds from the remaining 5, but I think Reilly will be another Zito reclamation project that will prove fruitful


Should make for great competition, knowing your spot is not guaranteed. My guess (or hope) is we get the version of OEL that’s closer to his last year in Phoenix than what we saw last year in Vancouver. He is healthy, for now anyway, something that eluded him most of last year. If he stays healthy we should get the best version of him, which isn’t too bad. He, and Reilly for that matter, will be eager to prove they belong in this league. All of that should make for some great competition and probably some pissed off healthy scratches… Read more »


That defensive unit will be one of the worst in Panthers’ history. They went shopping for bargain bin players, but got the leftovers from a month old going-out-of-business sale.

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