On Feb. 20, 2020, the Florida Panthers made one of the biggest deals on the NHL’s Trade Deadline day, sending Vincent Trocheck to the Carolina Hurricanes for four players.
Three of the four players had storylines of interest to help soften the blow of the trade of a fan favorite in Trocheck: Erik Houla and Lucas Wallmark had NHL experience and flew to Arizona to meet the team immediately.
Chase Priskie was a South Florida native who eventually became the first born-and-raised local to play for the Panthers.
The fourth player?
Few had ever heard of him.
They certainly have now.
Eetu Luostarinen may have played eight games with the Hurricanes prior to being traded to the Panthers, yet it would have made sense to assume one of the other three players coming back in the Trocheck deal would have a bigger impact on the team.
Yet here we are.
Is Luostarinen a headline player on the Panthers such as a Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad or Matthew Tkachuk?
But his value to the team certainly cannot be overlooked.
Luostarinen has turned into a very big piece of the Panthers.
”He has earned it,” coach Paul Maurice said.
Luostarinen reported to AHL Springfield following the trade and was on the team’s roster for the Covid playoff bubble in Toronto.
He did not make his official debut with the team until the following season when he ended up playing a variety of bottom-6 roles in 44 of the 56 games.
Last year, he took over centering the Florida fourth line when Noel Acciari was hurt in the preseason and was one of the top defensive forwards on the team — while scoring nine goals with 26 points in 78 games.
Luostarinen said about his increased role with the team last season.
“Getting icetime on the penalty kill, the coach putting you on the ice whenever they want and that’s what I am trying to do,” Luostarinen said. “It feels great to get more and I am going to keep working hard to keep it.’’
One of the things Maurice said he noticed when pouring over video of his new team over the summer was the play of Luostarinen.
With Nick Cousins signed and the likelihood of Eric Staal coming aboard, the Panthers were going to revamp the fourth line — with the thought Luostarinen deserved a bigger role.
He was asked to switch from center to the left wing on the third line to play alongside Anton Lundell, the first time in his pro career Luostarinen was not in the middle of a line.
No problem, he said.
”We knew he could play fourth line center,” Maurice said. “We had some players leave and had (Anthony) Duclair get hurt so we had some holes there. We felt he was very capable of playing in our top-9. It didn’t matter the wing; Lundell can play the wing as well but we want to develop him as a center.
“Luostarinen can play both and at some point in his career, he could be first-line left wing. He has a skill level that is above the fourth line now.”
With Maurice and his new coaching staff putting in new systems, this has been a time of adjustment for a good number of the Panthers. A team that started last season 10-0-1 got off to a 6-4-1 start in this one following Thursday’s shootout win against the host Sharks.
Luostarinen has been thriving in his new role, however, going into Thursday tied for third on the team with three goals in the opening 10 games — and tied for sixth with six points.
“It has been a little different this year but I have really enjoyed it,” Luostarinen said. “I like it. There are a few different things I have to do on the ice, different responsibilities. But I am a two-way player, so things haven’t been so much different.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT LOS ANGELES KINGS
- When: Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
- Where: Crypto.Com Arena, Los Angeles
- 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
- Last season: Los Angeles won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Los Angeles leads 23-14-0, 3 ties