CORAL SPRINGS — After the Florida Panthers cut their roster to 35 players on Monday, they showcased a potential look at what could be their lineup on Opening Night in Minnesota.
As the Panthers enter their final three preseason games, they will begin to roll out the veterans as they prepare for the season-opener on Oct. 12.
Florida held its first practice since narrowing its roster on Monday and it provided some insight on how their forward lines could look this season.
Here is what they ran with:
Carter Verhaeghe – Zac Dalpe* – Evan Rodrigues
Mackie Samoskevich – Sam Bennett – Matthew Tkachuk
Eetu Luostarinen – Anton Lundell – Sam Reinhart
Ryan Lomberg – Steven Lorentz – Nick Cousins
*Dalpe subbed in for Sasha Barkov, who missed practice with an illness.
The Panthers are rolling a lineup very similar to the one they went into the Stanley Cup Final with — although there are some obvious additions (and subtractions).
Barkov would be flanked by Verhaeghe and another speedy winger in Rodrigues, who takes Anthony Duclair’s spot after he was traded in the offseason.
Reinhart is paired with the same young Finns on a line which arguably won Florida its second-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with chippy two-way play.
The big changes in the forward core lie within the second and fourth lines.
Cousins was initially expected to retain his spot on the second line after he showed to have some serious chemistry with Bennett and Tkachuk during the playoffs.
But Samoskevich is seriously forcing Paul Maurice’s hand.
The 20-year-old has six points (three goals, three assists) in his first four preseason games and has clearly looked like an NHL-ready player since arriving at Panthers development camp in July.
Samoskevich’s skillset is not suited for a gritty fourth-line role — the 5-foot-11 winger plays a game predicated on speed and skill, which requires heavy minutes — so Maurice adjusted the lineup accordingly.
“He’s had a good camp,” Maurice said on Monday.
“I am going to put him in a number of different positions in terms of playing him with veteran players to get a better read.”
While the line may not stick, there is very good evidence to suggest it might just work.
Samoskevich could play a similar role to what Verhaeghe did next to Tkachuk and Bennett — and that was a line Maurice rolled out regularly in clutch situations throughout the playoffs.
The rookie’s speed, hands and shot could at least provide a comparable impact.
He certainly showed he could when he doubled his goal total from 10 to 20 this past season at the University of Michigan.
Florida’s fourth line also looks a lot stronger than it did last season.
Lomberg and Cousins found chemsitry alongside Eric Staal last season and the Panthers made an upgrade in the center spot over the offseason.
Lorentz was acquired as part of the deal which sent Duclair to San Jose and he looks like a perfect fit to slot on that line and the penalty kill.
He is already proving to be a stable two-way presence who fits the same heavy forechecking style his two linemates play.
There are still a few players who will get chances to prove they can stick around to fight for spots on the fourth line: namely Kevin Stenlund but also Will Lockwood and Zac Dalpe.
Chances are, the Panthers will look close to this when they take on the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 12.
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS (3-2)
PRESEASON VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (3-1)
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amway Center, Orlando
- TV/Radio: None
- Streaming: FloridaPanthers.com
- Previous Exhibition Games: Florida 5, Nashville 0 (Sept. 25); Florida 5, Nashville 2 (Sept. 25); Carolina 4, Florida 1 (Sept. 27); Florida 4, Carolina 2 (Sept. 29); Ottawa 4, Florida 2 (Oct. 1)