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Florida Panthers host Red Wings in Battle of Top Rookies

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Florida Panthers rookie center Anton Lundell celebrates a goal with his teammate at FLA Live Arena during the 2021-22 NHL season. Lundell is in the running for the Calder Trophy which goes to the league’s top rookie. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — Last Saturday, the Florida Panthers played host to three of the top scorers in the NHL when the Edmonton Oilers came to town.

A week later, three of the top rookies in the league will be on display when Detroit visits FLA Live Arena.

The Red Wings, like the Oilers before them, have two of the three players to watch in this game.

Defenseman Moritz Seider and winger Lucas Raymond are two of the top candidates in the rookie of the year race with Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras.

Anton Lundell is right in the conversation — and deservedly so.

”He has been a huge boost and he is really ahead of schedule,” coach Andrew Brunette said. “We knew we were getting a really good player and a really smart player … but to come in here, and play at the level of competition, we didn’t know he was this advanced at his level of development. It has been fortunate for this group that we have been able to plug him in and he took the ball and ran with it.”

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Lundell, Florida’s third line center, has impressed the Panthers to the point where no one considers him a rookie anymore.

Actually, that designation probably lasted a few weeks.

Lundell, 20, was Florida’s first-round pick in 2020 and spent the remainder of that season not only playing for HIFK in Finland but in two big international tournaments.

Although injured at the start of training camp, he was so impressive when he did get there that he was not only given a spot on the 23-man roster to start but has been in the daily lineup — save for injury — since Day 1.

”No challenge has been too big for him,” Brunette said. “He wants to be a great player, he doesn’t just want to be good. Anything you throw at him, he wants more. It is fun to see him develop and we trust him in every situation.”

With 12 goals and 36 points in 50 games, Lundell came into Friday ranked fifth among all rookies in scoring. His .72 points per night also ranks fifth.

Lundell’s plus-29 leads all first-year NHL players.

And, aside from Toronto’s Michael Bunting, Lundell is the only rookie in the Calder talk who is assured of being in the postseason.

The trust Florida places in Lundell — he is one of the Panthers’ top defensive forwards who is on the top penalty kill unit — is quite impressive considering his team’s standing.

“His game, his personality, how he carries himself around the rink and off the ice. He’s a real pro, right?,” said Aaron Ekblad, who won the Calder in 2015.

“He takes care of himself, he’s in the gym a lot. You can see him following in Barky’s foosteps. On the ice, he is extremely responsible defensively which you don’t see in a guy like that. He is a 200-foot player, he’s great in the offensive zone and is always responsible in the d-zone. Does a good job on the penalty kill. It has been fun to watch.”

Ekblad also had praise for Seider and Raymond as well.

“(Seider), I have been extremely impressed with his game,’’ Ekblad said. “It’s so fun to watch all the young players in the league. Lucas Raymond, his hands and his ability to make plays and score goals. He does all the little things. We know we have our hands full. But I love seeing young guys come in and make a difference.”

SPEAKING OF ROOKIES…

Spencer Knight, who is expected to be back with the Panthers as early as Monday, got his second consecutive win for AHL Charlotte on Friday night.

Knight made 20 saves in a 5-2 win over the host Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Charlotte got goals from Logan Hutsko, Zac Dalpe, Henry Bowlby, Chase Priskie and Cole Schwindt in the win.

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