TAMPA — Many of the Florida Panthers top prospects will be on the ice and taking on other teams as they open up a three-game set in a rookie showcase tournament Saturday morning in Wesley Chapel.
The Lightning are playing host to the four-team event which features the Panthers, Carolina and Nashville.
The Panthers open with Carolina Saturday at 10 a.m. and play the Predators Sunday at the same time.
Tampa Bay is opening the showcase to the public (it’s about a 3 1/2-hour drive from western Broward County) and the Panthers will stream their games on their website.
The Panthers, who are expected to have goalie Knight in net, will have AHL Charlotte coach Geordie Kinnear behind the bench along with new Florida assistant coach Tuomo Ruutu.
For a good number of players on both sides, this will be the first game they have played since Covid-19 shut things down in March 2020 as some college and junior teams did not compete last season.
The Panthers certainly were excited to see their players on the ice in a formal setting.
They’re even more eager to see them against peers from other organizations.
“It will be fun to watch these guys live,” said Gregory Campbell, the former Panthers’ forward who is the team’s VP of player personnel and development.
“A lot of times, you fly these guys in, you have one practice and you get ‘er going. The guys don’t know each other. Now, this is a different story. We have had five days of camp, the guys know each other. They feel comfortable with each other and with us. …
“It’s going to be able to watch some live hockey again, see some games and really see these players up close and personal and evaluate their chance of going forward.”
“There is a little more evaluation going on now for a couple of reasons. One, the timing of it allows
“It has been a very competitive camp. It has been about trying to give these players some .”
Florida has a number of players in development camp such as Serron Noel and Karch Bachman who started their professional careers last season.
Noel spent his season with the shared Tampa Bay AHL team in Syracuse, only getting into eight games.
Bachman, drafted by Florida in 2015, went to the lesser-division ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits but got into 32 games.
Both players say they learned a lot from their experiences but are glad things are getting back to normal.
“Getting a development camp under our belts before training camp is a huge advantage for us,” said Noel, a 6-foot-5 power forward who will probably start the season in Charlotte but could find himself in Sunrise as the season progresses.
“We’ll definitely be in game-shape coming into camp.”
Said Bachman: “It was good hockey, especially last year with a lot of teams opting out. The talent-level was high and the competition-level was high with guys playing for jobs. I really enjoyed it. It was hard, fast hockey. In that league, you play tons of games, especially last year. The opportunity was great.”
While much of the attention during these coming three games, not to mention the start of training camp next week, will be focused on what Anton Lundell does, there will be plenty of eyes on Logan Hutsko.
A native of Tampa, Hutsko says he plans on having a large number of family and friends in the stands rooting he and the Panthers on.
“Going to play in this tournament is going to be a lot of fun,” Hutsko said. “Getting this tune-up before has been good, so I think we’re all excited to get going.”
There was some worry Hutsko was going to sign elsewhere after he returned for his senior season at Boston College, but general manager Bill Zito said they had a good relationship with Hutsko and they weren’t worried he would leave as a free agent.
As it turns out, Hutsko sustained a ankle injury in February which ended his season prematurely with four goals and 11 points in 11 games.
Hutsko, his season over, signed with the Panthers and began his rehabilitation. There are few players as happy to be back on the ice — and looking to play some meaningful hockey down the road — than Hutsko.
“I feel better than ever,” said Hutsko, who scored 19 goals with 33 points as a junior at BC.
“I had another injury at the end of last season unfortunately and it was out of my control but I have had a lot of time this summer to get my strength up and get into the best shape. I am really excited to get things going.”
Other top prospects to keep an eye on include Grigori Denisenko, Kiersted, Max Gildon and John Ludvig.
The Panthers have a number of good players who could make an impact in Sunrise over the next few years.
“We definitely have a talented group of guys here,” Campbell said. “I think the games will highlight their talents and their strengths.”
Florida Panthers development camp roster
91- Eric Alarie, 85- Karch Bachman, 41- Henry Bowlby, 14- Grigori Denisenko, 89- Logan Hutsko, 15- Anton Lundell, 54- Justin Nachbaur, 18- Serron Noel, 78- Simon Pinard, 79- Cole Schwindt, 24- Justin Sourdif, 75- Connor Trenholm, 84- Trevor Wong.
47- Frédéric Brunet, 38- Robert Calisti, 88- Max Gildon, 6- Braden Hache, 8- Matt Kiersted, 36- Jacob LeGuerrier, 53- John Ludvig, 12- Evan Nause.
60- Olivier Adam, 39- Tye Austin, 30- Spencer Knight
Prospect Showcase schedule
At AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel
- Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers | 10 a.m.
- Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Nashville Predators | 2 p.m. — at Amalie Arena, Tampa
- Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers | 10 a.m.
- Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning | 1 p.m
- Nashville Predaotrs vs. Carolina Hurricanes | 10 a.m.
- Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning | 1 p.m.
Tickets: Open to the public
AdventHealth CenterIce: 3173 Cypress Ridge Boulevard, Wesley Chapel