SUNRISE — Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett is expected to miss the start of the regular season with a lower-body injury.
Per coach Paul Maurice, Bennett sustained the injury during a play along the boards in Thursday’s preseason win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I would list him as longer than day-to-day,” Maurice said.
“He is doubtful for the opener. I would say he misses a couple weeks, maybe.”
Bennett had 16 goals and 40 points in 63 games last year.
While the 6-foot-1 center was recovering from injuries sustained in the playoffs over the summer, the injury he suffered in Tampa Bay is a new one.
Bennett was spotted in a walking boot on Saturday morning before the team’s final preseason game against the Lightning.
Eetu Luostarinen will take Bennett’s spot as the second-line center alongside Matthew Tkachuk and Nick Cousins for the time being.
The 25-year-old had a breakout 2022-23 campaign, scoring 17 goals and 43 points in 82 games last season.
Luostarinen broke into Florida’s lineup as its fourth-line center before settling into a role on the wing last year.
The Panthers trust the 6-foot-3 forward to move back and forth between the center and wing positions when they need him to.
“You are not replacing Sam because he does unique things for our team but Luostarinen shifts into the middle seamlessly,” Maurice said. “Whatever line he goes to, he makes it better.
”It’s a luxury to have a guy that can play wing and play it well. But these young guys come in and a lot of times, they don’t get to play center. He go got a whole year of center ice and then moved to the wing, so when he comes back to it, he’s got experience.”
Rookie Mackie Samoskevich is also expected to make the opening night roster to help mitigate the offense lost from Bennett’s absence.
The 20-year-old impressed through camp, putting up five points (three goals, two assists) and showing maturity on both ends of the ice.
He is expected to start the season in Luostarinen’s spot at left wing with Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart.
“The hands and the shot are there and you’ve got to give young players the room to use it,” Maurice said.
“But you also have to know that the game is going to change. The NHL game is so much faster, so I think he’s done a good job of showing his hands but not over-showing it.”
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS (4-3)
PRESEASON VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (4-2)
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- 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); Tampa Bay 2, Florida 0 (Oct. 3)