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Florida Panthers Change Fourth Line. It Starts with Kevin Stenlund

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Columbus Blue Jackets center Zac Dalpe (center) is congratulated by Kevin Stenlund (11) and defenseman Andrew Peeke (2) during the third period of game against the Panthers on April 19, 2021, in Sunrise. Stenlund signed with the Panthers as a free agent on July 1; Dalpe has been a member of the Florida organization since 2021 and Peeke is from Parkland. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

When the Florida Panthers went into free agency, they wanted to upgrade a few issues.

One of those was their fourth line.

Signing Kevin Stenlund in the early goings of July 1 was the start of Florida’s change.

The Panthers went younger with Stenlund as he will be 27 by the time this season starts and he has only played in parts of five NHL seasons with Columbus and Winnipeg.

Although he was not with coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg, he was under the watchful eye of general manager Bill Zito during their Columbus days.

Zito was the assistant general manager of the Blue Jackets when they drafted Stenlund in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft — and had him with the AHL Cleveland Monsters for 99 games, including 32 during Zito’s final season in Ohio.

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“He is a 6-foot-5 center, right shot,’’ said Zito, who had served as GM of the Monsters as part of his responsibilities with the Blue Jackets. “He is a pretty dynamic guy who has a big shot and kind of cut his teeth now in Winnipeg as a penalty killer and as a fourth-line guy.

“We wanted to add some size to our lineup and this is a really unique guy. He has skills, he can shoot it. We had him in Columbus before, so I know him. He is a good guy and a good teammate. I think everyone will enjoy seeing him because that package of size, skating and skill is rare.’’

Stenlund, who has 17 goals and 29 points in his 125 NHL games, is going to be asked to step up a little more with the Panthers.

He got a one-year deal with Florida worth $1 million but it appears he will go into camp as their fourth-line center, taking over for Eric Staal.

For a good portion of last season, the Panthers had Staal centering Ryan Lomberg, Colin White, Givani Smith and Nick Cousins.

Going into camp, it appears Florida would have Stenlund at center with a couple of possibilities on his wing with either Lomberg or Cousins on the left with newly added Steven Lorentz on the right.

Florida could also have youngsters like Grigori Denisenko and Mackie Samoskevich factor in.

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