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Future of the Florida Panthers Get a Head Start



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The Florida Panthers were on the ice for development camp on Monday afternoon — with some new Stanley Cup swag imbedded in the ice. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

FORT LAUDERDALE — The future of the Florida Panthers was on the ice Monday afternoon on the opening day of development camp at the IcePlex.

Although a majority of the 39 players who are taking part in this four-day camp will never suit up for the Panthers, there are more than a few who will.

Perhaps even this season.


Hey, stranger things have happened.

“This is an important part of the process to filter in how we want to play as a group, how the organization likes to play, things that are important to Paul” said Geordie Kinnear, the Charlotte Checkers coach who is running the camp.

“We have a lot of great videos to show from the playoffs, which is great.”

A good number of players in development camp were recently drafted by the Panthers and will be returning to college or to their junior team this coming season.

But for players like Marek Alscher, Josh Davies, Sandis Vilmanis, and Mikulas Hovorka, this camp is a stepping stone to their final push toward training camp.

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All four of those players should be in the mix for jobs with the Panthers.

More than likely, they will start the season with the Checkers in the American Hockey League.

Regardless, this camp is a great leaping off point to the meat of the offseason.

“The summer is big, and this summer will be the biggest of my career,” said Valmanis, 20, who was a fifth-round pick by Florida in 2022 and spent the past two seasons playing in the Ontario Hockey League. “I have to get stronger, have to get smarter, and faster on and off the ice. I have to worry about the small details, put the work in. If I put a lot of work in, I think it is going to work out.’’

Alscher, a third-round pick in 2022, is in a similar situation.

Both he and Valmanis signed their entry-level deals with the Panthers and will likely be playing for the Checkers this season.

Coming to South Florida for this camp, being part of what is now a Stanley Cup-winning organization, can certainly be beneficial to both moving forward.

Neither player is a stranger to the Panthers, both having been part of development, rookie, and training camps the past three years.

“I feel the opportunity to meet the new guys, as compared to the first year, this is much different,’’ Alscher said. “I know most the guys, most of the coaches, most of the staff. … We have physical testing here, and will get some feedback on what I need to work on. What I take from this camp is what I need to work on in the summer. I’m trying to get all the feedback from the coaches and the trainers, then work on it.’’

While Alscher and Valmanis are gearing up for what they hope is a long stay in training camp with the Panthers in a few months, a player such as Hunter St. Martin is getting to know the organization.

Consider this camp an introduction to the Panthers.

St. Martin was drafted in the sixth round just last weekend, and, this is his first experience with the team.

Save for watching them on television.

“This has been surreal, watching this team win the Stanley Cup and then you’re picked by them. That’s incredible,” said St. Martin, who will return to the Medicine Hat Tigers of the OHL this season.

St. Martin was readying for a round of golf when he was selected by the Panthers, seeing his name pop up as he watched the draft on his phone.

For a kid from Edmonton, going to the Panthers is sort of funny.

St. Martin joked that his mom is scared to wear Florida gear out of the house — and even though he may have been rooting for his hometown Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final, he is all about the Panthers now.

Especially since he had a feeling they were going to take him in the draft.

“Actually, that was the top team I thought I would go to,” St. Martin said. “So, I was kind of watching their picks a little closer. When it came to teams that seemed most interested, the ones I talked to most, it was always Florida.”

More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Panthers:
  • NHL Free Agency: Opened July 1
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Today-Thursday
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Sept. 22-Oct. 5
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: Oct. 8 vs. Bruins


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