The Florida Panthers will have not one but two players making their NHL debut tonight when they open the 2023-24 NHL season against the host Minnesota Wild.
One is 20-year-old forward Mackie Samoskevich and that comes as no surprise. The rookie out of the University of Michigan has been playing on the third line all week and his debut was well known.
But Uvis Balinskis getting the call on Florida’s third defensive pairing was less predictable as it looked like the 27-year-old who has spent his entire pro career playing either in the KHL or the Czech Extraliga was going to be a healthy scratch for the opener.
Yet here he is.
“You only get one first game in the NHL,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said following the team’s morning skate at Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul. “When they get to the rink, I tell them ‘I really don’t care how you play tonight. I want you to be nervous for the national anthem. Be overwhelmed and take it all in’.”
This will be Florida’s first real game since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final back in June and the team has undergone quite a few changes since.
Of Florida’s 20-man game roster, nine were not with the Panthers last season.
“We have a lot of turnover this year,’’ Maurice said. “We will have to get to know each other real quick.’’
The Xcel Center used to be a house of horrors for the Panthers as Minnesota went 10-0-1 against Florida from 2001-18.
The Panthers have certainly turned their fortunes around in St. Paul, however, coming into Thursday night riding a four-game winning streak in Minnesota.
— The Wild are 8-1-1 in home season-openers at Xcel and 8-2-1 overall. The Panthers are 5-9-1-2 when opening the season away from home — but have won their past three.
— Tonight’s starting goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Filip Gustavsson.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT MINNESOTA WILD
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Wild Favored: Money Line (-125); Puck line (-1.5, +190); Over/Under 6.5 (-115/-110)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- This season: Florida @ Minnesota, Thursday; Minnesota @ Florida, Jan. 19
- All-time regular season series: Minnesota leads 18-10-2, 1 tie
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Winnipeg Jets, 4 p.m. (BSF, 790-AM)
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 17 Evan Rodrigues
21 Nick Cousins // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
25 Mackie Samoskevich // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg //82 Kevin Stenlund // 18 Steven Lorentz
42 Gus Forsling // 91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson
77 Niko Mikkola // 7 Dmitry Kulikov
28 Josh Mahura // 26 Uvis Balinskis
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
41 Anthony Stolarz
Injured: Aaron Ekblad (LTIR-shoulder); Brandon Montour (IR-shoulder); Sam Bennett (LBI)
Scratched: Justin Sourdif, Mike Reilly
PROJECTED MINNESOTA WILD LINEUP
97 Kirill Kaprizov // 38 Ryan Hartman // 36 Mats Zuccarello
90 Marcus Johansson // 14 Joel Eriksson Ek // 12 Matthew Boldy
17 Marcus Foligno // 23 Marco Rossi // 89 Frederick Gaudreau
20 Pat Maroon // 26 Connor Dewar // 21 Brandon Duhaime
25 Jonas Brodin // 7 Brock Faber
5 Jacob Middleton // 33 Alex Goligoski
4 Jon Merrill // 2 Calen Addison
32 Filip Gustavsson
29 Marc Andre-Fleury