SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have a very versatile forward in Eetu Luostarinen who will be back at center tonight when they face the Seattle Kraken.
Luostarinen has been filling in for Sam Bennett on the second line since Opening Night.
When Bennett returned to practice Thursday, Luostarinen went to the left side of the third line — but when Bennett left practice on Friday, coach Paul Maurice said it was an easy adjustment.
“Your line plan that you have for the past two hours just disintegrates,” Maurice said Saturday morning. “But it’s not a problem. Lousty just changes his sweater and then everything falls back into place.
“The debate now is whether he is a better centerman or a better winger? When you don’t know the answer, that’s a good thing. He can play both very comfortably and depending on the matchup, you might see Luostarinen and Lundell flip positions if I need a different look.”
Luostarinen is a natural center, so sliding from the middle to one of the wings is not much of a big deal.
The Panthers have relied on his versatility since last season — and truly missed him when he got hurt blocking a shot in the second period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hurricanes.
With Luostarinen unable to play against the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, Florida’s depth was put to the test when Matthew Tkachuk was hurt.
Healthy once more, Luostarinen is showing his value to the Panthers again.
“It has been a little bit of a challenge for me but I am just trying to do the best on the ice I can every game,” Luostarinen said. “I have played center for most of my career, so it is not that big of a deal. I just go on the ice, do my job.”
Bennett skated on Saturday but will not play as Luostarinen returns to the second line with Carter Verhaeghe and Tkachuk.
Maurice said Bennett could return to the lineup at anytime — including Monday at Boston.
— Dmitry Kulikov missed the past two days of practice with an illness but skated Saturday and will be in the lineup. Mike Reilly will be the lone healthy scratch tonight.
— The starting goalies are not known although the Panthers will go back to Sergei Bobrovsky.
Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said Friday he had not made the decision whether to go back to Joey Daccord (1-0-1 in the past two games) or Philipp Grubauer.
— The Panthers had good news on Saturday as Maurice said that injured defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour would return to practice on Sunday. The two could be back in a month.
PANTHERS ON DECK
SEATTLE KRAKEN @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
- DraftKings odds — Panthers Favored: Money Line (-142); Puck line (-1.5, +160); Over/Under 6.5 (-118/-102)
- This Season: @ Florida, Saturday; @ Seattle, Dec. 12
- Last season: Tied 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Seattle leads 3-1-0
- Up Next for the Panthers: Monday at Boston, 7
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (3-3-0) LINEUP
17 Evan Rodrigues // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
21 Nick Cousins // 15 Anton Lundell // 67 Will Lockwood
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 Balinksins
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
41 Anthony Stolarz
Scratched: Mike Reilly
Injured: Aaron Ekblad (LTIR-shoulder), Brandon Montour (IR-shoulder), Sam Bennett (IR-LBI), Jonah Gadjovich (UBI)
PROJECTED SEATTLE KRAKEN (2-4-2) LINEUP
52 Tye Kartye // 10 Matty Beniers // 7 Jordan Eberle
17 Jaden Schwartz // 21 Alex Wennberg // 22 Oliver Bjorkstrand
20 Eeli Tolvanen // 37 Yanni Gourde // 19 Jared McCann
94 Devin Shore // 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare // 56 Kailer Yamamoto
29 Vince Dunn // 6 Adam Larsson
24 Jamie Oleksiak // 3 Will Borgen
8 Brian Dumoulin // 4 Justin Schultz
31 Philipp Grubauer
35 Joey Daccord
Scratched: Jaycob Megna
Injured: Brandon Tanev (lower body), Andre Burakovsky (upper body)