CORAL SPRINGS — After being on hand for three different playoff runs in the span of three months, Mackie Samoskevich has his sights set on making the opening night roster with the Florida Panthers.
The 5-foot-11 right winger had a standout sophomore season for the University of Michigan, scoring 20 goals and 43 points in 39 games before the Wolverines were ousted in the Frozen Four.
Samoskevich then joined the Charlotte Checkers for the AHL playoffs, adding four assists in seven games before joining the Panthers as a Black Ace.
After getting a taste of professional hockey — and life in South Florida — the 2021 first-round pick believes he has what it takes to stick around.
“I’d love to play down here,” Samoskevich said. “That’s the main goal.
“I don’t think it’s a far-fetched goal. I know I could do it. I think I can play up in the big leagues. I’ve worked so hard this summer. It’s going pretty well so far.”
The 20-year-old made big strides toward achieving that goal this past season at Michigan.
After losing 13 players to the pros during the offseason, the Wolverines needed younger players like Samoskevich to fill the void to sustain their status as a college hockey powerhouse.
Samoskevich, Florida’s first-round pick in 2021, delivered.
His 20 goals and 43 points were second on the team behind 2023 third-overall pick Adam Fantilli and Michigan finished the season as the No. 3 team in the nation.
The Wolverines fell short of their 10th national title, losing 5-2 in the Frozen Four semifinal to eventual champion Quinnipiac.
“It was huge for me,” Samoskevich said of his season in Ann Arbor. “We lost so many players going into my sophomore year so, I had to step up big.
After taking a couple of days to decide what was next for his hockey career, Samoskevich decided to jump right back into playing in big games.
He played two regular season games for the Checkers, dishing out two assists, before being part of another playoff run.
“Even those two games, taking that big step before the playoffs, were completely different,” Samoskevich said. “I think, in the long run, it helped my game for sure.”
Samoskevich tallied two assists in each of Charlotte’s two playoff series — including their three-game victory over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms — but ultimately saw the Checkers fall short in a second-round loss to the eventual champion Hershey Bears.
But perhaps what was more impressive to coach Geordie Kinnear than his scoring output so early into his professional career was his ability to recognize and learn from his mistakes.
“What I like about Mackie is that he understands the honest evaluation of his play,” Kinnear said.
“When he didn’t have a good game, I would call him into my office and I said ‘What do you think of your game?’ And he said ‘I wasn’t very good.’ And I said ‘Well, everyone is going to have a game like that so go out there and be better.’
“You need that from players, to have an honest evaluation of their own play, and as a coach, it makes it easy. He came in and was a great player for us… His growth from when I first saw him to now is awesome.”
After getting sent packing by the Bears, Samoskevich signed his entry-level contract and joined the Panthers’ taxi squad as Florida was making its run to the Stanley Cup Final.
While he was not practicing with the main group, Samoskevich and the rest of Florida’s young players got to attend every home game while staying fresh on the ice just in case any of them needed to be called upon.
What he learned in his time around the Panthers was similar to the lessons he learned in his previous two playoff appearances: It takes a lot to win.
“Down the run, it’s way harder hockey,” Samoskevich said.
“There are mistakes you can’t really make and not getting frustrated is a huge thing. In that Hershey series, they’re a good team and they don’t give you much. So, not getting frustrated through getting nothing and taking your chances is a big thing.
“At Michigan, the one-game elimination is pretty hard. So I think you have to take it shift-by-shift and step-by-step.”
With a trip to the NCAA title game in 2022 and a 2021 USHL Championship with the Chicago Steel under his belt, Samoskevich has played in a lot of big games throughout his career.
And the lessons he learned from them can quickly translate to a Florida team that is gunning for serious success.
“It’s an education, right?” Kinnear said.
“You have to learn to go through it to understand it and you hear [Paul Maurice] talk about how hard it actually is to win. You have to go through it to understand it. He has been through three [runs] now and he is starting to understand it. You develop by having a couple of wins under your belt, now you have a winner and it becomes contagious. That’s what you want.”
Samoskevich is taking every opportunity to make sure he can become a winner at the NHL quickly.
After he wraps up development camp with the Panthers, he is set to take the ice with former teammate and 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power to continue to train for the 2023-24 season.
With 2023 Calder Trophy winner Matty Beniers and a number of successful Michigan teammates in the NHL, Samoskevich is taking every opportunity to learn how to become a better player in order to compete for a spot on the Panthers.
“I’ll be able to pick their brains and know what it takes to come into an NHL training camp,” Samoskevich said.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from them so far is to not get too high or too low. Coming into the year, It’s so hard to get frustrated and down on yourself and obviously, they are such good players so it’s easy for them. But I know I’m a good player and I am not letting myself get too high on good days or too low on bad days.”
Does Kinnear think Samoskevich can achieve his lofty goal?
We’ll wait and see about that…
“I go day-by-day,” Kinnear said.
“We’re in development camp and we’re in Day 2. I want him to get better tomorrow and that should be his focus. My focus is to get him better tomorrow.”
PANTHERS DEVELOPMENT CAMP SCHEDULE
(Open to the public at Coral Springs IceDen)
- Today: Group B 9:30-10:30; Group A 10:45-11:45
- Wednesday: Group A 9:30-10:30; Group B 10:45-11:45
- Thursday: Group B 9:30-10:30; Group A 10:45-11:45
- Friday: Group A vs. Group B 10-11
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency period is open
- Today-Friday: Development camp, Coral Springs
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs