It has not even been two months since Matthew Tkachuk was traded to the Florida Panthers and already the All-Star forward says he feels right at home.
Tkachuk, who has settled into a place in Fort Lauderdale, spent a few weeks at home in St. Louis before joining a large number of his new teammates for casual workouts at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
With training camp opening next week, Tkachuk says he is excited to work with Florida’s new coaching staff and get down to the business of hockey — but if he could, he would skip right to October.
“Now I am here for good and I am loving every minute of it,’’ Tkachuk said before he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Marlins Park on Monday night.
“It has been an unbelievable change so far and it keeps getting better and better each day.”
Tkachuk says he has been welcomed to the Panthers with open arms, getting text messages from his new teammates not long after the blockbuster trade was announced on July 22.
Now in South Florida, he says the on-ice workouts and the off-ice gatherings with his new friends has made the transition “feel real.”
Tkachuk, 25, signed an eight-year contract extension with the Flames just prior to the trade to the Panthers making his deal the first sign-and-trade in NHL history.
In case anyone forgot, Florida acquired Tkachuk for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a first-round draft pick.
Huberdeau also signed an eight-year max deal with the Flames — only he’s staying in Alberta.
“I’m here and I’m not going anywhere else,” Tkachuk said. “The season is right around the corner. This is where you start to get the goosebumps and the jitters. It’s a great time of year but it’s also the time of year where you are so close but still have the next few weeks to get ready.
”If it was up to me, I would fast-forward to that Game 1 right now. It’s an exciting time, practicing with basically everyone on the team. It has been so good to get to know everyone on and off the ice. It’s going to be a special year.
“We have a lot of great players. It’s just getting acclimated to the guys, there’s a lot of different players from the past few years. It’s not just me; there are a lot of new faces. … We have done so much team stuff from the informal skates and hanging out off the ice that it shouldn’t take us too long to get acclimated with each other.’’
As Tkachuk says, he is not the only new face in town.
Florida made a number of moves in the offseason with the likes of Colin White, Marc Staal, Rudolfs Balcers, Nick Cousins and more joining the team.
The Panthers also have a new coaching staff led by Paul Maurice.
Training camp will open Sept. 22 in Coral Springs.
“It’s nice that I’m not the only new face because that makes it easier but everyone has welcomed me,” Tkachuk said. “It has been an awesome time so far. Guys not only hit you with the ‘welcome to the team,’ but also try to help you acclimate. It’s just been a great group so far and I only have unreal things to say about them.”