Matthew Tkachuk said he has been “waiting for months’’ for the Florida Panthers to begin a new season.
As he said, “it starts now.’’
The Panthers kick off their 2023-24 season tonight at 8 against the host Minnesota Wild a mere four months since their last one ended in a way many of them would like to forget.
Although their incredible run through the playoffs was memorable, it did not end in any way, shape or form like they wanted it to.
Tkachuk was not even in Las Vegas to witness the final chapter as he was back home in Fort Lauderdale with a fractured sternum he got in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“You could not have written a worse ending for us,” he said. “But that’s how it goes. One team wins it, one team loses it. We have gained a lot of good things from last year and we need to bring that into this one.’’
Tkachuk is “100 percent” healthy after the shortest offseason of his NHL career and he is ready to embark on a second season with the Panthers.
It is going to hard for Tkachuk to follow up his Florida debut — one in which he was a finalist for NHL MVP after scoring 40 goals with a career-high 109 points — but he says he cannot wait to try.
“We all believe in each other and all believe in what we have built here,’’ Tkachuk said after mentioning that the start to the season will not be easy without Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett.
“We just want to keep that rolling. It was a very short (offseason) and this almost feels like a Part 2 to last year and not a full, new slate. I will take that as a good thing.’’
Although new to the Panthers, Tkachuk sort of became the face of the franchise as he endeared himself not only to the locals but became a star around the league.
He came to the Panthers in one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent memory and then went out and won the MVP award at the All-Star Game held in his new backyard.
After a fantastic season, Tkachuk lit it up in the playoffs, gaining national attention for telling his teammates they would be back in Boston for a Game 7 after his overtime goal won them Game 5 there — and making sure that came true.
Going into the Final, both Tkachuk and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky were considered the favorites to win the Conn Smythe Award had the Panthers won the Stanley Cup.
Still, Tkachuk has become a star thanks in great part to his performance in the playoffs.
His heroics with the Panthers led to an appearance on the NBA on TNT set in downtown Miami as the Heat also made it to the Finals and, this summer, he got to appear in an ad for Hyundai Canada spot with brother Brady and their mother Chantal.
All of that aside, the Panthers learned quite a bit about themselves during the past playoff run, something they may be able to lean on during the marathon that is an 82-game slate.
Coach Paul Maurice said his team cannot lean on last season’s experience too much since this will be a much different one, but the Panthers know when they are on, they are a tough out.
Tonight comes Game 1 of 82 — and they hope, many more.
“It is a big thing learning what it takes to win those big games,’’ Tkachuk said. “It was important. We know how we have to play; we know what it takes individually and as a team. There is no sense in dipping our toe in, let’s just keep playing the same way we did last year.”
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)