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Strong rookie camp may start path to Panthers for Denisenko, Kiersted

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A strong showing in rookie camp could start a path to the Florida Panthers opening night roster for defenseman Matt Kiersted, left, and Grigori Denisenko. // Photos by @FlaPanthers and Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography (561) 488-0000

Making the Florida Panthers roster this season may be the toughest it has ever been. The Panthers are loaded at all positions heading into training camp later this month but a strong showing in rookie camp could give a young player an edge.

Saturday morning, the Panthers’ top prospects will hit the ice in Coral Springs for the first of four scheduled practices (which will be closed to the public) before they travel to the Tampa area for a showcase tournament.

Right now, there are only two players participating in the development camp — Anton Lundell and Spencer Knight — who we can say for certain will factor into Florida’s opening night roster.

But everyone knows, things can change.

In 2016, the Panthers were coming off what was, to date, their most successful regular season. The 2015-16 team set a franchise record for wins and points while winning the second divisional title in history.

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Denis Malgin was not expected to make the Panthers that season but he was so dynamic in rookie camp in 2016 that he had everyone watching him once full training camp opened. Malgin did not disappoint as he carried that momentum over into Florida’s preseason.

When Jonathan Huberdeau was hurt playing in an exhibition game at West Point, Malgin’s strong showing put him on the Panthers initial roster.

Malgin made his NHL debut in Florida’s opening night win against the New Jersey Devils.

So, who could make a similar jump this year?

Certainly the Panthers are not hoping for a repeat of 2016 in which Huberdeau was out with a major injury and Nick Bjugstad had a broken hand vacating up two spots which ordinarily would not have been open.

But one never knows what can happen between now and the season opener on Oct. 14 against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

There could be injuries, sure, and there could be a trade or two. Like last January, the Panthers could grab a player or two off of waivers from another team making the already tight competition for spots even tougher.

Among the players at development camp, it appears Florida will start the likes of Grigori Denisenko, Logan Hutsko, Serron Noel, Matt Kiersted, Max Gildon and John Ludvig at AHL Charlotte.

These are all young players who need to get some serious playing time — and they will get that in the minors with the Checkers.

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Florida, simply put, does not have much room on its 23-man roster right now.

But things could change — and a strong start in development camp by one or more of these young players could open some doors.

Of that group, Denisenko could get the longest look.

Florida’s first-round pick in 2018, Denisenko got a chance to spend time with the Panthers last year due to the expanded Covid-19 roster and that helped assimilate him not only to how things work in the NHL but in North America as well.

All told, Denisenko played in seven games with the Panthers and 15 for AHL Syracuse.

Denisenko did not get the games he probably needed last year, but the experience he got just being around the NHL and Florida’s veteran players did him good.

And, in last year’s weird season, it was just fine.

If he comes out blazing — and he has the talent to do just that — he could force the Panthers into making a tough roster decision.

The same could be said for Kiersted.

Right now, we have Noah Juulsen starting the season as Florida’s seventh defenseman but Kiersted is most definitely in the mix for the job.

Last year, Kiersted signed as a free agent out of the University of North Dakota and promptly made his NHL debut with the Panthers.

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Kiersted certainly did not look out of place and, with Aaron Ekblad hurt, certainly helped the Panthers at a time when they needed it.

But Kiersted, who played in seven games, was not in the mix at the end of the regular season and did not play during the playoffs.

He could probably use the certainty of playing a lot of games (and situations) in Charlotte instead of being the seventh defenseman in Florida.

Still, he would like to be in the NHL instead of in the minors and a strong start in development camp — paired with a good showing in training camp and the preseason — could help that along.

Florida Panthers development camp roster

Forwards

Eric Alarie, Karch Bachman, Henry Bowlby, Grigori Denisenko, Logan Hutsko, Anton Lundell, Justin Nachbaur, Serron Noel, Simon Pinard, Cole Schwindt, Justin Sourdif, Connor Trenholm, Trevor Wong.  

Defensemen 

Frédéric Brunet, Robert Calisti, Max Gildon, Braden Hache, Matt Kiersted, Jacob LeGuerrier, John Ludvig, Evan Nause.

Goaltenders 

Olivier Adam, Tye Austin, Spencer Knight 

Florida Panthers camp schedule at IceDen in Coral Springs

(Closed to the public)

Saturday, Sept. 11
10-11 a.m. 

Sunday, Sept. 12
10-11 a.m.

Monday, Sept. 13
10-11 a.m. 

Tuesday, Sept. 14
10-11 a.m. 

Game schedule at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel

Saturday, Sept. 18

  • Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers | 10 a.m.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Nashville Predators | 1 p.m.***

Sunday, Sept. 19

  • Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers | 10 a.m.
  • Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning | 1 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 20

  • Practice day

Tuesday, Sept. 21

  • Nashville Predaotrs vs. Carolina Hurricanes | 10 a.m.
  • Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning | 1 p.m.

***Game Location TBA

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