Rocking a full beard and even thicker mustache, ‘Playoff’ Sam Bennett looks more than ready to get the postseason going with the Panthers.
Bennett, who was called ‘Playoff’ due to his propensity to pick things up for Calgary in the postseason, returned to practice Friday after missing Monday’s regular-season finale against the Lightning as well as Wednesday’s workout.
With Bennett back on the ice, the Panthers were at full strength — save for Aaron Ekblad, of course.
Bennett returned to his spot centering Florida’s second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Owen Tippett. Mason Marchment, who replaced Bennett on Monday, was on the fourth line with Noel Acciari and Ryan Lomberg.
“I feel great, I’m ready to go and just excited. The playoffs are a fun time of year,’’ Bennett said. “Playoff hockey is my favorite time of year. It’s faster, it is more intense. Every play is magnified and that’s how it should be played. I can’t wait to get going.”
Florida has been more than thrilled with Bennett since GM Bill Zito sent two second round picks (Emil Heineman was drafted in 2020 and a 2022 selection) to the Flames for Bennett.
Although Bennett never lived up to the high expectations of being the fourth-overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft with Calgary, he has excelled since joining the Panthers. Being put in the position to do something certainly has helped.
Instead of being a bottom-6 guy as was the case in Calgary, Joel Quenneville put him in Florida’s top-6 and watched the points pour in.
Bennett had four goals with 12 points in 38 games with the Flames; he scored six goals with 15 points in 10 games with the Panthers.
He also joined Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on the Sportsnet 31 Thoughts podcast.
“He has been an excellent fit for us,” Quenneville said Friday after a spirited workout in Sunrise, one that featured a little bit of scrimmaging. “He has the puck a lot, gives us some physicality. He’s everything you want in a center. He has quickly adapted to the system, which was seamlessly part of his game. You couldn’t say enough good things about how he’s fit in. It’s been a great start to his time in South Florida.’’
If you missed my Q&A with Zito which ran on FHN Friday morning, I asked the Florida GM about the satisfaction he has felt when seeing newcomers click the way they have. Bennett is obviously one of the success stories.
Zito said one reason for players catching on quickly in South Florida was Quenneville putting them in great situations. After that, it’s up to the players to produce. With rare exception, they have.
“He puts players in the position to succeed,’’ Zito said. “When Gusev came, he put him on a line with Sasha. When Bennett comes, he’s with Huby. That’s exactly where we needed them and they needed to be to succeed.
“It’s been really helpful from an evaluation standpoint to kind of get to know what guys can do. I think for a confidence standpoint for the players they know, you know, the coach believes in them and can just let them play. ‘What do you do well? OK, we’ll put you there.’ It’s been great.”
MORE PANTHERS STUFF
Not one for self promotion, but I will be joining WSVN-7 as a correspondent on the critically-acclaimed Sunday night Lexus SportsXtra.
We will be broadcasting live from BB&T Center following Game 1 on Sunday night.
Hope you’ll check it out.
I was on last Sunday night; here is the clip.
— More self promotion: I was on with 790’s Jonathan Zaslow and Amber Wilson Thursday.
— Also on with Dave Jamieson in Edmonton as well.
— Ok, one more piece of self promotion.
With the playoffs starting up here on Sunday, it’s time to bring in some reinforcements.
I am proud to announce that Steve Gorten, former Panthers and Hurricanes beat writer for the Sun-Sentinel, will be joining the Florida Hockey Now team.
Gorten and I started on the Panthers beat together during the Jacques Martin/Mike Keenan days and were together running around Vancouver in 2006 the night Roberto Luongo was traded.
We both made deadline. The papers had much better deadlines back then.
We also covered the Blue Jackets together during the 2017-18 season.
That was a fun year and we did a lot of good work covering guys like Sergei Bobrovsky, Markus Nutivaara, Alex Wennberg and Bill Zito. Whatever happened to those guys?
Anyway, thrilled to be teammates with Steve once again. Cannot wait to read his columns this postseason.
Give Steve a follow on Twitter if you are so inclined.
— The Panthers are partnering with Broward Health for a PSA encouraging Covid-19 vaccination.
Broward Health has already offered vaccinations to all employees at BB&T Center and on the hockey side of the organization.
“The Panthers have been active in communicating Covid-19 safety messages over these past few months and look forward to working with Broward Health to encourage the South Florida community to get vaccinated and stay safe as we continue to combat this pandemic,” Shawn Thornton said in the team release.
— Our pal Kevin Weekes joined the Hochman & Crowder show on Thursday.
— Shocking news, we know, but Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos should be available for Game 1.
— At least the first four games of the Lightning series will be broadcast locally on Bally Sports Florida. Goldie and Randy will be traveling to Tampa Bay for the games as well.
The only games that would not be broadcast on BS-FLA moving forward would be the national NBC games. Right now, the Panthers/Lightning do not have one of those.
— Great story from Dave Wilson of your Miami Herald on Sasha Barkov. He’s been working on this piece for a while — and it shows.
— Barry Jackson talks to Barry Melrose about how these Panthers are different this year.
— David Furones has left the Miami Hurricanes behind and is covering the Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Here is his piece on the Panthers gearing up for the playoffs.
— Does the road to the Stanley Cup run through Florida again? (FiveThirtyEight)
— Sportsnet.ca breaks down the Panthers/Lightning series.
AROUND THE NHL STUFF
Our friends at The Athletic offer up their playoff power rankings and the Panthers are in there.
— Sportsnet’s Jason Bourne predicts the first round of the playoffs.
— The NHL.com staff give their first round predictions as well.
— Kris Letang is ready for the Islanders (Pittsburgh Hockey Now).
— A lot of Colorado fans have not been able to watch the Avs this season and that’s a shame. They will be able to watch the playoffs. (CHN)
— The Avs have not won the Cup, but the Presidents’ Trophy is a good start writes Adrian Dater.
— What are the Bruins going to do with Tuukka Rask? (BHN)
— Can the Islanders beat the Capitals? (NYIHN)
— What does Bob Boughner think went right — and wrong — with the Sharks this season? (SJHN)
SOUTH FLORIDA STUFF
Udonis Haslem played in his first game on Thursday night and the Heat legend made sure it was a memorable night.
OK, so UD only played three minutes and scored four points in the Heat’s rout of the 76ers. But getting in the face of Dwight Howard was a memorable moment. As UD said, if that was his final NBA moment, it was a good one to go out on.
The Panthers may want to give him a call.
— The Miami Dolphins signed their first-round draft pick on Friday.
— The Miami Hurricanes baseball team got passed over to host a regional. Where could the Canes play?
— Inter Miami/Fort Lauderdale will open up Cincinnati’s new soccer stadium this weekend.
Try the chili. The Hit King approves.