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Steven Lorentz: Patience Pays Off with the Deep Florida Panthers



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Steven Lorentz attempts a shot against Egor Zamula during the Florida Panthers win over the host Philadelphia Flyers last Sunday. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

FORT LAUDERDALE — It has not been an easy first season with the Florida Panthers for Steven Lorentz.

You certainly would not know it.

There are certain players who always have a smile on their face, a supportive word for a teammate, or a willingness to do anything it takes to help their team regardless of the personal gain.

Lorentz is certainly one of those players.

Although Lorentz was a healthy scratch for the better part of three months, he was consistently one of the first players on the ice for practices and gameday skates — and, often, one of the final ones to come off of it.

“Of course, sitting around can be a little frustrating,” Lorentz said last month. “It is tough to feel like you are a part of the group every single day when you watch guys go through wins and losses together, and you are just watching. When you just practice, it is tough some times.

“But we have a great group here, and they do a great job of making us feel like we’re a part of it all. I am excited to get back in there and prove myself. I have stayed in shape and am ready to do my thing.’’

He hoped the hard work would pay off in the reward of not only getting back into the Florida lineup, but to help this team get to where it wants to be.

Last weekend, with Sasha Barkov out against the New York Rangers, part of coach Paul Maurice’s line adjustments was bringing Lorentz back in for the first time since Feb. 24.

Lorentz centered a new third line against the Rangers and certainly did not look like a player who had been scratched in 22 of the previous 23 games.

He has now played in Florida’s past four games as Maurice works with his bottom two lines in trying to find different looks for the playoffs.

“You have to earn your spot, especially on a team as deep as this one is,” Lorentz said on Thursday. “Us guys who sit, and then get in, there is no bad blood. There is an inner competition that makes this team so deep. It just happens that you are fighting for your job against teammates whom you love. We now have the depth the coaches and management want going into the playoffs. Right now, we have three healthy players champing at the bit trying to get back into the lineup and improve their game as well. We cannot take a shift off, and that is exactly how we all like it. It is very competitive around here.’’

Said Sam Bennett: “It is definitely tough. I have been in a similar spot where you don’t play every night and, once you do get in, you get limited minutes. This is not an easy game to play; you have to be really mentally strong. He has been awesome through all of it. He has worked hard every day. When he has gotten his chance, he goes out there and plays a strong, physical game. That is all we could ask for.’’

Thursday, Lorentz centered the fourth line as Maurice wanted to see how Kevin Stenlund would look in that position.

Although Stenlund is Florida’s fourth-line center, beating out Lorentz for the job as the season has rolled along, Maurice wants to see what works and what does not before the postseason starts three weeks from today.

“The game is going to open up opportunities,” Maurice said. “You saw in the playoffs last year that, someone who started in the 13th spot certainly did not end up there. Steven came in here competing for the fourth line center job and, on the right wing, that is not his natural position so I think there was a challenge there. And we stayed healthy for a long time.

“When he came back in, he did everything we hoped he would do. He is big, he is on the body and is physical. Now, you have a big guy who can skate. It is hard for three guys who aren’t playing because I do not like pulling guys in-and-out. Steven has put himself in a position where his name comes up every time we talk about our lineup.”

Lorentz came to the Panthers in the signing-day trade which sent Anthony Duclair to the San Jose Sharks.

Lorentz played in the first 16 games of the season before the scratches started to become more and more frequent.

At the Trade Deadline, Florida added two more forwards in Vladimir Tarasenko and Kyle Okposo, meaning there was even less playing time for Lorentz.

Again, no complaints.

Just keep working.

“Listen, we added a guy who could score 20 goals the rest of the way. We also added another captain,” he said. “We improved our team by adding guys who have been around the league a long time, they have seen a lot of different things and they can share those experiences with some of the young guys. We are very fortunate to have them.”

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