WESTON — Matthew Tkachuk had the shortest offseason of his career but the star forward of the Florida Panthers was fine with it.
“You want to get used to that. Definitely,” he said on Monday afternoon.
Yes, summer is over for the Panthers — and Tkachuk is ready to get back after it.
The Panthers will hit the ice for the first time in the 2023-24 NHL season on Thursday morning when training camp kicks off at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
Speaking at the team’s annual charity golf tournament at Weston Hills, almost every player talked about a short offseason is certainly better than the alternative.
A deep run into the playoffs means less time not playing hockey.
Tkachuk is cool with that.
“We were not in the gym for two extra months like some teams are,” he told FHN. “We were doing things they all wished they were doing.
“Now, we have that fresh mindset where we are in a very cool and unique position to where it feels like we just left. We still have that killer mindset like we had in the playoffs and we’re going to need that early in the season especially with a few key guys still out. We need a good start.”
Tkachuk is coming off a fractured sternum sustained on a huge open-ice hit from Vegas’ Keegan Kolesar in the first period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final in Sunrise.
Although Tkachuk finished that game — he scored the game-tying goal with 2:13 remaining — he was limited in Game 4 due to the injury and could not fly with the team for Game 5 in Las Vegas.
Tkachuk has been medically cleared for the past few weeks and says he is “100 percent and feeling great” heading into the start of camp.
“I don’t remember the first time, but sometime in early August I went back on the ice,” he said. “Then, mid-August I was shooting. Once you do it a few times, you get comfortable and I have been doing all the normal stuff for a few weeks now.
“I worked superhard to get myself feeling like I am right now and, to be honest, I thought it would be longer than what it was. Out of the gate, I didn’t think I would ever get there. I am sure everyone says that with injuries. But hopefully I am peaking at the right time.”
As for how this season may go, Tkachuk says he is excited to see what the team’s new additions bring to what has been a very tight group.
Florida lost a few key players in free agency — Radko Gudas, Eric Staal and Alex Lyon, among them — but added Evan Rodrigues, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niko Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov to try and keep things running until Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad return from their offseason surgeries.
“I am very excited because, even though we went very far last year, this team is very different which I think is a good thing,” Tkachuk said.
“We have another level to get to and have some fresh faces who are determined to get us back to the postseason.”
As for the golf, Tkachuk was the second group to tee off of No. 1 at Weston Hills and had plenty of chirps for his teammates — including Sasha Barkov, who is better at tennis than golf.
Barkov was in the first group to take on the par 5 first hole.
Tkachuk was there to see his first shot and, well, was not all that impressed.
“I have played with Reino a lot and he is really good,” Tkachuk said with a grin. “What I have seen from Barky, he has to be on the other end of the golfers on the team. Let’s just say this is not his specialty.”
The Panthers will have one more day to themselves before reporting to what will be the Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise for physicals and media day on Wednesday morning.
Then, come Thursday, it all starts once again.
“There is definitely that hunger, especially when you get that close,” Tkachuk said. “I think we are in a great spot when it comes to mindset. We know what it takes and we have the hunger to do it. It is a pretty short-term mindset; let’s have a good camp and get off to a good start.
“The long-term goal is just make the playoffs. We saw what happened last year. We’re not looking too far ahead but the playoffs are what is on everyone’s mind.”
2023 Southeast Rookie Showcase
At Hertz Arena, Estero
Friday: Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Nashville Predators 2; Carolina Hurricanes 4, Florida Panthers 1
Saturday: Carolina Hurricanes 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3 (SO); Florida Panthers 4, Nashville Predators 2
Monday: Carolina Hurricanes 3, Nashville Predators 2; Florida Panthers 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency open
- Thursday: Training Camp, Sunrise/Coral Springs
- Monday: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild (Bally Sports Florida)
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (BSF)