Sunshine Skate: Florida Panthers impress Coach Q in training camp return
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On the first day of the Florida Panthers’ summer training camp, captain Sasha Barkov centered Evgenii Dadonov and Frank Vatrano.
It was just like they never left.
Coach Joel Quenneville’s initial practice of Florida Panthers Training Camp 2.0 brought out many of the same lines he employed the last time we saw the Panthers in St. Louis.
There were some new faces on what is now a 30-man roster, but Quenneville said trying to get back to normal — and put players who had been together before — was key on the first day back.
“We felt going into the break, the lines we had gave us some success and this gave us continuity right off the bat,” Quenneville said on a video conference call with the South Florida media following his team’s workout in Coral Springs.
“Everyone is familiar with the drills and we wanted to keep it simple and get some pace. We wanted some compete and it was there. Good beginning. We weren’t going to reinvent how the lines looked. We liked the way we finished up, had good results and production across the lines.”
The NHL allowed teams to begin official workouts Monday as Phase 3 of the league’s Return to Play plan kicked off.
The Panthers have 10 more practices scheduled between now and when they’ll leave for their hub city of Toronto to prepare for Phase 4.
On Aug. 1, Florida is scheduled to play the New York Islanders in a Stanley Cup playoff best-of-5 qualifying series.
Barkov, one of four Florida players still around from the Panthers six-game series loss to the Isles in 2016, said it felt good to (kind of) get back to normal.
The Panthers, he said, looked like they had not been away these past four months.
“You know, I know it was the first practice after all these months — what, four months since we have been together? — but it didn’t feel like it was our first practice,’’ Barkov said.
“It felt like we had a little break like after the All-Star Game or something. We just started practicing and the pace was really high, the pace was really good. Guys seemed really excited to see each other and just be around each other. We weren’t that close (because of social distancing), but it was good to be back.”
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Quenneville echoed Barkov’s statement saying he was pleasantly surprised how good Florida looked despite the long layoff.
“I was shocked how well it went,” Quenneville said. “I was surprised at how much pace the guys had to their game and had that much energy. If I would have predicted what kind of practice we would have, I would have hoped it would be OK but it was probably as good as any practice we had all year.
“I was enthused by the way they competed. A lot of guys were pushing the pace to another level. The guys came prepared and that led to a positive start.”
Noel Acciari, whose wife recently gave birth to the couple’s first child, compared Monday to the first day of school.
The Panthers, like the rest of the NHL, were allowed to have smaller groups of players on the ice over the past few weeks but kept the numbers down both on the ice and in the complex.
Monday was the first time they were all permitted to workout on the ice under the watchful eye of their coaches as well.
“I was very excited just to see all the guys out on the ice at the same time,” Acciari said. “It was like getting back to normal a little bit. There was a lot of adrenaline of being on the ice and it was a great first day back.”
On Monday morning, the Panthers released their camp roster as they will go with 30 players (the league is allowing 31 to travel to the secured bubble in Toronto) with all regulars included.
The most notable exception was center Henrik Borgstrom, whom GM Dale Tallon said may not “get a clean bill of health” after he was hurt in the spring.
Borgstrom has also been reportedly looking to stay in his native Finland and play for Jokerit in Helsinki next season, so, we will see what happens. Borgstrom is currently a restricted free agent.
There were no surprises on the Florida roster as the Panthers will carry 16 forwards, 10 defensemen and four goalies.
The only goalie who got a lot of playing time either with the Panthers or AHL Springfield who was not included was Ryan Bednard.
With 30 players, Quenneville held two sessions Monday with rookie defenseman Brady Keeper joining the main group and the likes of Chase Priskie and Tippett going with the second.
Quenneville said he would have everyone together Tuesday for a round of scrimmaging. Over the next few weeks, players Quenneville may not know a lot about could become part of the mix.
“We’re not going to rule anything out because you have seen guys jump in during the playoffs and all of a sudden have a different role,” Quenneville said.
“Guys can take advantage of a situation and show they belong. Keeper, for example, was skating with the big group and really looked like he had enhanced himself as far as conditioning from where he was last year. He was skating better. We’re not ruling anything out.”
Brian Boyle, out since the Feb. 1 game at Montreal, was back at center on Monday. Dryden Hunt missed time with a knee injury and has been cleared to play as well.
Another player who had been hurt when the NHL season was put on pause who practiced Monday and are part of the Florida roster include top forward prospect Owen Tippett.
Quenneville said all 30 players who are on the roster participated Monday.
THE RETURN OF BOB
Quenneville was asked about starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky bouncing back from a bit of a disappointing season.
Bobrovsky’s last game of the season came Feb. 29 when he lost to Chicago 3-2 in a shootout.
The next day, he tweaked something in warmups against Calgary and only served as the backup to Sam Montembeault in a 3-0 loss.
Chris Driedger started the final three games of the season for the Panthers and is assumed to be the backup moving forward.
Quenneville said while he did not necessarily notice Bobrovsky on Monday — “that’s a good thing” — he said goalie coach Robb Tallas “raved about” how Bobrovsky looks coming out of the long hiatus.
“Got to love his attitude,” Quenneville said. “He handled this process like a real good pro and is doing everything he can to concentrate and focus and make some adjustments to his game. …
“He is one of those real focused guys who is doing everything he can to get the best out of himself. He is committed to doing whatever it takes.”
FAST FORWARD PYSYK
Mark Pysyk is listed as a defenseman on the roster (it is, after all, the position he has played all his life) but Quenneville confirmed Monday that he is still being used on the fourth line.
Quenneville first put Pysyk — at the time, Florida’s seventh defenseman who was mostly a healthy scratch — on the fourth line in Colorado in the opening month of the season.
Pysyk ended up helping the line, and himself, by giving a strong showing despite not playing a forward role since his days of youth hockey.
Although Pysyk did play a handful of games as a defenseman (aside from killing penalties), most of his 58 games this season were as a winger. His highlight of the season came Feb. 3 in Toronto when he recorded his first hat trick.
“We have him as a forward now and we’ll start him at forward,” Quenneville said of Pysyk, who had a career-high nine goals with a career-best 18 points this season.
“The way we ended with him with (Acciari) and (Colton Sceviour) was a thing and we will keep them together as a group right now. They are useful in a lot of ways and (Pysyk) adds some versatility so we’ll keep that in our back pocket.’’
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What about Denisenko he could practice but not play
I will ask Dale next time we talk; perhaps flying over from Russia just to practice was not ideal.