The Florida Panthers will have a number of new faces this season what with signing the likes of Evan Rodrigues, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Kevin Stenlund (among others) during free agency.
But there could be a number of other players who make their way up to the Panthers sometime during the season who, as of right now, are not exactly penciled onto the roster going into training camp.
The heat will be picking up in the coming days as Florida’s rookie showcase opens next Friday night in Estero.
For Florida, the spotlight will be on forward Mackie Samoskevich.
Samoskevich will not make the Panthers’ opening night roster based on what he does in the rookie showcase, but it has been known to be a nice jumping off point heading into training camp which opens Sept. 21.
Although Samoskevich may just start his first full professional season with the AHL Charlotte Checkers, chances are pretty good the former University of Michigan standout eventually makes his NHL debut with the Panthers at some point this season.
Here are three players — including Samoskevich — who could end up making their NHL debut with the Panthers during the 2023-24 season:
F MACKIE SAMOSKEVICH
During development camp, Samoskevich said his goal was making the Panthers’ roster out of training camp. That may not be so far fetched, although based on numbers, it is going to be tough.
But not impossible.
“I don’t see why he couldn’t,” Bryan McCabe, Florida’s director of player personnel said during camp.
“He is a very strong skater, he’s got a fabulous shot, he plays the game the right way, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he is physically mature which a lot of guys aren’t when they are first turning pro.
“The sky’s the limit for that kid. Whether it’s October of this year or January, this kid’s going to play.”
Samoskevich is coming off a strong sophomore season at Michigan where he scored 20 goals with 43 points — which was second on the Wolverines behind 2023 third-overall pick Adam Fantilli of the Blue Jackets.
He opted to sign a professional tryout with Charlotte allowing him to participate in the Calder Cup playoffs and then joined the Panthers to be on the practice team during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Samoskevich dominated Florida’s development camp and the expectation is he is going to put on a nice show at the rookie showcase. If he continue that in training camp and preseason, well, Florida may just give him the early chance.
Regardless of when it happens, expect Samoskevich to line up with the Panthers at some point this season.
“I’d love to play down here,” Samoskevich said at d-camp. “That’s the main goal.
“I don’t think it’s a far-fetched goal. I know I could do it. I think I can play up in the big leagues. I’ve worked so hard this summer. It’s going pretty well so far.”
D UVIS BALINSKIS
The 27-year-old defenseman was brought in by the Panthers following a successful pro career in Europe.
Last year in the Czech Extraliga, he had 11 goals and 35 points in 50 games for the Liberec White Tigers — leading the league in goals by a defenseman and third in assists.
Balinskis spent the past three seasons in the Czech league after five seasons in the KHL. He also played for Latvia at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
Now, where does he fit in with the Panthers?
We shall see. Balinskis is a left-handed shot who is not big, but he plays on both ends of the ice and obviously has experience. The Panthers liked him enough to sign him although it is not as if the two are married. It is a one-year, two-way deal.
That is low risk, high reward.
The Panthers will go into camp minus both Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour due to injury meaning they will have spots to fill. While it appears Zito filled them through free agency, a lot of the guys signed are on the same one-year deals Balinskis is.
If he adapts to the smaller ice quickly and impresses coaches, he just might make the jump. If not, he could start the year in. Charlotte and log some heavy AHL minutes.
Florida has flooded its depth chart with veteran defensemen this offseason. They are hoping some stick — Balinskis included.
D JOHN LUDVIG
A third-round pick in 2019, Ludvig now has three seasons at the AHL level starting when he made his pro debut in the 2021 Covid year with the Syracuse Crunch.
After playing in 13 games in 2021, Ludvig sustained a hip injury which cost him almost the entirety of the 2021-22 season with Charlotte — although he was able to come back for the final three games and the playoffs.
So, last season was his first real year of pro hockey — and he showed a very strong two-way ability in 54 games with the Checkers.
At 6-1, Ludvig is a left-handed shot — which puts him at a disadvantage as if there is one thing the Panthers have a lot of, it’s left-handed defensemen.
While we do not expect Ludvig to make the initial cut out of training camp, if he continues to show progression as a reliable defensive player, Florida may be calling at some point this season.
Regardless of that, this is a big year for the 23-year-old Ludvig. He was qualified by the Panthers in June and signed a two-year deal with the team the following month. He should be in the mix.
Florida Hockey Now’s Colby D. Guy contributed to this report
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency is open
- Sept. 15-18: Rookie Showcase (vs. Carolina, Tampa Bay and Nashville), Estero
- Sept. 21: Training Camp, Sunrise/Coral Springs
- Sept. 25: 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)