In a normal training camp atmosphere, the rookies and prospects of the Florida Panthers would have a few days to impress coaches in an attempt to try and stick around a little longer if not make the team for opening night.
This is not a normal training camp, not by any means.
Based on what coach Joel Quenneville has said and done in the first week of summer camp, Florida’s young players do not appear to be in the mix to play once Phase 4 begins next week in Toronto.
But, unlike a usual training camp, there are no cuts, either.
The 30 players on the current roster are indeed going to stick around — giving themselves a longer window to show what they’ve got.
Brady Keeper, who is coming off his first professional season after signing with the Panthers last March as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Maine, said being around and watching Florida’s veteran defensemen is helping him both on and off the ice.
“I cannot control what I can’t control,’’ Keeper said of playing time moving forward. “I came here to work hard every day and keep learning. Obviously they have those guys there but I think I am having a good camp so far. It has been fun.”
Quenneville has been giving his young players a window of opportunity during this camp although the main objective here is getting his Florida Panthers ready for a playoff tournament.
The Panthers have an exhibition game July 29 in Toronto against the Tampa Bay Lightning in what will be the team’s first game-like atmosphere since they won in St. Louis back on March 9.
A few days after the Lightning game and the Panthers will be playing for their season as they open a best-of-5 Stanley Cup qualifier against the New York Islanders on Aug. 1.
As much as Quenneville would like to see what Florida’s prospects have to offer, he cannot give them the kind of playing time they fully need as he prepares his team’s veterans for what is next.
“I think they have done a great job here and have gotten better as the camp has progressed,” Quenneville said.
“I think they have handled themselves well and it’s nice to see them do that against NHL players. … It is a good experience for them and gives us a chance to see what they can do against that kind of talent.”
For players such as Keeper, Owen Tippett, Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie, this camp may offer the chance to play but, more importantly, give them a taste of the NHL.
Both Luostarinen and Tippett have played a handful of NHL games. Tippett got into seven games not long after being Florida’s top draft pick in 2017. Luostarinen played in eight games with the Hurricanes earlier this season.
“Any time you get a chance like this, it is a great opportunity to take it all in and learn from it,” said Tippett, who led AHL Springfield in scoring before an injury cut his season short and likely cost him a February call-up by the Panthers.
“I’m coming off what I thought was a good year for myself and for my team in Springfield. When you come here, you have to be a sponge and take it all in.”
Said Luostarinen: “I’m the new guy here and everyone has been real nice. It has been helpful to get to know the guys, the staff. I think it has been great. I am trying a lot, it is kind of like summertime for the players. I am working hard every day and trying to do my best. Let’s see what happens.”
Keeper seems to be making the most of this training camp after admittedly not showing up to his first pro camp with the Panthers in the best of shape.
Quenneville spoke about the team’s disappointment in Keeper’s conditioning back in September and has made it clear they are very happy with his attitude and work ethic this time around.
Keeper said Tuesday that he realized he needed to do better and has worked hard to not make that mistake again.
In camp this past week, he has usually been pared with Josh Brown just outside the Florida top-six.
“Right off the hop, I dug myself into a hole,” Keeper said. “I was overweight coming into camp, but as the season went along, I kind of learned how to be a pro. I learned the game better, and continued learning how to play. I didn’t want to make the same mistake.
“I took it as one last-chance, I guess, not to mess up again. I stayed in shape, was eating right and doing the right things. I feel much better now than I did at the start of the last camp.”
Priskie, meanwhile, is vying to become the first South Florida product to play for his hometown team.
The native of Pembroke Pines, whose parents took him to his first Panthers game at Miami Arena when he was just 27 days old, is trying to crack through a deep defensive roster which now includes Keeper on the depth chart.
Priskie signed a free agent deal with the Carolina Hurricanes last summer out of Quinnipiac and was part of Florida’s four-player return in the Vincent Trocheck deal in February.
On Tuesday, he left Florida’s scrimmage early and Quenneville said his status for Wednesday’s practice in Coral Springs will be determined.
— Chase Priskie (@priskie4) February 24, 2020
“It is a great feeling to know you are wanted and the Panthers went out on a limb to go out and acquire me and obviously some other pieces,” Priskie said in April.
“It almost adds a little more fuel to my fire to make it and to show them that they made a great decision to trade for me and give me this opportunity. I take immense pride in being from Florida, so many people are shocked to hear the path I took to where I am today. …
“Hearing I got traded to Florida, to my hometown team, I was just ecstatic.”