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Uvis Balinskis: Big Season Continues with the Florida Panthers



Balinskis nhl
Florida Panthers defenseman Uvis Balinskis celebrates his first — and, so far, only — NHL goal in Florida’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 10 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Uvis Balinskis did not know how long he would be away from the Florida Panthers but, he probably did not expect it to be almost three months.

On Wednesday, Balinskis was brought back up after Dmitry Kulikov was hit with a two-game suspension.

“Of course, it is nice. It has been a while,’’ Balinskis said Thursday morning before playing against the Predators. “It is nice to see the guys again and I am happy to be here.’’

Balinskis should be back in the lineup tonight when the Panthers try and snap a three-game losing streak against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Playing in New York will be another first for Balinkis in what has been a season full of them.

Balinskis made the Panthers out of training camp, the first NHL experience of the 27-year-old defenseman’s life.

He made his NHL debut on Opening Night in Minnesota on Oct. 12, scored his first point with a goal on Nov. 10 against Carolina.

“I want to help this team win,” he said. “I always want to help anyway I can.”

Balinskis ended up playing in 18 games with Florida before he was sent to AHL Charlotte before Christmas.

This came a few weeks after Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour returned from the surgeries which kept them out of the Florida lineup to start the season.

For the next couple of months, the Panthers were healthy on the blueline meaning Balinskis stayed in Charlotte.

Because he is a first-year NHL player, Balinskis could be sent to the AHL without having to be exposed through waivers.

That said, with the way coach Paul Maurice likes sticking with his tried-and-true defensive pairings, Balinskis probably would not have played very much had he stayed.

In Charlotte, he got all the playing time he could have asked for.

“When you look at the previous five games for he and Josh (Mahura) before Ekblad and Montour returned, they played well,” Maurice said. “Now, they knew those guys were coming back and they made their best case to stay. They were both very good.

“And when it came to Uvis, it was not about being deserved, but it was the most intelligent thing for our organization at the time to have him to go down. But he got to go down and play a whole lot of minutes of pro hockey. It is still the NHL style down there and he got bigger minutes which was advantageous for him. He comes back now and there is competition, but we will have injuries.”

Added Balinskis: “I play a lot of minutes there, and this obviously being my first year, it has helped me a lot. The guys are great there, the coaches help me after every game. It has been good for me.’’

Being in the AHL was not all that bad — especially since the Panthers made it clear that Balinskis is a part of their future.

In January, the Panthers signed Balinskis to a two-year, one-way contract extension.

“It is nice that the team wants me to be a part of this,’’ he said. “I am happy with it.’’

Said Maurice: “Very deserved.”

Although he has been away for a bit, Balinskis remains one of the top stories of this season due to his background.

Last year, Florida’s pro scouts zeroed in on Balinskis as he played in the Czechia Extraliga, leading all defensemen in points with 35 in 50 games.

At 26, Balinskis had said he not only given up dreaming of playing in the NHL, but he had simply forgotten about it.

Now, he is not only in the NHL but has a future with the Panthers.

How has this first year gone?

“I would say it has gone better than I would have expected,” he said. “I am happy with my first year here. It has been really good. Great so far.”

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  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • TV/Streaming: ABC, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Saturday
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 60-34-8, 6 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday at Philadelphia Flyers, 6 p.m.

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