CORAL SPRINGS — When the Florida Panthers opened development camp in July, Mackie Samoskevich boldly stated it was his goal to make the NHL roster to start the season.
The same NHL roster which made it to the Stanley Cup Final a month prior with several free-agent signings which only bolstered its depth.
Samoskevich knew it would take a lot of hard work to pull it off, so he put it in.
After months of offseason training, after not only surviving Florida’s notoriously rough training camp but thriving in it with six points in six preseason games, Samoskevich made the cut.
“It’s nice to see the hard work pay off,” Samoskevich told FHN on Monday, the day Florida finalized its opening roster.
“When I grew up, my parents told me when you work hard, good things happen. This was one of those summers where I put my head down and didn’t really look up.”
The 20-year-old did everything in his power to work towards his goal of making the team since leaving the University of Michigan in April.
He first joined the Charlotte Checkers for their playoff run, dishing out four assists in seven AHL playoff games, before tagging along for the Panthers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final as a Black Ace.
During the offseason, when he was not with the team for its development camp in July and rookie camp in September, he was training with former Michigan teammates and current NHL stars Owen Power and Matty Beniers trying to do everything he could to improve.
“I put in a lot of work this summer, so it’s nice to see that it’s paying off,” Samoskevich said.
Even when he got to Coral Springs for training camp, he was always the last player off the ice as he took every opportunity to learn from Florida’s veterans.
“He’s done tremendous,” Sam Reinhart said.
“He is such a humble guy. He is so nice and kind of relaxed and that is the way he should be. He should have that quiet confidence about himself. That’s going to give him more success in the long run.”
Samoskevich not only made the Panthers, but he is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday in Minnesota, where his family is expected to fly in to watch him play.
“I’m super excited,” Samoskevich said. “Everyone remembers their first so I’m just kind of taking this whole weekend in knowing that I’m going to remember this one for a while.”
And it will all start with the traditional rookie lap at the beginning of the game.
“I’ve had a couple of buddies that have gone through it already and they say it’s pretty nerve-wracking being the only one out there,” Samoskevich said. “I’m definitely going to take notes from them and just try to hit the net on that first shot.”
Once the puck drops, Samoskevich will have a couple of linemates who will make things even easier.
He will start the year alongside Reinhart and Anton Lundell — two players with a high hockey IQ and a knack for creating scoring chances for Samoskevich to finish.
“The way they support me out there, it just makes it so easy,” Samoskevich said.
“I know where they are going at all times, and when you’ve got chemistry like that, it helps a ton. They know a thing or two about the grindy days and how long it is, so they’ve helped me out a lot with that, too.”
Samoskevich’s speed and goal-scoring ability fits well next to two playmakers like that.
“His shot is on an NHL level. It’s pretty elite,” Reinhart said. “We have to keep that pace up because he’s so quick.
“I’m excited to see what he has to offer. He’s had one heck of a camp and he deserves to be here.”
Reinhart has already played a role in Lundell’s development and has been one of the vocal leaders in Florida’s locker room since arriving in 2021.
His knowledge has already been rubbing off on Samoskevich throughout training camp.
“He knows the little things to fix in your game,” Samoskevich said.
“Stay tight on defense, wait for the puck, rim this puck harder so I can skate through it, just things like that. When you’re in college you might not need to do that, but when you get here, it helps them so much, so if I can help him be a better player, I think it’ll help me be better too.”
Whether Samoskevich sticks around long-term is still unknown.
A lower-body injury to Sam Bennett opened up a spot in the top three forward lines for Samoskevich to play the minutes he needs to succeed.
Once Bennett returns, there may not be enough room for Samoskevich to get those minutes at the NHL level.
“The thing I would say about Mackie is: He has been good and he will play meaningful minutes this year. He is not going to be an extra here and he is not going to be a low-minute guy here,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said.
“I don’t know if that’s the start, the middle or the end of the season. These young players have to play meaningful minutes at the start of their careers. He has to be in the top-9, and it doesn’t have to be permanent. There could be a game or two — or a week or two — where he is not a guy like that.”
But no matter how long his first stint in the NHL is, he only wants to prove himself even more.
And, most importantly, help the Panthers win some hockey games.
“It’s just the beginning,” Samoskevich said. “I don’t want to just be on the team. I want to be a player that helps the team win, too. The hard work doesn’t stop now.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS OPENING ROSTER
FORWARDS (13): Sasha Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues, Anton Lundell, Sam Bennett, Eetu Luostarinen, Kevin Stenlund, Ryan Lomberg, Nick Cousins, Mackie Samoskevich, Steven Lorentz
DEFENSEMEN (7): Gus Forsling, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mike Reilly, Josh Mahura, Dmitri Kulikov, Niko Mikkola, Uvis Balinskis
GOALIES (2): Sergei Bobrovsky, Anthony Stolarz
INJURED RESERVE (2): Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour
PTO (Not Signed): Brett Ritchie
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT MINNESOTA WILD
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- This season: Florida @ Minnesota, Thursday; Minnesota @ Florida, Jan. 19
- All-time regular season series: Minnesota leads 18-10-2, 1 tie
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Winnipeg Jets, 4 p.m. (BSF, 790-AM)