CORAL SPRINGS — The Florida Panthers started their annual rookie camp on Wednesday before flying to Raleigh for a four-team Prospect Showcase tournament which starts Friday morning.
A roster of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders will be taking on prospects from the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators at the showcase.
Justin Sourdif, Evan Nause and Santtu Kinnunen headline the prospects on Florida’s roster.
Undrafted rookie goalie Mack Guzda and SHL-signee Calle Sjallin will also be on hand for the showcase.
Last summer, Sourdif had a terrific showcase for the Panthers in Wesley Chapel, Fla., on a team dominated by higher profile players such as Spencer Knight, Anton Lundell, Grigory Denisenko, Matt Kiersted and Logan Hutsko.
These Panthers skew a little younger.
The Panthers open the tournament this morning at 10 with a game against the host Hurricanes at their practice facility in Morrisville.
The other games will be at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Next year’s event is expected to be at the new Panthers’ facility at War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.
Here are a few things to watch for when the Baby Panthers are in North Carolina:
How close is Justin Sourdif to competing for a roster spot?
All eyes will be on Sourdif during this tournament.
After putting up 71 points in 56 games in his last season in the WHL, the 2020 third-round pick will get his first crack at competing for an NHL roster.
The 20-year-old saw limited action during development camp due to an injury sustained during his WHL Playoff run with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
He also missed the World Junior Championship with the same injury.
Sourdif says he is good to go with training camp right around the corner.
”It kind of sucks to have an injury there, not be able to participate in development camp and miss out on World Juniors,” Sourdif said following his opening practice in Coral Springs on Wednesday.
“I’m really happy to be back here, to be back at 100 percent. That’s life, right? I can’t dwell on the past. I have my future right here in front of me as does everyone else. Everyone has had to deal with injuries so I am not going to pout about it. I’m going to get back to work and keep going.”
With Florida’s forward depth weakening significantly this offseason, Sourdif has an outside shot at making the opening night roster.
Still, it is not likely.
New signings Rudolfs Balcers, Colin White and Nick Cousins are expected to fill in the holes left by this offseason’s departure. Grigori Denisenko and Anton Levtchi are also more likely to be the outside candidates who make the roster.
That said, rookie camp should give Sourdif some extra time to make his case and he has the talent to do it. He may still be another year or two away from the NHL, though.
Can Mack Guzda become Florida’s No. 3 goaltender?
With Jonas Johansson and Christopher Gibson both moving out west, Florida’s minor league goaltending situation is up in the air.
The Panthers signed Alex Lyon, who won the Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves last year, and he is the early favorite to earn the starting job.
There are a lot of question marks past him, however.
And whoever ends up behind him will have to start opening night after he got hit with a two-game suspension for his double middle finger celebration after his Calder Cup victory.
Florida shared its minor league affiliate with another team the past two seasons, so it lacks the organizational goaltending depth other teams have.
Guzda and Evan Fitzpatrick are the only two options past Lyon the Panthers have in the system right now.
Fitzpatrick, 24, is coming off of a 9-11-2 season in the ECHL where he put up a .915/2.50.
He is on an AHL contract and would need to be signed to an NHL deal in order to be called up in the event that the Panthers struggle through injuries this season.
Guzda, 21, was inked to an entry-level deal last year and could be called up to the NHL if needed. He had a .915/2.52 and a 20-9-2 record with the Barrie Colts last year in the OHL.
Florida will also have veteran goalie J-F Berube battling for a job in camp.
Development Camp invitees returning for Round 2
Of the 26 players invited to rookie camp, 13 of them are invitees from Florida’s development camp in July.
Nathan Staos and Riley Buzeau both return with contracts in hand following development camp. The 11 others are each looking to either further their draft stock or land an AHL or entry-level contract.
Florida’s prospect cupboard is pretty bare after an aggressive 2022 Trade Deadline, so Florida could use more depth on that front.
Sahil Panwar was someone who stood out during development camp.
The 6-foot-1 center showed a lot of tenacity and jump throughout development camp and picked up a couple of assists during the prospect showcase.
Florida is also giving a long look to forwards Patrick Giles and Tag Bertuzzi.
Giles played at Boston College last season and joined the Checkers following his season with the Eagles. Bertuzzi, the son of former Panthers forward Todd, played his overaged season with the Flint Firebirds and is looking for a spot in Charlotte.
”We put a lot of emphasis into training camp because that is important but if you don’t start well, you’re chasing it,” Charlotte Checkers coach Geordie Kinnear said. “A good start is big.”
CAROLINA HURRICANES PROSPECT SHOWCASE
Florida Prospect Roster — Forwards: Liam Arnsby; Tag Bertuzzi; Riley Bezeau; Ethan Burroughs; Xavier Cormier; Josh Davies; Patrick Giles; Riley Ginnell; Beau Jelsma; Ethan Keppen; Sahil Panwar; Kai Schwindt; Justin Sourdif; Sandis Vilmanis. Defensemen: Marek Alscher; Robert Calisti; Dennis Cesana; Braden Hache; Santtu Kinnunen; Evan Nause; Calle Sjalin; Nathan Staios; Zachary Uens. Goaltenders: Mack Guzda; Kolby Hay; Jari Kykkanen.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers (Invisalign Arena), 10 a.m.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Nashville Predators (Invisalign Arena), 1 p.m.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Nashville Predators (PNC Arena), 10 a.m.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers (PNC Arena), 1 p.m.
Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers (PNC Arena), 10 a.m.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (PNC Arena), 1 p.m.