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Zac Dalpe Making Most of Chance with the Florida Panthers

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Florida Panthers center Zac Dalpe celebrates with his teammates after scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 10. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Zac Dalpe is back in the NHL with the Florida Panthers but definitely feels as if he is missing out.

It is Christmastime and his family is back in Charlotte, N.C., where Dalpe is captain of the AHL’s Checkers.

But when the Panthers called to give him another shot at playing in the NHL, it is something he was excited about for obvious reasons.

The plusses most definitely outweigh the minuses.

”It is weird because I feel like I am missing out on something,” Dalpe said. “But, we are at such a fun time of our lives where they understand what Dad is doing. But it is strange. I don’t sleep that well at night because they haven’t been wearing me out during the day.”

Playing in the NHL offers a number of perks and is something Dalpe has been fighting for his entire professional career.

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A standout at Ohio State University who was a second-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2008, Dalpe got a quick taste of the NHL as he played 15 games with Carolina in his first professional season and 16 in his second.

Then, there were a lot of bus trips as Daple kept chasing that NHL dream.

Now 33, Dalpe has played in 161 NHL games over the course of his career and many of them came in drips and drabs, sort of like this one.

Save for 55 games in Vancouver during the 2013-14 season, many of Dalpe’s professional seasons have seen him play the majority of the time in the AHL with random callups along the way.

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He is certainly one of those hockey lifers who appreciates the chance he has in front of him right now.

“He has great speed, is strong on the puck and is very smart. There is a role for guys like that,’’ said Paul Maurice, who coached Dalpe back in their Carolina days.

“He may be coming into the most important time of his career. This may be the time for him to find his niche. We like what he does, like his character. With Patric’s injury, there is an opening now for another player to stay a little bit longer. He may be that guy. There is a legitimate opportunity here.”

Playing in so many places and for so many organizations has given him a vast array of friends and contacts throughout this game.

His relationship with Florida general manager Bill Zito from their days together with Columbus and the AHL Cleveland Monsters helped bring him to the Panthers for a leadership role in Charlotte.

Geordie Kinnear, coach of the Checkers, was an assistant in Charlotte during Dalpe’s first years there. He could not wait to name Dalpe the captain for both of their second runs with the Checkers.

“Easy decision,” Kinnear said last year. “We’re looking for a guy who brings everyone close together as a family and Zac’s the guy. He’s a natural leader. He sticks out, he brings energy every single day to the rink and leads by example.”

Charlotte is where he started his pro career for the most part in 2010 and is a place he and his family have made a home in.

“Listen, you want to be in the NHL,’’ Dalpe said during training camp. “But it is great to be in Charlotte. My kids are in school there, my wife loves it. It has been a fun ride, a full-circle return.’’

And now he is back with the Panthers — and is playing a nice role in his return to the NHL.

Last season, he got one game in when the Panthers were shorthanded due to Covid cases.

This time, he was brought up due to another illness wreaking havoc around the team.

Dalpe will likely be going back to Charlotte.

He is definitely making his mark with the Panthers, however, and may make it hard for them to make that move.

After scoring 10 goals with the Checkers to start his AHL season, he has two goals and four points in seven with Florida.

Dalpe has been a nice addition to the team as has other callups from Charlotte including Aleksi Heponiemi, Chris Tierney and, most recently, Grigori Denisenko.

“You don’t know how long it will be so it is the old cliché of taking it one day at a time, try to earn your next game,” Dalpe said. “You’re trying to earn the trust of your coach so he wants to keep putting you out there.

“You get into the lineup and want to stay in the lineup. So I have been keeping it simple, taking shots when I can but making sure to be defensively responsible and not try to handcuff myself at the same time. It is a balancing act.”

One of the perks of being in the NHL is obviously playing the game at the highest level, but it also being able to go on the road.

The travel accommodations are first-rate, but playing in some of the top arenas in North America is pretty cool as well.

For Dalpe, this weekend has been especially nice because it is the team’s Dad’s Weekend.

Zac Dalpe got to take his father Paul on this trip with the team staying in midtown Manhattan for the team’s game against the New Jersey Devils before moving on to Boston.

“I have been playing for 14 years and he has never been on a Father’s Trip,’’ Dalpe said.

‘’This is his first time so that is special. My dad is over the moon. He is a farm kid from Paris, Ontario, so I don’t want to say he is not well-traveled but he doesn’t get out much nowadays. We’ll let him take a bite out of the Big Apple and see how that goes.”

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