At 9:35 a.m., Sergei Bobrovsky, the newly-signed free agent goaltender, symbolically opened training camp for the 2019-20 Florida Panthers, as he was the first player to take the ice at the Florida Panthers IceDen. Just a few moments later, the Panthers other big offseason addition, head coach Joel Quenneville, was on the ice, positioned in front of his players with a marker in his right hand diagramming instructions for a practice drill on a dry erase board attached to the glass.
Veteran defenseman Keith Yandle, who is 33 and entering his fourth season with Florida, described his early impressions of Quenneville. “He is what he’s advertised,” Yandle said. “He’s a guy that gets the job done, knows what he’s doing, has a game plan. You can tell it’s gonna be a fun year.”
Vincent Trocheck, who missed 55 games last season with a broken ankle, has six seasons under his belt as a Panther, echoed Yandle’s feelings about Quenneville’s structured approach. “He’s energetic, he’s easy to talk to, he means business,” Trocheck said. “He came in and is setting the precedent early. He definitely is getting the guys’ attention.”
Excitement for a New Season
The excitement level and expectations for the 2019-20 Panthers may be at the highest level in franchise history. The offseason additions of Bobrovsky and Quenneville have many predicting a playoff berth for the team.
The excitement can be felt from everyone within the organization, especially the players and most, if not all, could hardly wait to get on the ice as a team Friday. “The guys are excited to be here, excited to start playing hockey,” Trocheck said.
“It felt great, always fun to get back on the ice,” Yandle said. “Always fun to get out there, get the energy going, get the competitive juice going.”
Training Camp Format
Each of the first three days of training camp have been structured in a similar way with a focus on getting the 61 players at camp into game action immediately. The training camp roster has been divided into three teams, Team A, B, and C, with two goalies each.
Each of the first three days, two of the three internal teams will have a short practice and there will be two scrimmages, consisting of two, 25-minute periods. The internal team that does not have a practice on a certain day will play in both of the scrimmages for that day.
On Friday, Team A practiced first for 25 minutes, before playing Team B in a scrimmage. Following the first scrimmage, Team B played Team C in a second scrimmage. At the conclusion of the second scrimmage, Team C had a short practice to conclude the first day of camp.
Team A Practice
Team A was first on the ice for a short 25 minute session prior to their scrimmage with Team B.
Team A was headlined by Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgeni Dadonov up front with Keith Yandle on the blue line and Bobrovsky in net.
Dryden Hunt, who played 31 games for Florida last season, is one of a handful of youngsters looking to make the NHL roster at camp and looked very sharp during the opening practice.
One casualty from the early practice was defenseman Brady Keeper, who was cut under his right eye after taking an inadvertent high stick from Matthew Wedman during a drill. As a result of the cut, Keeper did not participate in the ensuing scrimmage.
Team A vs Team B Scrimmage
In the opening scrimmage, Team A and Team B skated to a 2-2 tie.
Team A’s Cliff Pu scored first before Barkov, who led the team in scoring last year with 96 points, gave Team A the 2-0 lead as he converted a slick feed from Huberdeau midway through the opening period.
Team B’s Dominic Toninato scored after Barkov to make it 2-1, then midway through the second period, he scored his second goal to tie the score.
With the score tied at the conclusion of the scrimmage, the players and on-ice officials were not sure whether to play overtime or go to a shootout before Dale Tallon, President of Hockey Operations/General Manager, shouted down from his perch overlooking the rink.
“It’s a tie,” Tallon echoed to his troops, “play better next time.”
A player that stood out for Team A was Jonathan Ang, who played 75 games in Springfield of the American Hockey League last season. He was very quick throughout the scrimmage and had the puck on his stick quite often and was looking to setup linemates for setup scoring opportunities.
The defensive pairing of Aaron Ekblad and Riley Stillman on Team B was used throughout the opening scrimmage and the pair looked quite comfortable together.
“He jumps up on plays, loves to hit,” said Ekblad about Stillman. “I’ve never seen a guy that loves to hit as much as he does. It’s fun to play with him.”
Even though this was a scrimmage, emotions ran hot shortly after the score was tied 2-2 as Ian McCoshen and Hunt got tangled up, exchanged a couple of pushes before they wrestled each other to the ice as their sticks loudly crashed to the ice as well.
Team B vs Team C Scrimmage
In the second scrimmage of the day, Team B and Team C finished in a 1-1 tie.
Trailing 1-0, Denis Malgin scored for Team C on a penalty shot in the second period after being awarded a penalty shot due to a penalty on Troy Brouwer, Brouwer’s third penalty of the day.
Brouwer, who scored 12 goals and 9 assists in 75 games for Florida last season, is trying to make the team after signing a professional tryout offer on Sept. 4.
In the scrimmages format, a minor penalty results in a penalty shot being awarded to the opposing team.
Ryan Bedard, who played the second period for Team C, was quite sharp as he stopped 10+ shots in shutting out Team B in the period, despite facing a handful of point blank shots, including back-to-back stops on Trocheck and Frank Vatrano.
Even though it was the first day of camp, Team B’s Trocheck and Vatrano displayed “mid-season” chemistry during the two scrimmages they played during the day
“I love playing with Frankie. He’s a great player, a great kid,” Trocheck said of playing with Vatrano. “He works his butt off every shift. You really respect a guy like that and it makes you really want to fight for him.”
Vatrano got involved in a behind the play disagreement with Aleksi Heponiemi during the scrimmage which saw Heponiemi give Vatrano a little face wash while Vatrano answered by slashing the young Finn’s stick.
Heponiemi’s offensive skill was on display several times, as he flashed his skating speed, tremendous stick handling and vision on the ice multiple times during the scrimmage.
Team C Practice
Team C wrapped up the first day of camp with a short practice after their 1-all tie in the second scrimmage with Team B.
Along with Malgin and Heponiemi, Team C has a group that includes Mike Hoffman, Henrik Borgstrom up front with newly acquired Anton Stralman and Mike Matheson on the blue line and Samuel Montembeault in net.
Day two of camp is set for Saturday as both Team A and B will have a short practice, while Team C will play two scrimmages, one against both Team A and B.
I have followed the NHL since the early 1980s, when offense was king. I lived in the midwest until 2013, when I relocated to south Florida.