As the 2019-20 preseason comes to a close, the Florida Panthers made four roster moves prior to their opening game of the season on Oct. 3 at Tampa Bay. The team loaned forwards Anthony Greco, Owen Tippett and Dominic Toninato along with defenseman Riley Stillman to the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Sending both Tippett and Stillman to the AHL at this point is somewhat surprising based on each player’s good performances during camp and in preseason action — each played in a team-high six games.
Greco and Toninato were less of a surprise, based on the team being close to the 23-man roster limit and Greco was previously sent to Springfield, only to be recalled prior to the team’s final preseason game on Sept. 28 versus the Lightning. In that game, the team did not play forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov and Brett Connolly, so Greco gave the team a full complement of 12 forwards for the game.
Tippett’s demotion is probably the biggest surprise since he appeared to have a very good camp, his third with the team. In addition, he tied Greco for the team-lead in preseason goals with three and his four points were good enough for third-best on the team during the preseason.
His performance in the second-to-last preseason game on Sept. 26 against the Lightning seemed to solidify a spot on the Panthers’ roster to start the season. He was confident, strong on the puck, skated hard on the backcheck, made several good passes and finished a two-on-one from Frank Vatrano for the game’s first goal.
“It all comes with confidence,” Tippett told the media following the 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Sept. 26. “I’m feeling more confident with the puck and my playmaking abilities.”
Stillman was the only Florida defenseman to play in six preseason games and he averaged nearly 19 minutes of ice time. He also spent a significant part of camp and during preseason games paired with Aaron Ekblad, the team’s best defenseman, as Ekblad mentored the 21-year-old from Peterborough, Ontario.
After impressing during the team’s rookie camp earlier in the month, he continued his solid play and drew attention for several hard, heavy hits that were noticed not only by head coach Joel Quenneville, but his teammates, as well. “He loves to hit,” Ekblad said during camp. “I’ve never seen a guy that loves to hit as much as he does, so it’s fun to play with him.”
Greco, like Tippett, finished the preseason with a team-high three goals, including a pair of goals in a 6-0 win on Sept. 21 against Dallas. Following that game, Quenneville praised him during his post-game press conference. “We had some nice finish around the net. Nice to see [Greco] get a couple nice goals.”
Last season in Springfield, the 25-year-old who played his college hockey at Ohio State, racked up a team-high 59 points. His 30 goals and 29 helpers in 75 games with the Thunderbirds led him to an AHL All-Star Game appearance last season.
Toninato, who has 39 games of NHL experience with Colorado, scored a goal during the preseason while playing in five games. The 25-year-old from Duluth, Minnesota, stood out the first day of camp as he scored a pair of goals in the first scrimmage.
He played the majority of 2018-19 with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL, where he scored 14 goals and 15 assists in 57 games. The Panthers acquired the left-handed center in a June 29 trade with the Avalanche for Jacob MacDonald.
It is very likely that all four of these players will see NHL action this season, as the Panthers had 39 different players play in at least one game last season.
Tippett will likely be the first forward recalled from Springfield when the Panthers have an injury, need a scoring boost on the wing, or if the NHL club decides to increase its roster size to 23 from the 22 players currently on the NHL roster. Stillman appears to be next in line for an injury on defense or if the team needs additional muscle to protect its young stars. Meanwhile, Greco and Toninato provide veteran depth that may be useful for Florida over the course of the grueling 82-game season.
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.