The Florida Panthers’ rookies were a feisty bunch Sunday, and in a good way. Everywhere I looked, someone was getting in a Nashville player’s face or space. And it wasn’t always who you’d expect – more than once I saw Rocco Grimaldi, who’s definitely not the tallest guy on the ice, trying to start something with one of the Predators rookies.
Most NHL Ready: Vince Trocheck/Aaron Ekblad
I couldn’t decide. I know this is a total cop-out and I’ll own it, but I think both these guys could be assets to the Panthers this season. Trocheck had a nice breakaway in the second period that got denied by Hellberg, and he ended up scoring a goal later in the game. It was more than the points he put up or almost put up, though – it felt like he was all over the ice, constantly trying to make something happen. If the Panthers want to make it out of the basement of the NHL this season, they need players who can score. They improved in that area this summer by adding guys like Jussi Jokinen, and I know Panthers management and fans alike are hoping than Jonathan Huberdeau can shake his funk and rack up points. I think Trocheck could help alleviate some of that pressure, but he’s yet to really be tested against NHLers, so that’s something that needs to be seen.
As for Ekblad, apart from about five minutes where he couldn’t stay on his feet, causing one of the scouts beside me to comment that he “looked like he had tape on his blades”, he looked totally in control. I don’t only call him “30 year old dad Aaron Ekblad” because he looks like a grown man off the ice. He looks like a veteran on it as well. There were a few mistakes that could stand to be corrected, and it remains to be seen how he’ll fare going up against NHLers nightly, but I have a feeling he’ll be able to hold his own.
Biggest Surprise: Mackenzie Weegar
I didn’t expect the 2013 7th round pick to fare nearly as well as he did, and that’s on me for underestimating him. Weegar put up a goal and an assist in the tournament, but he was constantly putting himself in situations to find chances. The Panthers signed Weegar to an entry-level contract in May, and after watching him this weekend I can understand why.
- I know I’ve already mentioned this, but Rocco Grimaldi is feisty. He certainly doesn’t see his height as a problem, and as speedy as he is, I don’t see it being nearly the issue that I’ve seen some make it out to be.
- There was a fun moment in the first period where Wade Megan did a jump-spin thing to avoid a check that was worthy of Patrick Chan – or Jeff Skinner.
- Again, I’ve mentioned this, but I need to say it again: that Trocheck breakaway was a thing of beauty.
- Are they still calling jersey tucks? Because if so, there were approximately a thousand missed penalties Sunday night. Everyone’s jersey was tucked at one point or another.
Hannah Stuart is a copywriter by day, hockey writer by night. Covering the Carolina Hurricanes for THW and working on a Masters in Sports Leadership from Duquesne University.