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The Florida Panthers’ prospect development camp gets underway on Friday when fans will get the chance to see the team’s future. The Panthers will also take part in the Prospect Showcase Tournament in Wesley Chapel, Fla. from Sept. 18-21.
The development camp’s 24-man roster includes 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and three goaltenders; among them is 2020 first-round pick Anton Lundell, who will make his first appearance in a Panthers sweater since signing his entry-level deal in June. With so many players and many unique storylines to follow heading into camp, here are three of the most important ones to keep up with.
Will Grigori Denisenko Compete for a Panthers Roster Spot?
Grigori Denisenko proved he was on the brink of being NHL ready last season, scoring five goals and nine points in 15 American Hockey League (AHL) games. The 21-year-old also made his NHL debut in 2020-21, adding four assists in seven games with the Panthers. However, the team has a deep forward core, so it will be an uphill battle for Denisenko to become a roster regular to start the season.
Denisenko also showed that he could be a steady playmaker at the NHL level, with a remarkably high hockey IQ for his age and a lot of speed. He has the potential to be dangerous and dynamic in the offensive zone, able to score and set up his teammates.
Most importantly, he must show that ability during the tournament portion of development camp. He needs to prove that he is at a different level than the other prospects and provide steady production during a full season playing on hockey’s biggest stage.
The additions of Joe Thornton and Sam Reinhart to the Panthers’ lineup won’t help his case, but if he puts on an impressive performance and gains some traction heading into the preseason, he could be a dark horse to make Florida’s roster and possibly push another player out.
Will Trevor Wong Earn a Contract?
Wong, who was ranked 90th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in the 2021 NHL Draft, was invited to the Panthers’ development camp as an unrestricted free agent. After an impressive COVID-19-shortened season with the Kelowna Rockets, scoring six goals and 16 points in 16 games, it was a surprise that he didn’t hear his name called on draft day.
His size, at 5-foot-9, 154 pounds, seemed to turn teams off. However, he has a lot of talent and the potential to give the Panthers a huge return on their investment. He is an incredible playmaker with a lot of speed. He can make decisions quickly and pass the puck without having to stop skating. He’s tenacious and willing to take a hit to make a play.
His tenacity could be a concern for a player that weighs just 154 pounds, but if he can increase his strength at the junior level this season without giving up that elite speed, he could become an absolute steal for the Panthers. If he also puts on an impressive camp and shows he can be a dynamic playmaker, he could earn himself a contract and have a future in South Florida.
Can Kiersted Step up and Fill the Hole on Left Side Defense?
One of the biggest holes on the Panthers’ roster is left-handed defensemen, as Gustav Forsling and Markus Nutivaara are the only two regulars who are lefthanded. Insert Matt Kiersted, who signed with the Panthers near the end of 2020-21 after putting up three goals and 22 points in 29 games with the University of North Dakota.
He played seven games and didn’t register a point in his Panthers debut down the stretch. He didn’t get into any games during the team’s first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but now that Keith Yandle and Anton Stralman are gone, there may be an opportunity for more minutes.
The 23-year-old could be a dynamic option on defense, who could play well on both sides. However, that will be contingent on his performance throughout training camp. Names like John Ludvig, who is also on the development camp roster, Noah Juulsen, and Kevin Connauton stand in Kiersted’s way for a roster spot.
The Panthers’ regular season might be 36 days away, but this week will begin the grind for a lot of these players invited to development camp to compete for their spot on the team, whether it’s for this season or in the future.