FORT LAUDERDALE -- The Panthers are back on the ice, in the middle of training camp, and their preseason schedule.
Coach Paul Maurice skated the Panthers as hard as he could for the first four days. The roster needs to be trimmed down, and the first wave of transactions won't be that difficult.
A number of players will go back to their junior teams, and some that are basically guaranteed to start in the AHL will be sent out. After that, it may get a little dicey as a number of players are vying for precious few spots. And, with two weeks to go until opening night, the Panthers are looking to set their line combinations soon.
Call him Cousin
Nick Cousins has turned out to be more valuable to the Panthers than anybody thought.
Always known as a hard-nosed player, he also has shown skill and, in the first preseason game has been reunited with Sam Bennett, and Matthew could chuck on a line. They had tremendous success last year during the playoffs, and if cousins can maintain his spot, there it is a huge bonus for the Panthers' depth.
Line 1, Line 3
So that leaves a top line of Alexander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe and likely, either Sam Reinhart or newcomer Evan Rodrigues. If Rodrigues can maintain his spot next to Barkov, he has been skating with him during training camp, which will leave perhaps the best third line in hockey.
Reinhart would slide in next to Anton Lundell, and over the last couple of years, those two have had great chemistry and production. Over on the left side would be the emerging Eetu Luostarinen.
The young Finn has a new contract and really emerged last year under Paul Maurice as not only a quality defensive player but a goal scorer as well. Luostarinen's absence during the Stanley Cup Final was noticeable, and there is still a lot more room for growth as a player. If this is the third line, it may be the best third line in hockey.
Sergei Bobrovsky, as we all know, is the Panthers' number one goaltender.
After that, Spencer Knight is back and looked sharp in the preseason opener. Veteran Anthony Stolarz was signed in the offseason, and this is a legitimate battle for the number two goalie.
The fact is, though, with the Panthers' early season schedule spread out, whoever gets the job may not be the goaltender that necessarily plays better. Knight is still so young, and missed half of last season. He needs to play. That may mean he starts in the AHL because if Bobrovsky is on his game, the backup will not see the ice very often early in the season. Stolarz is a true professional and knows the role of a backup. He can function well even if he doesn't play for a long stretch of time.
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