Panthers Rookie Tournament: 3 Takeaways from the WeekendSep 19, 2016
(Photo Courtesy Eliot Schechter/Florida Panthers)
Springfield Thunderbirds head coach Geordie Kinnear has stated on more than one occasion that he does not like to project his AHL roster. In the eyes of the first-year head coach, the rookie tournament in South Florida this past weekend was an opening audition for players hoping to make the Florida Panthers, not the Springfield Thunderbirds.
An already deep Florida prospect pool might just have some tough decisions in the weeks that follow, off the heels of a pair of victories over the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals that saw the Panthers score 11 goals over two days.
Bearing in mind that it was a showcase for mostly rookie professionals, the Panthers and Thunderbirds and their respective fan bases should take a lot of positives out of the 2-0 start to the tournament. The Panthers’ brass will look to make it a perfect three-for-three on Tuesday in an afternoon showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Below are three takeaways from the Panthers’ productive weekend:
#1: Denis Malgin showing his might
Easily the most noticeable forward all weekend for Florida, the 19-year-old center had hands of gold, potting five goals over two games. Despite being listed at just 5-foot-9, the Russian-born teenager showed little fear of going to the front of the net, as two of his five goals came via deflections. Malgin also displayed his explosive wrist shot on a pair of top-shelf finishes.
To Kinnear, however, what set Malgin apart in his first two games was his ability to come back in support in the defensive zone: “I knew he had a lot of skill, but I didn’t know that he had a 200-foot game. His compete was off the charts.”
#2: Kinnear’s team-first adage already rubbing off on his players
Within minutes of speaking with Kinnear, it is impossible to ignore the team-before-self mantra that made him tremendously respected as a player and has earned him identical praise in the coaching ranks. On a pair of occasions this weekend, Panther forwards – ones more often known for their skill than their fists – took it upon themselves to stand up for their team.
Late in the second period on Saturday, following a check into the boards that spilled Connor Brickley, it was Brickley himself who scraped himself off the ice and dropped the gloves with Predator defenseman Trevor Murphy. The Panthers, in turn, responded with a goal from Jayce Hawryluk less than four minutes into the third.
On Sunday, it was Hawryluk’s turn to stick up for his teammates, as he came to blows with Capitals forward Jakub Vrana in the dying seconds of period two. Despite exiting the game due to the scrap, the former Brandon Wheat Kings star had lit a fire under his squad, and Malgin responded by scoring twice in the first 6:45 of third period action to blow the game open against Washington.
#3: Don’t sleep on the young goalies
In a loaded Florida system that already features Roberto Luongo, James Reimer, Reto Berra and Mike McKenna in between the pipes, a pair of Panther prospects are not ready to concede the net to their veteran cohorts.
On Saturday, in a split-game of action, Samuel Montembeault and Colin Stevens backstopped the Panthers to victory over Nashville. While Montembeault saw only eight shots and did not yield a tally, Kinnear was impressed with the focus of the young goalie: “Sometimes it’s tougher when you don’t get a lot of action; I thought he was very poised.”
On Sunday, former NCAA champion Union goaltender Colin Stevens was given the full 60-minute game, and he responded with 34 saves on a night where the Panthers were tested far more than the previous night.
“He made the saves he had to and came up with a couple of dandies,” Kinnear said of his goaltender.
What’s on deck?
The Panthers will finish their rookie tournament schedule against the Lightning on Tuesday. The Thunderbirds begin the next era of professional hockey in Springfield on Saturday, Oct. 22 against the St. John’s Ice Caps. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. ET at the MassMutual Center. Fans can also see the Thunderbirds in action for pre-season matchups on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7-8, at the MassMutual Center. Single game ticket information will be available in the coming weeks.
Springfield Thunderbirds fans are encouraged to visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com to learn more about Thunderbirds Season Ticket Memberships. Packages start at $12 per game and feature the most benefits, including an exclusive commemorative jersey. For more information, fans may call the Thunderbirds ticket office at (413) 739-GOAL (4625).