The Florida Panthers rookie development camp concluded it’s third session today at 11:00 A.M., providing us the last glimpse of live hockey till mid September. Oye! What will we do? As I met up with one of my partners in crime here on the Rat Trick, Dave Lasseter, we watched for the entire 120 minutes, as the 30 plus players played a quick scrimmage game of five on five….completed some drills….played some four on four, and then some three on three. According to Dave, Friday’s session was quite a bit more exciting than Tuesday when the players went through drills, making it difficult to judge the talent. Expert talent evaluators that we are!
The turnout on such a morning was nice to see, as most of the fans attending are all anxiously awaiting the start of the season. I saw many familiar faces as well as some new faces, which was quite refreshing to both of us as it’s expected that the Bank Atlantic Center will have a few more seats filled with all the summer activity that’s been going on. You know what they say don’t you? Build it and they will come. Well Dale Tallon is certainly doing that not only with free agents, but with two consecutive years of solid drafting.
Who stuck out Friday? Not in any particular order, but these names come to mind. Malcolm Lyles, John McFarland and Quinton Howden all showed their speed and goal scoring ability. Connor Brickley (who) probably had the best offensive day of everyone as if my memory is right scored three times and layed out a big hit. Some little guy by the name of Rocco Grimaldi was going full speed every time he was on the ice. No give up in this kid and while he’s small at 5′-6″, he plays with a big heart. Nick Bjugstad showed that one more year of seasoning should prepare him for a very successful NHL career, and Alex Petrovic and David Pacan continued to impress. This year’s first round pick for Florida Jonathan Huberdeau has some slick moves and is fast. I think the only thing he’s going to need to do is put on some weight, and build up his strength. I couldn’t get much of a feel in goaltending as Brian Foster, and Marc Cheverie did the bulk of the work.
The star of the day in more ways than one for me however was Erik Gudbranson. Yes, I have a man crush on this kid and if you’ve seen what I’ve seen so would you. He placed some well timed hard hits a few times that just made you smile when you saw it happen. At one point a puck was going into the corner and a froward who was ahead of Erik was after the puck. I looked quickly at Dave and said this won’t be good, and sure enough Erik layed the boom. He’s the real thing. The real deal. Each time I see him I’m so impressed with his play, his composure and his ability. Last year he was tall, lanky and young looking. This year he appears taller, gained some weight, and has matured in his face. For a 19 year old, he seems to have all the right tools, and is going to be a fan favourite right away when he makes the team. Which leads me to this: just shortly after leaving the session it was announced that Erik was signed to an entry level contract, thus ending the worry and concern of his future. The community of Sunrise, Florida and Panther nation celebrated and let out a collective sigh of relief.
While I only saw a glimpse, or should I say a two hour segment of what’s in store for the future, it’s refreshing to see that we’re getting faster, more skilled, and on defence we’re getting bigger. Most of the promising defencemen that we have are 6′-3″ or taller. It’s clear that the transformation of this hockey club is starting to take shape.
The future is bright, the pieces are falling into place.
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