In the past two games, the Florida Panthers have suffered injuries to three key players. Goaltender Jose Theodore and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov both left early in last night’s 6-2 loss to Carolina. Defenseman Mike Weaver left Thursdays game against the Buffalo Sabres. The timeframe for all three injuries is not yet clear but based on how the injuries looked, it is safe to assume all three players will miss at least a couple of games. These injuries mean the Panthers will have a lot of ice time they need to replace. Here is a look at the injuries, their impact and who will be replacing the fallen.
What it means?
While injuries are never good, and you hate to see them happen to someone, this particular injury may actually benefit the Panthers in the long run. The direct result of the injury is that Panther prospect Jacob Markstrom will be called up and will likely receive the lions share of the playing time. Markstrom is widely regarded as one of the best goalie prospects in the NHL and he has an immense untapped upside.
The Panthers called Markstrom up last week to start a brief two game stretch of games but it was clear it was not a long term move because Florida did nothing to move its two incumbent goalies. The Panthers clearly wanted to see what Markstrom could do but with Theodore and Clemmensen ahead of his, the team was limited in their options. Unless they were to trade Theo or Celmmensen, Markstrom would probably stay in the AHL.
That was all before the injury changed everything. Theodore’s injury forces management’s hand and opens a spot for Markstrom to get some playing time. With how the Panthers’ goaltenders have been playing this season, it is likely Markstrom will be a huge improvement over Theodore and Clemmensen. The injury to Theodore also relives the team from making any definitive long term moves with their goalies. Markstrom will play with the Panthers while Theodore is out and when Theo returns, the team will have a decision to make. It will be interesting to see how Florida’s goalie situation plays out. Markstrom is clearly the goalie of the future, the only question is: is the future now?
Mike Weaver left during the first period of the Panthers’ Thursday night shootout loss against the Buffalo Sabres. It appears to be a lower-body injury and all we currently know is, “Weaver didn’t blow out a knee.”
What it means?
Mike Weaver has been replaced by Colby Robak. Robak was already with the Panthers after filling in for Filip Kuba Tuesday against Pittsburgh. Robak played last night against Carolina and logged 14:48 of ice time. Robak, 6’3″ 194 lbs, is just 22 years old and is the third ranked Panther defensive prospect behind Mike Matheson (NCAA) and Alex Petrovic (AHL) according to hockeysfuture.com. In 52 games with the San Antonio Rampage, Robak is -6 with three goals and 16 assists.
Robak was taken in the 2nd round (46th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He is just one of the many talented players the Panthers have in their organization. Because of the injuries to Weaver and Kulikov, Robak will receive plenty of ice time and will have a chance to prove that he belongs with the Panthers long term.
Last night against Carolina, Kulikov went down in his own zone and crashed into the boards. He left the ice holding his wrist. (Source)
What it means:
Losing Kulikov will not only be a blow to the Panthers defensively but also offensively, especially on the power play. Kulikov is a great passer and has the ability to quarterback an offense. His seven assists are fourth on the team and second amongst defensemen behind only Brian Campbell.
It appears that for now Kulikov will be replaced by Nolan Yonkman. Yonkman is 31 years old and has been playing in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. In 55 games played this year Yonkman is -18 and has 6 assists. Yonkman made is NHL debut with the Washington Capitals in the 2001-02 season and since then has played mostly in the AHL. He has played in 67 NHL games and he played in one game last season as an injury fill in.
Yonkman is not an exciting pick to replace Kulikov but rather a player with tons of pro experience who will understand his role and hopefully play good solid defensive hockey. It would have been cool to see Alex Petrovic get the call as he is another one of those young Panthers with a presumably bright future. The Panthers went the safe route, understandably so, going with experience over youth. Had they called Petrovic up, the Panthers would have had a ridiculously green defensive group. It is unclear the extent of Kulikov’s injury but if he is going to be out for a long time, Florida might try out a couple defensemen in that sixth spot.