Oct 19, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Jesse Winchester (17) knocks the puck away from Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) as Panthers goalie Tim Thomas (34) falls backwards in overtime at BB&T Center. Robert Mayer USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Florida Panthers At Minnesota Wild

Florida Panthers (4-11-4) at Minnesota Wild (11-4-4)

There will be a new face in the lineup when the Florida Panthers take on the Minnesota Wild tonight at 8:00 p.m. Coming over in the trade that sent Kris Versteeg to the Chicago Blackhawks, Jimmy Hayes will be wearing number 12 for the Panthers and he will be a game time decision tonight against Minnesota.

Hayes, 23, will be thrown right into the fire tonight as the Panthers begin their season-long five game road trip against a stingy Minnesota team. At 6’6″ the right-winger will be a big physical addition to the Panthers lineup. I expect him to slot in somewhere on the third or fourth line if he plays tonight. He scored 25 goals last season for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. In two games with the Blackhawks this season, Hayes has been held without a point.

In addition to Hayes, the Panthers added 22-year-old defenseman Dylan Olsen. Olsen will join the Panthers’ AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage. Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he is happy to add the two youngsters who may have struggled to stick the NHL in Chicago but only because of the insane depth on the Blackhawks roster.

“Both these kids have been blocked by the talent in Chicago. They’ll get their chance here.” Tallon said.

The Panthers are coming off a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, a win that snapped a nine game losing streak. They will try to carry some of the momentum from that big win onto the road with them in Minnesota.

The Wild have been one of the leagues hottest teams recently and they are 8-1-1 in their last ten games. The Panthers however, know that they can hang with Minnesota as they defeated the Wild in the two team’s previous meeting, a 2-1 shootout victory in South Florida. Tim Thomas stopped 30 of 31 shots in that game as well as both shootout attempts. The Panthers will be relying on him to come up big again tonight as the Wild are sure to bring the pressure.

Minnesota is led by Zach Parise (nine goals, seven assists) and defenseman Ryan Suter (11 assists, NHL leading 29:43 TOI/G). The Wild have been successful in part because of the excellent goaltending of Josh Harding. Harding leads the NHL in GAA at 1.21 and is second in the league in save percentage at .947.

With Kris Versteeg out of the picture, the Panthers will need their young players to step up even more than they already have. That means we will probably be seeing a whole lot more of Alexander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad. The addition of Hayes gives the Panthers another under-25 forward with big potential.

Hayes won’t be the only addition to the Panthers roster tonight as Jesse Winchester will be back after serving the three game suspension he was given for his hit on Chris Kelly against the Bruins last Thursday. Winchester was one of the Panthers hottest forwards prior to the suspension and he will carry a three game point streak into tonight’s game.

Where exactly Hayes is slotted in the lineup remains a mystery but here is my best guess as to how the Panthers will line up tonight:

Fleischmann-Bjugstad-Huberdeau

Upshall-Barkov-Winchester

Boyes-Goc-Kopecky

Bergenheim-Matthias-Hayes

Gilbert-Campbell

Kulikov-Weaver

Gudbranson-Mottau

Tim Thomas

Enjoy the game tonight, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below and as always follow The Rat Trick on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest.

 

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Tags: Florida Panthers Jimmy Hayes Kris Versteeg

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