Any Florida Panthers fans fretting having to begin the season without top defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour can breathe a sigh of relief after seeing Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s play in the preseason opener against the Nashville Predators.
Ekman-Larsson will need to be a driving force of offense amid Ekblad and Montour’s injury absences, and his three-assist performance in the Panthers’ preseason opener showed that he is up for the task.
Starting with a long stretch pass from the defensive zone up to Luostarinen at the blue line, Ekman-Larsson’s precision passing the puck directly leads to the scoring opportunity.
Here, on the power play, he keeps the Predators from clearing the zone and gets the puck over to Barkov, who gets it on net and creates a rebound chance for Luostarinen.
It is still very much early days for Ekman-Larsson and the Florida Panthers this season, but OEL’s three assist performance is a hopeful sign that the team will get the 40–50-point play over the course of the season — as he was multiple times in Arizona — rather than the 20–30-point player he was with the Vancouver Canucks the past two seasons.
Knight, Samoskevich, and both groups impress in doubleheader
Spencer Knight, in his first official game action back with the team since exiting NHL/NHL Players’ Association Player Assistance Program, played the first half in Game 1 of the doubleheader and stopped all 13 shots faced. While we are happy just to have him back on the ice playing hockey, he looks ready to get back into the goalie rotation with Sergei Bobrovsky.
Mackie Samoskevich made his presence known in his preseason debut with two goals and an assist. While he benefitted from playing on a line with Eetu Luostarinen and Anton Lundell, it was hard not to be impressed with his individual performance.
We say that it is only preseason but sweeping the doubleheader with a 5-0 shutout win in Game 1, and a 5-2 win in Game 2, is hard not to look at as encouraging. The top forwards showed up and played, the young guys looked good, defensive depth was solid in both games, and the goalies were coming up with big saves.
The preseason slate will only become more challenging with games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning in the coming two weeks, but for now the team is showing that they are ready to go after a short offseason.
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