July 15, 2015

SIGNED AND READY TO PLAY: Lawson Crouse signs deal with Florida Panthers, will compete for roster spot ... Panthers also sign Petrovic, McFarland and Howden

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers expect to be a much younger team next season and could have a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie on the roster for the third straight year.
Lawson Crouse, Florida's top pick in last month's draft, signed a three-year entry level deal with the Panthers.
Although Crouse could be sent back to his junior team in Canada, the expectations are for the 6-foot-4 forward to be on the big club with general manager Dale Tallon saying he wants to see Crouse compete for a high-profile role on the team.
Florida traded forward Jimmy Hayes to Boston helping clear a spot for Crouse. Possibilities for Crouse include playing on Florida's second line with 6-6 center Nick Bjugstad.
"I have high expectations and that is to come in and make that team,'' said Crouse, who was the 11th overall pick of the 2015 draft held in Sunrise.
"It's starting to sink in for me. I've had a chance to look back on the draft. I'm a pretty lucky kid. It's been my goal to play in the NHL ever since I was a young boy and now I'm one step closer to that goal.''
Tallon has watched a few top-end rookies make his teams over the past three years. After sending Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau back to junior for more seasoning, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad both made the Panthers out of their initial training camp.
Huberdeau, who made the team in 2013, and Ekblad went on to win the league's Rookie of the Year award.
"He's such a great skater and has great hockey sense,'' Tallon said. "For his size, he really has good control of his skills. I'm really impressed with him. He's a leader and wants this badly. ... He's a kid who really has it inside of him. This is the opportunity he wants. He's going to get every opportunity to earn a spot.''
The Panthers also made a couple of other moves, signing defenseman Alex Petrovic to a two-year deal with a one-way provision helping solidify his spot on the team.
Last year, Petrovic played in 33 games with the Panthers and showed he could be a full-time NHL defenseman as he ended the season strong.
Petrovic was a second round pick in 2010.
"I thought he really came on the last 20 games,'' Tallon said. "He was really determined and proved his worth and value to the team. I look for big things for him. He has some stability now and can play some big minutes for us.''
Florida also signed forwards John McFarland and Quinton Howden to one-year, two-way deals. Both are expected to compete for a roster spot.
Tallon added that negotiations are ongoing with Huberdeau who is a restricted free agent.
"We're confident we'll get something done,'' Tallon said. "We're waiting to hear back from them and then we'll move on that. There's no rush. We just want to get the right deal done for both sides. There's no concern.''


July 01, 2015

THE NEED FOR SPEED: Panthers acquire Reilly Smith and contract of Marc Savard from Bruins for Jimmy Hayes

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The opening day of the NHL's free agency period was awful quiet in Sunrise.
Until it wasn't.
General manager Dale Tallon swung a deal with Boston on Wednesday evening, acquiring winger Reilly Smith and the contract of concussed center Marc Savard for the rights to restricted free agent Jimmy Hayes.
Tallon said Smith, 24, brings the Panthers speed and versatility he had been looking for and comes at an affordable price as he is signed for the next two seasons at around $7 million.
"[Smith] can play any forward position, with anyone really,'' Tallon said. "He's really smart and can really skate. ... We needed to address our need for speed.''
Smith, who scored 20 goals for the Bruins as a rookie but just 13 last year, was a teammate of Florida's Brandon Pirri as a youngster in Toronto.
Savard hasn't played since 2011 and Florida will take a $4 million cap hit for the next two seasons while only paying out about $250,000 in actual money per Sportsnet's Elliott Friedman.
"The cash part isn't much and we have a lot of cap space,'' Tallon said. "It made sense. [Boston] probably wouldn't have made the deal otherwise. It was win-win. We were in a situation where we could do it and got a player we really like.''
Tallon says the Panthers' salary cap number is around $65 million -- or about $6 million under the ceiling when Savard's contract is factored in.
The Panthers also still need to come to a financial agreement with restricted free agent Jonathan Huberdeau who likely expects a salary similar or exceeding Smith's deal.
Hayes, a Boston native who played at Boston College, scored a career-high 19 goals for the Panthers last year but only scored twice in his final 24 games.

One of Hayes' goals came in Florida's 4-2 victory on April 9 which all but knocked the Bruins from the playoffs.
"We wanted to end on a high note,'' Hayes said then. "We showed we can still compete, still play hard. I'm a Florida Panther so no emotions there. We made it tougher on them, but tonight was about us.''
Although Tallon said Hayes was leaning toward taking the Panthers to arbitration for the second straight year, that didn't "come into play in my decision" to trade the 25-year-old power forward.
Hayes and the Panthers avoided an arbitration hearing last year when they settled on a one-year deal worth $925,000. Tallon also offered Hayes to the Rangers at the draft for goalie Cam Talbot. New York traded Talbot to Edmonton.
Since coming to the Panthers in the 2013 Kris Verteeg deal with Chicago, Hayes had 30 goals in 125 games. He had six in 43 games with the Blackhawks.
"Sometimes you have to give up good assets to get good assets back,'' Tallon said. "It's a good deal for both teams. Jimmy can score; he scored a lot early in the year but struggled in the second half. We're looking for a player with more speed who can play more positions, kill penalties, play defense.''
Before Wednesday's late trade, the Panthers made five signings to stock their new AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Florida added another goalie by signing Mike McKenna to a two-year deal.
McKenna has played in 22 NHL games over the past seven seasons for four different teams -- including one start for Arizona last year -- but has spent most of his career in the minors.
McKenna helped lead the Portland Pirates to the AHL playoffs last season and, barring injury to Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya, will remain in Maine as the Panthers take over that affiliation.
-- The Panthers conclude their development camp Thursday with players taking the ice at 10 a.m. at the Coral Springs IceDen. Admission is free.
-- Florida officially bought out the final year of Brad Boyes' contract on Wednesday.


MINOR MOVES: Panthers quiet on opening day of free agency, stock up on AHLers for Portland Pirates

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Although there was a little bit of activity around the NHL on the opening day of the free agency period, it was awful quiet in Sunrise.
The Panthers kicked things off Wednesday with five signings to stock their new AHL team in Portland, Maine.
As it stands now, and general manager Dale Tallon said he was still working on potential trades, the Panthers will be a much younger team this coming season (Jaromir Jarg notwithstanding).
With veterans Brad Boyes, Tomas Kopecky and Scottie Upshall gone, the Panthers opened up potential roster spots and playing time for the likes of Vincent Trocheck, Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden.
Youngsters Lawson Crouse, Kyle Rao and Mike Matheson will also get a chance to make the team come October.
The Panthers officially bought out the final year of Boyes' contract on Wednesday. Kopecky and Upshall weren't offered contracts and remain on the market.
"We looked at the free agent list and if someone was going to give us a good bargain, but to overpay someone and block our young guys didn't make sense,'' Tallon said.
"It's not a real strong free agent market but we talked to a few players. Frankly, we would have blocked some from getting the opportunity to play. We're a good, young team and will be adding some of our own players. We'll be a better team, quicker and more skilled. That's what's were all about. It was a lot of money for players we feel we have with our own.''
The biggest news Wednesday wasn't necessarily a free agent as Toronto finally traded Phil Kessel as the talented yet embattled winger was sent to Pittsburgh.
The Panthers had long been rumored to be a potential landing spot for Kessel and Tallon said he talked to the Maple Leafs about him soon after the season ended.
According to Tallon, Toronto didn't want to retain any of Kessel's $8 million salary and wanted some of Florida's top young prospects in order to swing a deal.
The Leafs, which reportedly paid Kessel's $4 million bonus due Wednesday before dealing him, ended up retaining $1.2 million of Kessel's salary in each of the next seven seasons.
"It wasn't the right time for us,'' Tallon said. "We didn't think he would put us over the top at the time and didn't want to give up a top prospect. We like our team. We're going to add some youth and make it better.''
Florida added another goalie by signing Mike McKenna to a two-year deal.
McKenna has played in 22 NHL games over the past seven seasons for four different teams -- including one start for Arizona last year -- but has spent most of his career in the minors.
McKenna helped lead the Portland Pirates to the AHL playoffs last season and -- barring injury -- will remain in Maine as the Panthers take over that affiliation.
With Michael Houser not offered a contract, Sam Brittain, who just completed his first pro season with Florida's minor league affiliates in Cincinnati and San Antonio, is expected to team up with McKenna in Portland this coming season.
Both Brittain and McKenna will be counted on to help out the Panthers if either Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya were to get hurt during the season.
"I'm ready for whatever challenges and opportunities are ahead,'' Brittain said.
-- The Panthers conclude their development camp Thursday with players taking the ice at 10 a.m. at the Coral Springs IceDen. Admission is free.
-- G Mike McKenna, 32: Spent the 2014-15 season with the Portland Pirates (AHL), registering a 27-18-6 record with a 2.24 goals against average, .926 save percentage and seven shutouts.
McKenna has played in 332 American Hockey League games, registering a 159-131-20 career record, 2.73 goals against average, .913 save percentage and 22 shutouts.
McKenna has played in 22 National Hockey League games for Arizona (2014-2015), Columbus (2013-2014), New Jersey (2010-2011) and Tampa Bay (2008-2009). The St. Louis, MO native was selected by the Nashville Predators in the sixth round (172nd overall) of the 2002 NHL Draft.
-- F Shane Harper, 26: Played 75 games for the Chicago Wolves (AHL) during the 2014-15 season, leading the club in goals (32) and points (50). Harper’s 32 goals ranked him third in the AHL. The Valencia, CA native has played in 281 career AHL games, recording 124 points (65-59—124).
-- D Sena Acolatse, 24: Played 38 games with the Adirondack Flames (AHL) during the 2014-15 season, recording six goals,13 assists and 68 penalty minutes.
Acolatse has played 195 career AHL games, recording 78 points (23-55—78) and 285 penalty minutes.
-- D Cameron Gaunce, 25: Played 73 games with the Texas Stars (AHL) during the 2014-15 season, recording 14 points (4-10—14).
Gaunce has played in 344 American Hockey League games, recording 97 points (17-80—97) and won a Calder Cup with Texas in 2014.
Gaunce has played 20 games in the National Hockey League for the Dallas Stars (2013-14) and Colorado Avalanche (2010-11). The Sudbury, ON native was selected by Colorado in the second round (50th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft.
-- D Brent Regner, 26: Played 71 games with the Chicago Wolves (AHL) during the 2014-15 season, recording 29 points (6-23—29) and a team-leading +21 rating. The Westlock, AB native has played in 388 AHL games, recording 142 points (24-118—142). Regner was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fifth round (137th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft.

Player biographies courtesy of Florida Panthers


June 30, 2015

SPOTS OPENING UP: Brad Boyes waived on eve of free agency; Rocco Grimaldi ready for chance

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Rocco Grimaldi says he isn't expecting to be handed a roster spot with the Panthers.
On Tuesday, however, another one may have just opened up.
The Panthers placed veteran winger Brad Boyes on waivers Tuesday with the expectation of buying out the final year of his contract on Wednesday.
Boyes signed a two-year contract extension with the Panthers in 2013 -- just hours before the team reacquired goalie Roberto Luongo in a blockbuster move that completely overshadowed Boyes' deal.
With free agents Tomas Kopecky and Scottie Upshall out, the Panthers have more than a few spots open for young players such as Grimaldi.
That, of course, could change Wednesday when the free agency period opens up.
Grimaldi, who had a goal in seven games with the Panthers last year, said he is ready to make that jump.
"I'm going with the same mindset as last year if not a little more motivated because I didn't stick with the team,'' said Grimaldi, at 22, is one of the veterans of Florida's development camp which continues Wednesday morning.

"I know there is a spot there and I want to take it. I'm going to work very hard this summer.''
Grimaldi is not the only player fighting for a spot on the team come training camp.
With so many veteran players on last year's team, Grimaldi and Quinton Howden spent a lot of time in the minors. Lawson Crouse, Florida's pick with the 11th overall selection last Saturday, is also fighting for a spot.
Looking back, Grimaldi said, playing in the AHL was a bit of a blessing. Grimaldi spent three years at North Dakota before signing with the Panthers and spending most of last season in San Antonio.
"Having that first pro year under my belt is huge,'' Grimaldi said. "Seeing how hard it is, I've heard the [AHL] is the hardest league to play in because of the grind, was huge for me.''
Said GM Dale Tallon: "They all think we [assign them to the minors] because we don't like them. We don't send them to the minors for bad reasons. When they grow up, they're more mature, they figure it out. A lot of great players have played in the AHL. It's a great learning experience.''
As far as free agency goes, the Panthers weren't expected to be very active although Tuesday's move of letting Boyes go suggests Tallon has something cooking.
This isn't a very strong free agent class although Tallon may have a trade in the works or a deal pending.
Carolina is buying out former 20-goal scorer Alexander Semin -- whom the Hurricanes will pay $14 million over the next six years -- and he could be tempting.
Florida is definitely looking for a third goalie to perhaps battle Al Montoya as Luongo's backup but more likely help out in AHL Portland.
The Panthers, which were 25th in the league in scoring last year, also need someone who can score. Semin has shown he can do that. Other potential free agents Florida could have interest in include former Panthers winger Michael Frolik and Anaheim's Matt Beleskey.
Boyes, who will be owed $1.7 million spread over the next two seasons, scored 35 goals in 156 games with the Panthers.
The Panthers' prospects came off the ice Tuesday with a trip to the beach as well as holding a street hockey clinic.
The team returns to the Coral Springs IceDen Wednesday at 10 a.m. for its second of three workouts before the camp is concluded Thursday.
The Panthers will attend Wednesday's Marlins-Giants game with Crouse throwing out the first pitch.



June 27, 2015

BIG ONE GOT AWAY: Panthers grab pair of goalies in second day of draft but lose out on Cam Talbot to Oilers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers added a pair of goalies on the second and final day of the NHL Draft in Sunrise.
They just didn't get the one they really wanted.
General manager Dale Tallon said the Panthers were hot on a deal with the New York Rangers for goaltender Cam Talbot and were pretty confident they were going to land the talented 28-year-old.
The Rangers instead sent Talbot to Edmonton in exchange for three (second, third and seventh round) draft picks.
New York general manager Glen Sather was the coach and general manager during the Oilers' glory years. There were reports that Sather could have traded Talbot for a first round pick before the draft started but he held onto him until the draft's second day.
Florida was offering a collection of draft picks (believed to be its pair of thirds as well as a fifth) and, according to the New York Post, restricted free agent Jimmy Hayes.
Hayes' younger brother Kevin just completed his rookie season with the Rangers. Jimmy Hayes scored a career-high 19 goals for the Panthers last season.
"We were one of the finalists, it was down to the wire,'' Tallon said. "It was obviously between us and Edmonton. There were four or five in the mix and it came down to the two of us. I guess they wanted Cam to play out west so that didn't work in our favor. It just didn't happen.''
Talbot wasn't the only NHL goalie moved on Saturday although Tallon said Florida wasn't in on Vancouver's Eddie Lack.
Lack, Roberto Luongo's former backup with the Canucks, was shipped to Carolina for a third and a seventh round pick.
Although Florida has Luongo under contract for the next seven seasons, Tallon was looking for a "heir apparent" in Talbot.
Last season, Talbot went 16-4-3 as he started 23 of 25 games in which Henrik Lundqvist was out with injury.
"We want Al Montoya to come back and play well,'' Tallon said of Luongo's current backup who is signed through next season.
"But we're not just looking at today, we're looking way the road. This is a long-term initiative here. It's as simple as us trying to get better. It had nothing to do with Luongo. It had to do with our future, handing off the baton kind of thing.''
With no picks in the second round, Florida didn't make its first pick Saturday until grabbing goalie Samuel Montembeault.
"This is very exciting to be drafted by the home team at their place,'' Montembeault said.
"I grew up watching a lot of Roberto Luongo, he was one of my favorite players. I think this is a good team, a great place to play. I knew they were looking for a goalie and I'll be there.''
The Panthers used their second pick of the third round on defenseman Thomas Schemitsch.
"This has been really cool, seeing the atmosphere [Friday] was good to see,'' Schemitsch said.
"The Panthers have a lot of depth and it's a challenge in which you have to prove yourself.''
All told, Florida drafted a pair of goalies, a defenseman and five forwards with its eight selections (a fifth round pick was traded to the Islanders) in this hometown draft.
"We tried hard to get into second round but didn't have any dance partners,'' scouting director Scott Luce said.
"It didn't work out so we went with our second strategy of keeping the picks and letting them come along.''
Said Tallon: "It was a very successful draft for us. We hit a home run with [first-round pick Lawson] Crouse, that was a bonus and a blessing for us. Not having a pick early [Saturday] was frustrating. We tried to get a pick but weren't able to. We got the No. 1 goalie on our list and a big defenseman who was under the radar.''
-- The Islanders made defenseman Andong Song the first Chinese-born player ever drafted by an NHL team.
Song, a native of Beijing who moved to Canada when he was 9, was taken in the sixth round. Song eventually moved to New Jersey where he was the captain of the Lawrenceville School team during his senior season.
Song had a large contingent of teammates and coaches in the stands at BB&T Center and a loud roar erupted when the Islanders called his name.


June 26, 2015

CROUSE IS THE ONE: Panthers keep the 11th pick in the NHL Draft, take Lawson Crouse

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

One night before, the Miami Heat were ecstatic to see Duke's Justise Winslow fall to them with the tenth pick in the NBA Draft.

The Panthers had a similar feeling Friday when hulking winger Lawson Crouse dropped out of the top 10 and right to the NHL Draft's host team with the 11th overall selection.

"I can't believe he was there,'' general manager Dale Tallon said at the conclusion of the first round at BB&T Center on Friday night. The second round kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m.

"We had him sixth on our list and he gives us exactly what we need. He's a power forward, can skate, score and is tough. We couldn't be happier.''

Ranked fifth in the NHL's central scouting rankings for North American skaters, Crouse was thought to be headed to Philadelphia with the seventh overall pick.

Only the Flyers went with Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen. Columbus, San Jose and Colorado also bypassed Crouse which got him to start thinking South Florida may become his landing spot.

"I knew anything could happen and I kept my options open,'' Crouse said. "When Florida did roll around, I felt pretty confident about things, knew my interviews there went very well. I'm happy to be a Panther. It's just a number at the end of day; the real work starts now. It doesn't matter where you get taken, it's how you work afterward.''

Crouse, 18, says his next goal is to make the Panthers out of training camp.

"If I come prepared,'' he said, "it's going to be tough to send me home.''

Both Tallon and coach Gerard Gallant say they hope Crouse indeed makes it impossible for them to send him back to junior hockey this coming season as Aaron Ekblad did last year.

His first course of business is attending Florida's development camp which starts Monday in Coral Springs.

"Jonathan Huberdeau said it's real fun to play here,'' Crouse said. "You can't beat the weather. This has been a unique experience for me and a different lifestyle now. But I'm looking forward to the change.''

Said Gallant: "We want him to make the team, we like to play our young players. But we're not going to put them in if they're not ready. One step at a time. Dale drafted the kid, makes the decisions. But I'd love to see him make our team.''

Crouse is a player so tough he's nicknamed 'The Sheriff' yet athletic enough to have scored 26 goals in 56 games last year in the Ontario Hockey League.

And of the six top prospects who took batting practice at Marlins Park on Wednesday, Crouse was the only player to hit one out.

"He can hit homers, right?'' Tallon asked. "I like this kid a lot. He interviewed tremendously well, a classy kid.''

Tallon long has been big on players with size and speed who show a little toughness.

It appears Lawson is a right in that mold.

At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Lawson uses his size to mow through opponents -- something that will become harder to do at the NHL level.

One thing that isn't in question in Lawson's willingness to defend a teammate.

Last year, Crouse was suspended a few times by the OHL for his physical play -- including four games when he jumped off the bench to charge an opponent who barreled one of his teammates.

If the Panthers send him back to the Kingston Frontenacs -- the team Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson once played for -- he will miss the first eight games for his headshot on an opponent in his final playoff game of last season.

Tallon said he's not worried.

"That comes with being that kind of player,'' Tallon said. "He'll figure it out as far as that's concerned. But I like that fire in the belly.''


June 25, 2015

THE NEXT GREAT ONE? - Edmonton pins its revival on Connor McDavid at Friday's NHL Draft in Sunrise

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Connor McDavid sat in the Florida Panthers locker room at the team's training facility in Coral Springs Thursday afternoon, more than a dozen media members surrounding his temporary stall.
It's a common sight, this, reporters crowding around McDavid.
On Friday night, McDavid will be the first overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.
The 18-year-old center will walk through the crowd at Sunrise's BB&T Center to the stage where he will slip on an Edmonton Oilers jersey likely with his name and familiar No. 97 on the back.
If McDavid thought the attention was bright on him before, just wait until he gets to Edmonton.
"I think our fans were a little at the end of their run with this team and then they got this golden ticket,'' said Bob Stauffer, Edmonton's radio color analyst.
"They know how good he is. This guy is going to be the best player in the NHL in three to five years. I don't think we've seen his combination of speed and skill and his vision is off the charts. He's going to make everyone else better.''
This 2015 draft has long been referred to as the 'McDavid draft' and a number of teams decided to waste a season in trying to be bad enough to try to get a shot at McDavid.
Edmonton, which finished 28th in the league behind Buffalo and Arizona this past season, won the draft lottery for the fourth time in the past six years and jumped both the Sabres and Coyotes for the rights to McDavid.
While McDavid has often been compared to Sidney Crosby, the savior of a once-downtrodden Pittsburgh squad, now that he's moving to Edmonton he's been compared to someone else.
In Edmonton, no one gets compared to Wayne Gretzky, the 'Great One' who helped bring four Stanley Cups to Edmonton and the mention of his trade to Los Angeles in 1988 still brings up great angst.
Yet McDavid and Gretzky are now mentioned in the same breath.
"People are bouncing off the walls in Edmonton,'' said Marty Klinkenberg, who has been assigned the task of following McDavid this year for Canada's Globe and Mail.
"A lot of people say he's the best player to come out since Crosby and maybe even since Gretzky. The prospects are exciting, people are excited.''
McDavid was one of six top prospects to work a special camp for South Florida youngsters at the Panthers' IceDen.
Wearing his Erie Otters junior jersey on the ice perhaps for the final time, McDavid skated among the young hockey players most of whom wore their Florida Panthers gear.
Afterward he signed countless autographs and posed for dozens of pictures before heading in and camping out in Brian Campbell's locker stall.
"I don't know if those kids look up to me or not, but it's always nice to put a smile on someone's face,'' McDavid said. "I remember when I was that age and was just in awe of those guys. Now, to be in that position myself, you want to give back and do everything you can to help out. It was fun.''
Although it's a given Edmonton is taking McDavid first, he still says he doesn't know what will happen on Friday evening.
Gretzky's No. 99 may be the most popular jersey at Oilers' games at aging Rexall Place but that will soon change.
This offseason, the Oilers hired former Sharks' coach Todd McLellan, brought in a new general manager in former Boston boss Peter Chiarelli.
In 2016, a new arena in downtown Edmonton will open for the Oilers.
Edmonton, which has missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons, is understandably fired up about the future.
"It's a great city, the people are very nice and welcoming,'' McDavid said. "People are excited and rightfully so. Whomever they draft first is going to be a good player. If it is myself, I'll do everything I can to try and help.''
BB&T Center, Sunrise
Friday's schedule
Parking lots open, 1 p.m.
FanFest, Pantherland opens, 2 p.m.
Arena doors open, 5 p.m.
First round begins, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)


TIME TO PLAY: Panthers schedule unveiled

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers unveiled their schedule for the 2015-16 season on Thursday, the 22nd in franchise history.
Florida will open at home on Oct. 10 against Philadelphia and finish in Sunrise on April 9 against Carolina.
The Panthers will play the maximum five games against divisional foes Tampa Bay (two at home, three on the road road) and Ottawa (three home/two road).
Florida's annual holiday homestand gets a boost this year as Los Angeles and the Islanders visit at Thanksgiving and Montreal and the Rangers come to Sunrise around the New Year.
The Panthers will host both the the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and Eastern Conference champion Lightning on consecutive nights on Jan. 22-23.
Florida will have a pair of six-game homestands and has one six-game road trip in early January.



June 24, 2015

TOP ROOKIE: Florida Panthers Aaron Ekblad takes home Calder Trophy as NHL's top rookie

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
For the second time in three seasons, a member of the Florida Panthers was named the NHL's top rookie.
Wednesday night, Aaron Ekblad was given the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas.
"This is the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever done in my life,'' said Ekblad, who is flying back to South Florida on Thursday to be a part of the NHL Draft being held in Sunrise.
"It's pretty special to be up here.''
The top pick of last year's draft, Ekblad had an exceptional season and played the second-most minutes on the Panthers behind Brian Campbell.
Ekblad, 19, missed just one game because of stomach bug that affected just about everyone on the team in March.
In 80 games, Ekblad had 12 goals and 27 assists breaking Ed Jovanovski's franchise records for goals, assists and points by a rookie defenseman.
Ekblad and Jovanovski are the only two No. 1 draft picks in Florida franchise history and both are natives of Windsor, Ontario.
Among those who represented the Panthers in Las Vegas included general manager Dale Tallon, president Rory Babich and alternate governor Bill Torrey.
"You have ups and downs but he's had very few downs this year,'' coach Gerard Gallant said last season.
"As coaches, we get upset when mistakes are made but that's part of maturing. Everyone does it but it doesn't bother the star players. It's surprising he does that at his age.''
Ekblad beat out Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau and Ottawa's Mark Stone for the honors. According to the NHL, Ekblad won the award with 71 of the 154 members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association who voted giving him a first-place vote.
Ekblad, who played in the All-Star Game this past season, got a total of 1,147 voting points with Stone receiving 1,078.
"The most important part of any award is your teammates,'' Ekblad said. "This is for them; I accept this on behalf of them.''
Ekblad's season didn't get off to a great start as there was some question during training camp whether he would finish the season with the Panthers.
Florida could have sent him back to his junior team after nine games, but after his first couple games of the season, it was obvious he wasn't going anywhere.
"In training camp, you could tell he was nervous,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said at All-Star Weekend in Columbus.
"But then the regular season started and you didn't notice that. He flipped the switch right away. You could never tell he's 18. He's that good. We're happy to have him for sure.''
Ekblad, who got a fifth-place vote for the Norris Trophy for top defenseman along with partner Brian Campbell, said before the award show that he is aware of the expectations on him.
Winning the league's top rookie honors will only add to that -- although he doesn't seem to care.
"I use expectations as motivation,'' Ekblad said. "I really don't sit around and listen to other's expectations; the only ones that matter are mine. I have expectations for myself.''

Photo courtesy of @FlaPanthers



BUFFALO JACK: Boston University star Jack Eichel has Sabres excited for future


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BUFFALO, New York -- Any other year, Jack Eichel would be striding to the podium at BB&T Center on Friday night, celebrating his selection as the top pick of the NHL Draft.
Only Eichel will have to wait a few extra minutes before his name is called.
Connor McDavid, who was called the next Sidney Crosby at 15, will be the top selection by Edmonton.
Eichel, also considered a "generational talent," will go second to Buffalo.
He seems just fine joining the Sabres.
Buffalo sure is glad to be getting him.
"Everyone around here seems pretty excited about what's going on with the Sabres future,'' Eichel said at the Draft Combine held across the street from the Sabres' arena earlier this month.
"Everyone has been really welcoming, and although nothing is set in stone, this looks like where I will end up. I've gotten a lot of feedback from the locals, like 'welcome home' and 'we're happy to have you here.' People here really care about the Sabres.''
Eichel hasn't officially said whether he'll join the Sabres this coming season or return to Boston University for his sophomore year.
Eichel told the Buffalo News after taking batting practice at Marlins Park he was nearing a decision.
"I think there's kind of a little update so I guess we'll find out sooner rather than later," Eichel told reporters on the field.
As a freshman, Eichel helped the Terriers rebound from a 10-21-4 season.
Led by Eichel's 26 goals and 45 assists, Boston University went 28-8-5 and advanced to the Frozen Four where it lost 4-3 in the national championship game to Providence.
Eichel became only the second freshman (Paul Kariya, Maine in 1993) to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top hockey player in the nation.
"I had high expectations for myself going into the year,'' Eichel said. "It was a pretty quick turnaround to see how successful we were.''
Said NHL director of central scouting Dan Marr: "It’s exceptional what Jack did. He exceeded expectations. Everyone knew that he was going to have a good year. For him to step in and just kind of take charge and take control there, it shows how special of a player he is."
In Buffalo, fans are awaiting a rebirth of the Sabres after a few down years.
For the second consecutive season, Buffalo finished at the bottom of the NHL standings yet saw another team win the draft lottery and the right to the top pick.
Last year, Florida jumped from second to first and this year it was Edmonton leapfrogging the Sabres and the rights to McDavid.
Knowing there were a pair of top-end players to select from made the pain of losing a player such as McDavid a little easier in western New York.
After the season, the Sabres fired coach Ted Nolan and replaced him with former Pittsburgh coach Dan Byslma.
"People here knew the chances were pretty good the Sabres would be getting Eichel so they've been tuned into that -- and watching his games -- all season,'' said Paul Hamilton, a Sabres' radio host.
"People looked at it as it would be great to get McDavid, but it would be great to get Eichel as well. There was no disappointment. You're fine with either one.''
As for Eichel, Buffalo seems like a great fit as he heads to as passionate a hockey market as there is in the United States.
"I’ve done a decent job of getting out and exploring the city,'' said Eichel, a native of Massachusetts. "Everyone talks about Buffalo’s chicken wings, and I got a chance to enjoy those. I’m just trying to take it all in.''
-- The top prospects had their first official draft outing Wednesday as six players (Eichel, McDavid, Lawson Crouse, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Noah Hanifin) took batting practice at Marlins Park while outfitted in custom Marlins home jerseys.
"I felt like I was on a golf course, popping too many up and getting under everything," Eichel told the Buffalo News.
McDavid and Eichel were scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Miami's game against St. Louis.

Photo courtesy: @PR_NHL


June 22, 2015

FAMILIAR PRESEASON: Panthers open with Nashville, finish with Tampa Bay

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers open their preseason with a doubleheader in Nashville on Sept. 20 and finish with a home game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning on Oct. 3.
The 2015-16 regular season schedule is expected to be released this week prior to the NHL Draft being held at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

For the third straight season -- and second in Nashville -- the Panthers and Predators will play a day-night doubleheader. The first game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. with the second at 8.

Florida will play two of its six exhibition games at home (Sept. 22 against Dallas; Oct. 3 against Tampa Bay) and four on the road (Nashville, Tampa Bay on Sept. 25 and Dallas on Sept. 27).

Florida Panthers 2015-16 preseason schedule -- Sept. 20: at Nashville (2), 4:30/8 p.m.; Sept. 22: Dallas, 7:30; Sept. 25: at Tampa Bay, 7:30; Sept. 27: at Dallas, 8; Oct. 3: Tampa Bay, 7.


April 30, 2015

OKC MOVES ON: Barons sweep San Antonio Rampage in three ... Panthers AHL affiliation now moves east to Portland, Maine

From the Rampage:



San Antonio Falls to Oklahoma City in Three Games in Western Conference Quarterfinals


SAN ANTONIO (April 29, 2015) – The San Antonio Rampage scored the game-tying goal with 59 seconds left in regulation, but fell in overtime to the Oklahoma City Barons 2-1 in front of 7,516 at the AT&T Center on Wednesday night. The loss marks the end of the Western Conference Quarterfinals for the Rampage, as the Barons will advance in the Calder Cup Playoffs, taking the best-of-five series 3-0.


After a scoreless first period in which the Barons outshot the Rampage 16-5, Oklahoma City got the first tally of the game, as Kellen Jones converted off a Rampage turnover and beat Dan Ellis at the 18:51mark of the middle frame.


The Rampage pulled Ellis for an extra skater with time winding down and Dylan Olsen scored the equalizer with 59 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.


Jujhar Khaira punched the puck past Ellis just 5:01into the extra frame to give the Barons the 2-1 win and end the season for the Rampage.


Ellis finished with 36-of-38 saves and both teams were scoreless on three power-play opportunities.



After combining for 15 total shots through the first two periods, the Rampage put 19 pucks on net in the third period, resulting in the equalizing goal to send the game to overtime.



Three of the Rampage’s four lines remained unchanged from Saturday’s game. Kyle Rau made his professional playoff debut, skating with Corban Knight and Wade Megan on the fourth line.


Shane O’Brien was back in the lineup after sitting out the last game as the result of a one-game suspension. Ellis made his second start in net of the series.

April 26, 2015

BIG TROUBLE IN OKC: Rampage heading back to San Antonio but down 2-0 in opening series





San Antonio Trails Western Conference Quarterfinal Series 2-0


OKLAHOMA CITY (April 25, 2015) – The San Antonio Rampage fell to the Oklahoma City Barons 4-3 in overtime in front of 2,135 at Cox Convention Center Saturday night. The Rampage now trail the Barons 2-0 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, as the series heads to San Antonio for Game 3 Wednesday night.


The Rampage scored two goals in the first period and outshot the Barons 18-9 to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The first came off the stick of Connor Brickley and the second was a power-play goal from Corban Knight, marking the first AHL postseason goals for each player.


John McFarland extended San Antonio’s lead to three, skating coast-to-coast and slipping the puck through the legs of Laurent Brossoit at 6:44 of the second period. That ended the night for Brossoit, who was replaced by Richard Bachman after allowing three goals on 24 shots.


The Barons got on the board with a power-play goal late in the middle frame, as Ryan Hamilton converted off a cross-ice pass from Andrew Miller, flipping the puck over the shoulder of Michael Houser to make it a 3-1 game at 17:27.


Jordan Oesterle made it a one-goal game with another power play goal late in the third period, and Matthew Ford scored the Barons’ third power play tally of the game, tipping in a Jason Williams one-timer with 36 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.


Just over four minutes into the extra frame, Connor Jones beat Houser to secure the win for Oklahoma City and give the Barons a 2-0 series lead heading back to San Antonio.



With a goal and an assist on the night, Brickley led all Rampage skaters in points and earned the Third Star of the Game.


The Silver and Black outshot the Barons 40-39, but were outshot 16-9 in a crucial third period in which Oklahoma City erased a two-goal deficit to force overtime.


The Barons scored all three of their regulation goals on the power play.



The Rampage line combinations remained the same as they were in Game 1 of the series. Dylan Olsen drew into the lineup with Shane O’Brien serving a one-game suspension for a boarding penalty on Ryan Hamilton in Thursday night’s game.


Michael Houser made his first AHL playoff start, as Dan Ellis was out with a minor injury.



The Rampage return home for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at the AT&T Center. Tickets are available and can be purchased by calling a Rampage representative at 210-444-5554 or online at sarampage.com.


# # www.sarampage.com # #


April 24, 2015

BAD START: Rampage open postseason with loss to OKC Barons

From the San Antonio Rampage:

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 23, 2015) – The San Antonio Rampage allowed four goals in the third period, and the Oklahoma City Barons took Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a 5-2 victory in front of 1,393 at Cox Convention Center Thursday night.
The third-seeded Rampage made their first playoff appearance since the 2011-12 season and fourth in franchise history, while the sixth seeded Barons made their fifth straight postseason appearance.
Brad Hunt tallied the first goal of the game when he flipped the puck past Dan Ellis on the power play to give the Barons a 1-0 lead at 12:04 of the opening period. Vincent Trocheck scored the equalizer just 3:52 later when he shot the puck off the post past Laurent Brossoit’s left side. Shane O’Brien and Garrett Wilson picked up the helpers on the goal, and the Rampage and Barons headed into the first intermission tied at one.
Rocco Grimaldi took a pass from Jonathan Racine and slid it into the net to give the Silver and Black their first lead of the game and the only tally of the second period at 8:01.
Joshua Winquist picked up his first professional playoff goal with a shot from the circle to tie the game at two near the midway point of the third period. The Barons took a 3-2 lead when Ryan Hamilton converted off a Rampage turnover, and Connor Jones and Matthew Ford each scored empty-net goals to give the Barons a 5-2 victory over the Rampage.
Ellis, in his first postseason appearance since April 13, 2011 when he played for the Anaheim Ducks (NHL), made 33 saves on 36 shots stopping all 15 shots faced in the second period. Brossoit turned away 29-of-31 shots, and the Rampage were unable to capitalize on four power-play opportunities.

Grimaldi and Trocheck both recorded their first playoff goals in their professional playoff debut, and all but three Rampage players registered a shot, led by Wade Megan with four.
The Rampage collected 25 penalty minutes in the game and Oklahoma City scored two goals on five opportunities with the extra man.
“We have to be better. We definitely can be better, and we’ll regroup and come back on Saturday.” – Rampage coach Tom Rowe
Wilson, Trocheck and Dany Heatley skated as the Rampage’s first line and Connor Brickley, Brett Olson and Mark Mancari composed the second line. Grimaldi centered John McFarland and Quinton Howden on a third line, and Megan, Corban Knight and Logan Shaw made up a fourth line. Greg Zanon and Alex Petrovic, O'Brien and Jesse Blacker and Racine and Blake Parlett composed San Antonio’s defensive pairings.
The Rampage face the Barons in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at Cox Convention Center before returning to San Antonio for Game Three Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at the AT&T Center. Playoff tickets are available and can be purchased by calling a Rampage sales representative at (210) 444-5554 or online atsarampage.com.