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The Florida Panthers have made a couple more roster moves as the team prepares for its final preseason game on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers released forward David Booth from his professional try out, ending his attempted comeback bid to the team that he found his first NHL success with.
Booth has battled injury issues throughout his career but played well at the end of last season for Toronto. He’ll likely catch on with another team in the coming weeks.
General manager Dale Tallon had said that Booth was competing with veteran Martin Havlat for one roster spot. Both players were brought in on a professional try out basis.
While Booth’s release doesn’t guarantee that Havlat, 34, will make the team, it’s certainly bodes well for the former 30 goal scorer’s chances.
Tallon had Havlat on his team during his time as Blackhawks general manager. Havlat has also battled injuries in recent years but came into training camp completely healthy.
The Panthers have also sent defensemen Mike Matheson and MacKenzie Weegar, along with forward Shane Harper, to the team’s AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.
Both Matheson and Weegar are a big part of Florida’s future and will likely be the first ones called up if/when someone gets hurt. Tallon has raved about both youngsters but likely feels that playing big minutes in the AHL is what’s best for them at this point.
The Panthers roster now sits at 27 players, with Tallon hoping to get it down to the NHL maximum of 23 before Saturday’s preseason finale at the BB&T Center.
The majority of the team’s roster spots are already locked up. Here are the players that I feel will definitely be on the Opening Night roster, in their line parings.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Jaromir Jagr
Brandon Pirri – Nick Bjugstad – Reilly Smith
Jussi Jokinen – Dave Bolland – Vincent Trocheck
Brian Campbell – Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell – Dmitry Kulikov
Also expected to be on the roster are forwards Derek MacKenzie and Sean Thornton and defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
That leaves five open roster spots (3 forwards and 2 defensemen) for the remaining players in training camp to battle for.
Vying for the forward jobs are Havlat, rookies Connor Brickley and Lawson Crouse, Quinton Howden and Garrett Wilson.
I expect Havlat to make the team and Tallon has already said that Crouse will get his 9-game NHL ‘tryout’, so that leaves one potential spot for the remaining youngsters to fight for.
It’s probably going to come down to either Howden or Brickley.
Howden has dealt with injuries during the past couple years but when healthy he is a big-bodied speedster who has shown that he can score at the NHL level.
Brickley was the Panthers second round pick in 2010. He has been playing great hockey over the past month, first during the team’s rookie camp and now during the main training camp. He scored the game winning goal in Florida’s last preseason game in Dallas and now has two goals in three preseason games after scoring three goals in three rookie tournament games.
Also keep in mind that Rocco Grimaldi will be considered for a roster spot once he returns from an ankle injury. He’s expected to begin skating sometime next week.
As for the jobs on the blue line, with Matheson and Weegar getting sent to Portland it leaves three guys with the best chance to claim the final two spots (assuming Tallon chooses to keep seven defensemen on the roster).
It’s going to come down to Alex Petrovic, Steven Kampfer and Dylan Olsen.
Kampfer proved that he can play well in the NHL during his time with the Panthers last season and is likely a favorite for one of the spots.
Olsen has had an up-and-down time in Florida but came into the new season with a renewed hunger and focus. Tallon drafted Olsen 28th overall in 2009 while in Chicago and then traded for him after coming to the Panthers.
Petrovic, like Brickley, was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft by Tallon and the Panthers. The big and gritty d-man gradually worked his way up the ladder and has played a total of 46 games in the NHL, with 33 of them coming last season.
I see Olsen as the odd man out in that group, but it could really go either way depending on what Tallon sees during the final days of training camp.
The Panthers will face the Philadelphia Flyers in their season opener at the BB&T Center on Saturday, October 10th at 7 p.m. You can hear every game on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, the radio home of the Florida Panthers.
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