SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – With so much going on in South Florida as the region recovers from Hurricane Irma it’s easy to overlook that hockey season is at our doorstep.
Led by new head coach Bob Boughner, the Florida Panthers will hit the ice for the first time on Friday morning as the team opens its 2017 training camp.
On Wednesday, Florida released its 53-man training camp roster, which will take place at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.
The breakdown of players is 31 forwards, 17 defensemen and five goalies.
Several youngsters in the Panthers organization are hoping to win full-time NHL jobs during camp after the club opened up space with some offseason moves.
Wingers Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Jussi Jokinen and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr are all gone. Enforcer and locker room leader Shawn Thornton retired, though still with the club working in the front office as Vice President of Business Operations.
Even with the additions of Radeem Vrbata, Evgenii Dadonov and Michael Haley it should be interesting to see how things shake out, especially if some of Florida’s younger players show they are in fact ready to play with the big boys.
Here are the prospects that should be watched closely during training camp.
Jayce Hawryluk- This will be Hawryluk’s fourth camp with the Cats after being drafted in the second round (32nd overall) in 2014. He’s got a nice combination of skill and grit and could be the most NHL-ready of Florida’s prospects. Hawryluk draws comparison to Boston’s Brad Marchand.
Henrik Haapala- Playmaking forward who has spent his pro career in the Finnish Elite League, Haapala reunites with former teammate and buddy Aleksander Barkov in Florida. Henrik signed a two-way deal so his job is no guarantee but he is viewed as someone expected to contribute for the Panthers this season.
Dryden Hunt- After putting up eye-popping scoring numbers in the CHL, the undrafted Hunt choose to sign with Florida after being pursued by several teams. He underachieved in the AHL last season and will have to show some serious improvement with Springfield (particularly with his skating) before getting any chance with the Panthers, but he’s someone I’m curious to see perform during training camp.
Owen Tippett- Tippett will get a good look early in camp as Florida’s first round pick from this year’s draft. Known for his ridiculous shot and offensive prowess, Tippett should eventually be an integral part of the Panthers forward group. It probably won’t happen this season, but he’ll certainly get a chance to prove otherwise.
Maxim Mamin- A sixth round pick from 2016, Mamin is a tough forward that uses his size to his advantage. How well he adjusts to playing pro hockey in North America will be the true test for Mamin during training camp and wherever he ends up this season, but Florida’s need for wingers provides a solid opportunity to step up and win a job with the big club.
Jared McCann- Misused in Vancouver after being an 18-year-old first round pick in 2014, the Panthers are trying to help McCann reach the potential that many teams saw in him, and still do. Barring a horrible showing during training camp, McCann should be on the opening night roster.
Sebastian Repo- The 21-year-old already has four years of pro hockey under his belt and, like Mamin and Haapala, have a leg-up on their younger competition due to being more familiar with the physicality they’ll encounter in the NHL. Repo racked up 78 penalty minutes to go with 32 points in 46 games with Tampere in Finland last season, showing the combination of grit and skill that new coach Bob Boughner is looking for.
I’ll preface this section by saying that barring any injuries, Florida’s top six defensemen are pretty much set in stone. That being said, there are a couple of young guys who are next in line and should be monitored.
Ian McCoshen- A solid season in the AHL will cement McCoshen’s status as next in line for Florida’s top six. The Panthers will want to keep him in Springfield where he can play every game instead of being a healthy scratch most nights with Florida.
MacKenzie Weegar- Coming off a solid season in the AHL, Weegar is beginning to stand out for all the right reasons. Unless Florida brings in a veteran to be their seventh defenseman, Weegar is a candidate to fill that role.
Linus Hultstrom- A veteran of 136 games in the Swedish Hockey League, Hultstrom finished last season tied for first in points among defensemen with 31 (12g, 19a) and a plus-17 rating in 52 games.
Samuel Montembeault- Obviously the Panthers are set with Roberto Luongo and James Reimer as their 1A and 1B goaltenders but Montembeault is on the right track as Florida’s goalie of the future. Coming off a stellar year in the QMJHL, the 20-year-old will get plenty of playing time in the AHL with Springfield this season.