Panthers set to open 2016 preseason with doubleheader vs. Predators

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Nick Bjugstad & Paul Thompson, Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The Panthers’ preseason is just about to get underway after 5 long months of waiting. The NHL’s southern-most team will face-off with the Nashville Predators on Tuesday in a split-squad, day-night doubleheader (3:30 PM and 7:00 PM) at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.

Although the Panthers invited 58 players to camp this year, only 40 total will be able to suit up Tuesday’s doubleheader, so that means it’s very likely that several players already holding down Opening Night roster spots won’t play. Aleksander Barkov, Jussi Jokinen, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad – all 4 of which recently returned from participating in the World Cup of Hockey – won’t play and will return to action with the team after Tuesday’s games. Keith Yandle also won’t participate in either game, James Reimer will start game 1, and Roberto Luongo will start game 2.

Once we get word of the rosters for both games, this post will be updated.

Aside from that, here are some things to keep an eye on not just in Tuesday’s games, but also the remainder of the preseason:

  • Revamped blueline: At some point, we can expect the Panthers to begin testing out some defensive pairings after 3 new defenders were brought in this past offseason. Keith Yandle, Mark Pysyk, and Jason Demers will fill the spots left by Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, and Erik Gudbranson, three of the many players the Panthers moved on from in favor of more analytically-favorable players on cap-friendly contracts. Mike Matheson is also expected to become a regular after his impressive play towards the end of last season while there will be a fight for the 7th spot among players like Ian McCoshen, Jakub Kindl, Adam Pardy (PTO), and Steven Kampfer.
  • Completing the bottom-6: This offseason, the Panthers made it a priority to improve the bottom 2 forward lines, and training camp is where the final decisions will be made regarding that part of the lineup. Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour were signed as free-agents, and while they’re likely to have roster spots already, Logan Shaw, Connor Brickley, Justin Fontaine (PTO), Denis Malgin, and Kyle Rau will also try to push for the remaining 1 or 2 openings. There’s also Jared McCann, and while he isn’t guaranteed a spot by any means, the Panthers would be hard-pressed to send back to the AHL a player with the offensive abilities that he has and one that had a good season last year despite playing on the 4th line as a 19-year old rookie.
  • The last line of defense: The Panthers’ front office to improve the team’s goaltending depth this offseason and they appear to have succeeded on paper at the very least. Roberto Luongo is expected to be fine for Opening Night, so that means James Reimer will serve as his “backup” right out of the gate. Not only will this year’s preseason give Luongo and Reimer to get some ice time in before the season starts – especially since the latter has played just twice since the end of March – but it will also help the organization determine how things will work in the AHL. Reto Berra, Mike McKenna, and Sam Brittain are all capable of putting in work while Sam Montembeault – who can return for 1 more junior season if the team wishes – and Colin Stevens will try to turn some heads as well.

This year’s preseason schedule should prove to be more exciting than in years past, even if non-regulars get more playing time than the familiar faces. What we’ll see this year is what the Panthers have been wanting for years: a high level of internal and external competition.

For more on the upcoming season, we urge you to check out our in-depth season preview by clicking here.

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