Panthers cancel rookie tournament, flee Florida due to hurricane threat

The Panthers packed their bags and headed north to Boston this week to escape the threat of the approaching Hurricane Irma. 

Irma, a category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, was located over the Virgin Islands on Wednesday afternoon when the Panthers announced that their annual rookie tournament, scheduled to take place from Saturday through Tuesday in Estero, Florida, had been cancelled.

The storm is currently projected to pass just to the south of Florida before apparently making a hard turn to the north and graze the east coast of the state.

The Panthers announced their 26-player rookie tournament roster – which included 2017 10th-overall pick Owen Tippett, among others – last Thursday before cancelling the plans – along with the Predators, Capitals, and Lightning who were also expected to participate.

Five players were invited from outside of the Panthers’ organization to join the roster, including  21-year old Danish forward Mikkel Aagaard and 22-year old goaltender and Parkland, Florida native Matthew Greenfield.

The Panthers went 3-0 in last year’s tournament with then-rookie Denis Malgin stealing the show.

The ownership group of Vincent Viola and Doug Cifu apparently facilitated the evacuation process by chartering the team’s plane for about 90 players and staff – including some of the players invited to play at the rookie tournament this weekend – and traveling to Boston.

Training camp could potentially be held in Boston if the team is unable to return to south Florida immediately due to delays or damage to the surrounding area.

The organization also announced on Wednesday that the BB&T Center will serve as an emergency vehicle staging site for various public service entities during the storm.

The Panthers play their first preseason games of the new year during a doubleheader in Nashville on September 19th.

PTOs announced

The Panthers also announced a couple of professional try-out contracts last week, including former Panther forward Brandon Pirri and forward Harry Zolnierczyk.

Nikolai Belov was also invited to camp on a professional try-out contract, although the Panthers have yet to make it official. He began taking part in informal skates at the Ice Den in Coral Springs on Monday wearing number 44.

Pirri, 26, has struggled to perform in the NHL ever since scoring 22 goals in 49 games for the Panthers during the 2014-15 season.

He went on to play in 52 more games with the club the following year, posting 24 points in 52 games before being off-loaded to the Ducks for a 6th-round draft pick at the 2016 trade deadline.

Most recently, he tallied 18 points in 60 games for the Rangers during the 2016-17 season as has been out of a job since. There were rumors floating around that he may head overseas to play in Switzerland, but they were quickly shot down.

Pirri is wearing number 9 at the Panthers’ informal skates.

Zolnierczyk, 30, is a depth winger who’s been with 6 different organizations since 2010. He played 24 regular season games last season for the Predators in addition to 11 in the playoffs, tallying a total of 7 points.

He also recorded 16 points in 24 AHL games with Nashville’s affiliate.

Belov, 30, is a 6’3″, roughly 200-pound defenseman who has spent the last 8 years in the KHL. Not a big point producer with just 84 points in 394 career games, Belov’s style of play is more focused on defense than creating offense from the backend.

He did, however, register a career-high 15 points in 59 games – also the most he’s played – this past season.

He’s a tough, positionally-sound defenseman, and while he could earn a spot as a depth option, he could also be here to create some competition between youngsters Ian McCoshen and Mackenzie Weegar, as well as the rest of the Panthers’ blue-line.

Belov is donning number 44 at the team’s informal skates, and controversially so as it once belonged to the well-liked Erik Gudbranson who was traded to Vancouver last May.

Similarly, Pirri and Zolnierczyk aren’t exactly locks to make the Panthers’ roster, but the Panthers have several young forwards fighting for spots, and their presence at training camp will only add to that.

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