New Florida Panthers finding good opportunities early in training camp

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Colin White could get used to this.

Put in a great position to succeed right out of the gate, the new Florida Panthers forward has been spending the first few on-ice sessions of training camp playing primarily on a line with a pair of talented hard-nosed forwards in Sam Bennett and fellow newcomer Matthew Tkachuk.

“It’s been awesome,” White, flashing an ear-to-ear grin, said following Friday’s practice at the Panthers IceDen. “Those are two unbelievable players. I played with Chuky back in the day when we were both kids, and Benny’s an unreal player as well. They make it easy out there.”

While it’s far too early for any lines to be considered concrete, it’s impossible not to peer a bit into the future and ponder the possibilities. After all, isn’t that part of the fun of training camp? With so many new faces on the ice, the combinations feel almost limitless at this time of year.

In many ways, it’s these possibilities that have made the Panthers an attractive team for free agents in recent summers. Whether it’s Gustav Forsling‘s ascension from waiver claim to stud defenseman or Carter Verhaeghe‘s quick transition from depth piece to top-line forward, South Florida has become a place where players believe they can tap into their untapped potential.

“We’ve got a bunch of those guys,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “As a matter of fact, it’s kind of the hallmark of the Florida Panthers. They’ve brought in an awful lot of players that were maybe at the crossroads of their careers. They’d come into the NHL, maybe their definition of what kind of player they were changed, and they’d get here and, whether it’s Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair or Sam Reinhart, these guys kind of explode. In some ways, we find, it’s a return to their original form. Kind of what we saw or what the league saw when they came in.”

On paper, a few players at training camp fit that mold.

First, there’s White. Bought out by the Ottawa Senators this past summer after being limited to just 24 games in 2021-22 due to injuries, the 25-year-old former first-round pick is looking for a fresh start after producing 98 points (36 goals 62 assists ) over his first 224 career NHL games.

“I think it’s just fun down here,” said White, who inked a one-year deal with the Panthers. “The guys want to win and know what it takes to win. I think when you have a group that knows how to do that, it makes it a lot easier to go out there and just play hockey and be confident.”

If he ends up sticking on a line with Bennett and Tkachuk, White is confident that the trio will be able to do a lot of damage — both in terms of physicality and points — throughout the season.

“If we were [to play] together, we’re all intense guys,” White said when asked about the line’s potential. “I think that we all like to get to the net and hunt pucks down. We’re relentless out there. I think when you do those things around the ice, it creates a lot of offensive chances.”

Also arriving to the Panthers with a chip on his shoulder after being bought out by the San Jose Sharks despite reaching career-highs in goals (11), assists (12) and points (23) in 2021-22, Rudolfs Balcers has been skating on the top line alongside Alexander Barkov and Verhaeghe.

Talk about a soft landing.

“They’re unbelievable players,” said Balcers, who, like White, signed a one-year deal with the Panthers. “I’m trying to talk to them and understand their game and try to figure out how I can go out there and help them be their best. I’m stoked about the opportunity. It’s going to be fun.”

Once in Balcer’s shoes, Verhaeghe has liked what he’s seen from the newcomer so far.

“He’s really fast, really skilled,” said Verhaeghe, who had just 13 points with the Lightning in 2019-20 before breaking out with Florida. “He fits in really well and has a good shot. It doesn’t seem like there’s really any weaknesses to his game. … I’m excited to play a game with him.”

Of course, how long these new lines stick remains to be seen.

As previously stated, training camp is a time for experimentation. Sometimes things click right away, other times some adjustments are needed. That being said, all of these players have the same opportunity to leave a good impression, which will be a main goal during the preseason.

Although no points are up for grabs until October, players know that jobs certainly are.

“Where they’re playing right now has really nothing to do with lines that I put together,” Maurice said when asked about some of the early line combinations. “I wanted to have them play with people that would give me a chance to understand their game. … It allows me to see them. I’m really going to reserve judgment on any of them just from two practices without much flow of the game. , but I’ll start to watch them closer in the exhibition games, for sure.”

Prior to officially kicking off their 2022-23 campaign on Oct. 13 at the New York Islanders, the Panthers will have six exhibition games to get warmed up, beginning with the team’s annual preseason doubleheader against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Monday.

“A lot of guys are trying to fit in,” White said. “The guys that have been here have made it really easy. It’s been a lot of fun so far. … To be part of this group now, it’s a special feeling.”

The Florida Panthers will celebrate their 2022-23 Home Opener at FLA Live Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 19, 2022. The first 10,000 fans through the doors will receive a commemorative magnet schedule courtesy of Bally Sports Florida. Click HERE to purchase your tickets today!

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