The Panthers are only five games into this season, yet they lead the league in NHL debuts.
Well, at least it seems that way.
Quinton Howden became the latest Florida player to play in his first NHL game as he joined the fray Saturday against the Flyers.
With Stephen Weiss out of the mix for the second game in a row — and Kris Versteeg still out — coach Kevin Dineen put in the latest member of Florida’s 2010 draft class into the lineup.
Of the three first-round picks in 2010, only center Nick Bjugstad (who stars at the University of Minnesota) hasn’t made his NHL debut yet.
“I called my dad right away. He was pretty excited,” said Howden, who was taken 25th in 2010 with the pick Florida acquired from Vancouver for defenseman Keith Ballard. “I made sure I called my mom, my brothers and sisters as well. They’ve always been there for me. This is something I’ve always dreamed of, but I’ve always had my family’s support. This belongs to them as much as it does me.”
Dineen put Howden on a line with Drew Shore (who made his debut Tuesday in Montreal) and Scottie Upshall to start.
Defenseman Michael Caruso and winger Jonathan Huberdeau also made their NHL debuts in the past week.
• Weiss was out for the third consecutive day with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
The top-line center practiced Thursday morning but then informed Dineen later that afternoon he couldn’t play against the Senators. Weiss missed two games all of last season.
Weiss hasn’t been himself this season leading to speculation he might have been playing injured.
Weiss, who had 57 points last year, had one assist and wasn’t credited with a single shot on goal in Florida’s first three games.
“He had been a little tender for a couple days,” Dineen said. “You always test how you feel and if it’s heading in the right direction. I don’t think it was. He needed to step back and start feeling healthy.”
• Versteeg (groin) worked out Saturday and had an extended practice after the morning skate. Florida is not expected to practice Sunday but will Monday before Tuesday’s game at Tampa. Versteeg missed his fifth game Saturday.
• Caruso will not need surgery on his injured wrist and said he’ll be in a cast for the next five to six weeks.
Caruso was injured when he was checked into the boards Tuesday in Montreal.
Caruso said this is his first real injury of his career; it came in his second NHL game.