Young Panthers may rely on veteran George Parros for leadership

Florida Panthers' George Parros and Ottawa Senators Matt Kassian fight during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Sunday, April 7, 2013.
Florida Panthers' George Parros and Ottawa Senators Matt Kassian fight during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Sunday, April 7, 2013.
J Pat Carter / AP

Saturday: Penguins at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; WQAM 560.

The series: Pittsburgh leads 39-30-4.

The game: This is the first meeting since the Panthers won a wild 6-4 affair in Sunrise on Feb. 26 — one in which former Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun threw punches at Tomas Kopecky. … The Penguins are without Sidney Crosby (jaw) but have won three in a row.

Special to The Miami Herald

George Parros is a giant man and, not surprisingly, is a commanding presence in the Panthers locker room.

Listed at 6-5 and 228 pounds, he looks, sounds and acts like a father. The 33-year-old enforcer does things such as ask the media to stay out of the locker room after a 7-2 drubbing to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, which has nothing to do with a sellout crowd chanting “PAIR-os MUS-tache” for several plays. He does it because he is a veteran who looks after the younger players on the Panthers roster the same way his concrete hands protect his teammates on the ice.

On of those young players is 21-year-old Quinton Howden. He was born and raised in Winnipeg and played in his 11th NHL game for the Panthers on Thursday in front of friends and family. His father, Sheldon, along with the rest of his family, watched the Panthers’ morning skate.

“It’s pretty nerve-racking and exciting,” Sheldon said. “I’m even a little nervous for him, too.

“If this would have been one of my first games I would have been too nervous. But it’s been awesome being able to come home and see some family and friends for a day and being able to play in front of all of them.”

Sheldon and his son talk on the phone every day and there is no surprise in his voice when he talks about Quinton’s emergence into the NHL. But there is also a healthy amount of concern.

With young talent like Howden in Florida’s lineup, the Panthers have endured significant growing pains in this lockout-shortened season, and their division-worst 13-21 record shows it. Players such as goaltender Jacob Markstrom have potential, but he has a disappointing 6-9 record from the games he has split with veteran Scott Clemmensen. Getting pulled in the second period of Thursday’s loss is a great example of the life of a 23-year-old NHL goalie.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson are 19 and 21, respectively, and both were top-three picks in their draft classes. The pedigrees of the Panthers’ talent surely exist, but most of them happen to be born after 1990.

Earlier this week, the Colorado Avalanche’s veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere called out his young and struggling team, remarking that it is hard to win when members of the locker room are more excited about a trip to Las Vegas after the season than they are about winning games.

“Knowing [Giguere] for as long as I have, he’s a passionate guy, and I’ll guarantee you every person in that room looks up to him, respects him and loves him. So when he says something like that you know it’s coming from a good place,” said Parros, who won a Stanley Cup with Giguere and now plays the same type of role in his own locker room.

Sheldon Howden and Panthers fans alike needn’t worry, because this is a team with a young core whose future could be as sunny as the team’s shoulder patch. But how all this young talent develops in seasons to come depends largely on players such as Parros, and the leadership that is needed to build a winning culture.

For Parros, advice for a young player like Howden playing in pressure-filled games like Thursday night’s with the Jets is simple and applicable to the several other youngsters on the team, their season and their future.

“Enjoy it, have fun and work [hard],” Parros said.

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