Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Alex Petrovic is part of the next wave

 

Alex Petrovic is right in the middle of a youth movement on defense, where a group of big, fleet players could be strong for many years.

dneal@MiamiHerald.com

When the Panthers surprised many by passing over offensive defenseman Seth Jones in the NHL Draft, Alex Petrovic didn’t have to be watching from his vacation to understand part of the message.

“Obviously, they have confidence in the new guys coming up and the guys they have here now,” the 6-4 Petrovic said. “That’s awesome. I’m pretty proud to be in that position. I just need to seize the moment.”

The plethora of big, mobile defensemen still in their formative years — Erik Gudbranson, Dmitri Kulikov, Petrovic, 2012 first-round pick Michael Matheson — prompted the Panthers to go for center Aleksander Barkov. Like Barkov, born and raised in Finland of Russian parents, Petrovic’s Eastern European surname belies his roots: born in Edmonton, Alberta, played junior in the Western Hockey League.

After 55 games with the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate last year, Petrovic played in six NHL games with the Panthers. Going into the offseason, the 209-pound, 21-year-old knew he would need to fill out more.

“Putting on five or 10 pounds before coming up to this fall camp, getting stronger and not losing speed — you don’t want to gain too much weight and get slower,” he said. “You still want to be pretty explosive.”

Petrovic scored 17 points in 55 AHL games last year and had 48 points in 68 games for Red Deer (Alberta) his last season in junior.

“Usually, big guys, it takes them a little longer for them to get their hands underneath them,” said Peter Horachek, the newly named coach at San Antonio. “But he’s got good hands, and he skates really well. A big man who can play a physical game. That’s a great combination.”

Petrovic and Matheson jumped out at Horachek, who needed a roster for player identification at the Panthers’ developmental camp almost as much as some media present.

“There’s still a lot of guys out there I have to turn and ask [director of player development Brian Skrudland] or [San Antonio director of hockey operations] Chuck [Weber], ‘Who is that?’ ” he said. “I notice something about them and try to get to know them.”

The first thing Horachek noticed was “how big they were for young guys. They’re all good kids with good attitudes. A couple of them stand out with their size and skill set.”

The greater role off-ice health maintenance plays in NHL life stood out to Petrovic during his brief call-up last season. That’s why players attended a nutrition meeting Tuesday morning before spending Tuesday afternoon at a Coral Springs’ Whole Foods. There, they got a mini-seminar on cooking and healthy eating from Whole Foods chefs and Healthy Eating Specialists.

The NHL doesn’t have a rookie symposium as the NFL does for its incoming players. The Panthers, like some other teams, try to handle education about off-ice matters during their developmental camp.

“A player comes out of college, out of junior, he’s never had to cook for himself — he goes to the dorm, he goes to his billets in junior, he’s got somebody’s mother cooking for him or his own mother,” Horachek said. “He’s never had to fend for himself. He’s never had to get insurance or bank accounts. So, when they turn pro, all these things add stress to a young player.”

Wednesday’s camp session will be a workout in South Beach.

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