For the first time in months, the hockey side of the BB&T Center was abuzz on Wednesday morning.
Fresh-faced youngsters mixed with a few of the older guys as the Florida Panthers got back to business. There were physicals to be taken, portraits to be shot.
On Thursday, the action moves to the ice.
Although recent high draft picks Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov aren’t participating, the Panthers’ prospect camp opens Thursday with the opportunity for some to take a big step toward making the opening-night lineup.
Florida’s prospects — those who aren’t playing college hockey — will hold an open workout Thursday at 9 a.m. at the team’s facility in Coral Springs.
Teams consisting of prospects from Tampa Bay, Nashville and Boston will take on the Panthers in a tournament starting Friday and running through Sunday night.
“This is our fourth year of drafts,” general manager Dale Tallon said. “We have a lot of players in college who aren’t here so we’re not getting a true feel for what we have as far as depth. But we’re deeper than we have been in a long time. We’ve accumulated a lot of big players at all positions over the past four years. We keep adding pieces to the puzzle as we move forward.”
With the Panthers’ roster trending younger this season, a handful of players participating in this weekend’s camp have a real shot at making the team come October.
Of course, just playing well this weekend doesn’t mean anything if the performance isn’t there when training camp opens this time next week.
Center Nick Bjugstad, who played in 11 games with the Panthers last season after leaving the University of Minnesota, knows getting off to a good start will help his chances of sticking with the big club come October.
Other players hoping to make a good impression before training camp starts include Alex Petrovic, Quinton Howden and Vince Trocheck.
“These are an important couple of weeks,” said Bjugstad, a 6-6 center who could find himself playing for San Antonio of the AHL at some point this season.
“I have to prove myself, for sure. There’s a lot of good talent in this organization. I think I’ve done a lot this summer to prove myself. Hopefully, I’m ready. We’ll see.”
Florida’s top two young players won’t be on the ice during the tournament as injury precautions.
Barkov, the second overall pick from the June draft, has been cleared for contact after having shoulder surgery in the spring.
The Panthers don’t want anything to happen to Barkov, however, because he will be counted on when the season starts.
Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin and Nashville’s Seth Jones — whom Florida passed over at the draft to take Barkov —mmight not play in the tournament either. Barkov will likely see Drouin in Tampa during the preseason and Jones during Florida’s visit to the Music City in November.
“Yeah, of course I would like to play against them, but I had the shoulder surgery,” said Barkov, who celebrated his 18th birthday on Monday by eating birthday cake and barbeque.
“I have to go slow. If I get an injury at the rookie camp, it’s not a good thing. We have to go slow with this.”
Huberdeau had hip surgery soon after the 2013 season ended. Huberdeau won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie last season and will also be counted on to carry a significant offensive load.
“He’ll be ready for training camp,” Tallon said.