Panthers

Youngsters, veterans fighting for roster spots with Florida Panthers

 
 
Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen (8) is chased by Ottawa Senators center Jesse Winchester (18)  and Peter Regin (43) during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2009. Winchester is now a member of the Florida Panthers.
Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen (8) is chased by Ottawa Senators center Jesse Winchester (18) and Peter Regin (43) during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2009. Winchester is now a member of the Florida Panthers.
Pawel Dwulit / AP

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Opportunity might be the word most often tossed around the Panthers during training camp, as there is plenty of it.

Although general manager Dale Tallon announced his team will be trending younger this coming season, a number of free agent veterans signed with the Panthers trying to score one of those roster vacancies.

Sure, most eyes will be trained on talented youngsters such as Nick Bjugstad and Alex Petrovic as they fight for a position on the team.

Yet they will be battling the likes of Bobby Butler, Matt Gilroy, Mike Mottau, Steve Pinizzotto and Jesse Winchester — veterans who have NHL experience on their side.

Although those players come armed with two-way contracts — which on other teams might as well be a one-way ticket to the minors — there is opportunity here in Florida to keep their NHL dream alive.

The journey for these players officially starts Thursday when training camp opens in Coral Springs.

“I’m here to earn a spot, and I can do that by working hard and playing within myself,” said Winchester, a forward who has played in 233 NHL games over the course of four seasons with Ottawa.

“I have to focus on what I bring to help this team win. I have to earn my keep. I’ve been around, and there shouldn’t be any nervousness. I just have to compete and help the team in any way I can. I’m looking forward to competing and playing the game I love.”

Winchester hasn’t played in the NHL since a concussion ended his 2011-12 season with Ottawa. He spent last season playing in Finland for Helsinki’s Jokerit.

Pinizzotto and Mottau have also fought various injuries over the past few years and found positions tight within their former organizations. Pinizzotto, 29, said he is completely healthy after having rotator cuff and groin surgeries in the recent past.

“I chose Florida because of the situation,” said Pinizzotto, who played all 12 of his NHL games for Vancouver last season after missing the entire 2011-12 season.

“I have to bring what has brought me to this. I think the opportunity is the biggest thing for me. This is a performance-based industry, and if you don’t play well, you won’t be here. It’s a business. You have to help the team.”

A player who could make the Panthers out of camp basically out of default is Mottau and/or Gilroy.

Both have NHL experience, something most of Florida’s other defensemen do not have.

With Ed Jovanovski questionable after having major hip surgery in the spring, Florida has just four defenseman on its roster who have played in more than 100 NHL games. Petrovic’s chances to make the team look good, with Colby Robak also jockeying for a spot.

For Mottau, 35, coming to the Panthers is a chance to show he still has what it takes to play in the NHL. Mottau played for San Antonio and Toronto last season in the AHL and hasn’t played in the NHL since finishing the 2012 season with the Bruins.

“I’m trying to come in and provide value where it’s needed,” said Mottau, who has played in 313 NHL games over the course of eight seasons with New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Boston. Mottau was also a Boston College teammate of Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen.

“I’ve been around a little bit and know what I need to be successful. It just depends what they’re looking for. I’ll have some competition on the back end and am here to push some guys and hopefully make my way onto the team. The positive is coming into camp competing for a spot. I’m excited to be here getting ready for camp.”

Friday’s results

•  Predators 8, Panthers 4: Nashville lit up goalie Mack Shields (on a tryout from Calgary of the Western Hockey League) by scoring six goals on 10 shots in the third period to roll past the host Panthers at the Coral Springs Iceplex. Rob Madore, Florida’s starting goalie, gave up two goals on 12 shots before handing things over.

Florida went into the third period holding a 3-2 lead thanks to goals by Logan Shaw, John McFarland and Josh McFadden. The Panthers’ fourth and final goal came from Chris Clapperton in the third.

Madore, like Shields, is on a tryout after playing for Evansville and Florida of the ECHL as well as Charlotte of the AHL last season.

•  Bruins 5, Lightning 5: Tampa Bay scored twice ( Dan Milan and Tanner Richard) in the final 3:17 to salvage the tie. Boston took a 5-3 advantage in the third period off back-to-back goals from Maxime Villemare.

Weekend schedule

All games are held at the Saveology.com Iceplex at 3299 Sportsplex Drive in Coral Springs. Admission to games requires a ticket — which is free upon registration at floridapanthers.com/trainingcamp.

•  Saturday: Nashville vs. Tampa Bay, noon; Boston vs. Florida, 4.

•  Sunday: Boston vs. Nashville, noon; Tampa Bay vs. Florida, 4.

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