With a number of Florida Panthers injuries, timing for T.J. Brennan could be right

With the Panthers loaded with injured defensemen, newly acquired T.J. Brennan has a strong chance for playing time.

03/18/2013 12:00 AM

03/16/2014 9:49 PM

T.J. Brennan, the latest addition to the Panthers roster, stopped to point out his own cliché before he continued on with a sentence about what he hoped to do in his new environment.

“It’s typical,” he said. “Just work hard and control the things I can and try to help the team out as much as I can.”

The 23-year-old was suited up for the Panthers for the first time on Saturday night against the New York Islanders after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.

With Panthers defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Mike Weaver and Michael Caruso all on injured reserve, the door was wide open for Brennan to make an immediate impact.

Coach Kevin Dineen knew exactly what to expect. His information on the defenseman comes from two seasons of fostering his development with the AHL Portland (Maine) Pirates.

“He’s got a heavy shot; he’s very assertive offensively,” Dineen said of the blue-liner. “As much as anything, he’s extremely well-respected by his teammates for the effort he brings to the rink every single day.”

Brennan’s offensive prowess showed early in the Panthers’ loss to the Islanders. In 7:22 of play in the first, he was responsible for three of nine Florida shots on goal.

Wearing No. 3, he pocketed his third career goal and sparked a late-game rally for the Panthers to tie the score at 3-3 in the third.

And if three isn’t a lucky number, it might be having his parents in attendance.

“They were up to see me in Rochester [N.Y.] when I got called up [to Buffalo], and I scored there,” he said. “I might have to look for a place for them down here. ... They might be my lucky charm.”

Brennan got the unexpected news that he was headed south on Friday night on his way out for dinner.

“I thought it was a little odd getting a call from [Sabres general manager Darcy Regier] right before dinner,” he said.

The next morning at 5:30 a.m., he was standing outside the Buffalo airport, ready to leave the 20-degree weather behind.

“It was a little surreal at first,” he said. “But after looking at it and talking about it, it’s a good opportunity here.”

After a good start to his season with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, he had to be recalled to Buffalo at the end of the lockout. The Sabres carried him around on the roster, but despite a solid showing in AHL play — 35 points in 36 games with the Americans — there was no place for him.

“With the shortened season and not getting off to the start that Buffalo wanted, it was tough to work me in there,” he said.

“That leash wasn’t exactly long, so it was tough for me to really prove myself. No one’s [to] blame.”

A trade with Florida ensured that the Sabres didn’t lose Brennan for nothing to waivers. They picked up a fifth-round draft pick (via Los Angeles) in exchange for sending him to the Panthers.

“He’s still young in that development stage, but he’s got some real upside and we’re excited to get him into our group,” Dineen said. “Obviously, we’ve been decimated by injuries in the first half, so the more depth we have, the better it is for us.”

Among those with injuries, Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski played for the first time since Jan. 29. The veteran’s night was done in the second period, and Dineen won’t have an update on his condition until Monday. Jovanovski missed 21 games, plagued with a lower-body injury.

For the modest kid who grew up a Philadelphia Flyers fan in South Jersey, the leash right now for Brennan might have the most slack he has seen in his career.

Whether as a result of Jovanovski not returning to the game, or Dineen’s trust in the young player, Brennan saw nearly 24 minutes of playing time Saturday night and earned himself the second star of the game.

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