Florida Panthers players filed out of the BB&T Center on Tuesday having cleaned out their lockers and held exit meetings with members of their front office.
Some players didn’t partake in those meetings because, well, their season isn’t finished just yet.
Players such as rookie defensemen Ian McCoshen and MacKenzie Weegar still have a little hockey left to be played.
Although the Panthers’ season is now just a memory, Florida’s minor league team in Springfield, Massachusetts, has a few more games left. The Thunderbirds beat the Providence Bruins on Wednesday night and concludes their season with games Friday (Bridgeport Sound Tigers) and Saturday (Hartford Wolf Pack).
For Weegar and McCoshen — not to mention goalies Adam Wilcox and Sam Brittain who were recalled to the Panthers but didn’t make it into a game — the final games of their AHL season are an opportunity to finish what has been, at least personally, good seasons with a strong finish.
The confidence of playing a few NHL games sure doesn’t hurt.
“You know you can play at the NHL level and that makes you want to do your best here,” McCoshen said. “I had some motivation coming back. You want to showcase what you have. I get another week, a few more games, to play the game I love this season. I’m trying to enjoy that with these guys.”
said McCoshen, who made his NHL debut with the Panthers last Thursday against the Blues and recorded an assist in his first game.
“I enjoyed myself but I really wanted to assert myself and make it known that I want to have an opportunity to play there next year. ”
Both McCoshen and Weegar made quite the impression on Florida general manager Dale Tallon in their short stint with the Panthers.
McCoshen, in his first professional season out of Boston College, has long been considered one of Florida’s top prospects.
It appears both players will battle for jobs with the Panthers next fall.
“I’m really happy McCoshen and Weegar showed they can come next year and challenge some guys for jobs,” Tallon said on Monday.
Spending a year with Florida’s AHL team seems to have only helped McCoshen. Last year, his former Boston College teammate Mike Matheson left the Eagles and spent much of the year in the minors.
When Matheson was recalled at the end of the year, he practiced hard until getting his chance. Then-coach Gerard Gallant put Matheson into the lineup for Game 2 of the opening playoff series against the Islanders and Matheson never let go of the spot.
As training camp approached this year, there was little question Matheson would be part of the Panthers.
“It was good to get there and get my feet wet,” McCoshen said, “and while I enjoyed myself, I really wanted to assert myself and make it known that I want to have an opportunity to play there next year.
“I spoke to Mike a few times throughout the season and he just told me to stay patient, my time would come. I just have to make the most of the opportunity when it does come.
“I took that to heart. I was given the opportunity at the end of the year and I tried to do my best with it.”
The AHL guys aren’t the only ones who will continue to play into the playoff months. On Thursday, Nick Bjugstad was officially named to Team USA for the upcoming World Championships.
Other Florida players such as Matheson (Canada) will compete as well.