At this time last year, Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes were getting used to their new surroundings.
Living in a team-provided hotel in Coral Springs, the newest members of the Florida Panthers were playing in their first home games after coming over in a trade with Chicago.
“There’s been a lot of change,” Hayes said. “I’m a full-time NHL player now and not a guy walking on egg shells. I’m not complacent, but it’s nice to have a role.”
Both players were shocked by the news that they were coming to the Panthers in exchange for winger Kris Versteeg. Olsen and Hayes were playing for Chicago’s minor-league team in Rockford, Illinois, and coming to the Panthers meant an opportunity to play hockey at the highest level.
The deal has worked out pretty well for the Panthers and the players they acquired.
“I can’t believe it has been a whole year already,” said Olsen, who has played in 19 of 20 games for the Panthers this season.
“It’s really helped this year being around and going through training camp and being part of the West Point trip. Last year, we had to come in and learn new systems, new coaches, new teammates in a short period of time. I obviously love being here in Florida, love being part of this team.”
Although both players have permanent residences in South Florida these days, they don’t necessarily have safe haven in the lineup.
Olsen’s missed game was Monday when he was benched in favor of Colby Robak.
On Wednesday, Hayes — who has four goals in 13 games this year — was benched so Tomas Fleischmann could get back in the lineup.
“He has played hard and he has played well for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said before Florida’s home game against Carolina on Wednesday.
“We just have to keep on Jimmy. He’s effective when he skates hard, moves his feet. That makes him an important guy for us.”
Hayes, although not playing Wednesday, has made a name for himself with the Panthers.
Last year, Hayes found plenty of playing time on Florida’s third and fourth lines and used his big frame to camp out in front of the net and score a career-high 11 goals in 53 games.
Hayes has played in 13 of 20 games this season although Wednesday’s benching was his first since last month as he had played in 11 in a row.
“We both have a great opportunity here and need to capitalize,” Hayes said. “We have to figure out a way to stay in the lineup every night. I just have to work hard, show up at the rink every day with a good attitude and develop my game.”
Shawn Thornton’s first goal with the Panthers on Monday was originally waved off by referee Ghislain Hebert, who thought Thornton’s stick came above the cross bar.
Thornton was none too pleased.
“I don’t think you want to know my thoughts,” Thornton said not long after getting that puck on Tuesday morning. “I think the whole arena could read my lips.”
The four officials conferred and correctly ruled Thornton’s stick was low enough. Video review from Toronto confirmed the call.
Now that the goal counts, Thornton hopes to score a few more. In 576 NHL games coming into Wednesday, Thornton has scored 39 times.
“They come in bunches, they say,” he said. “It’s nice to score, especially when they come as spaced out as they do for me. The goal was nice, but I would rather win.”
▪ Gallant said winger Scottie Upshall will miss at least a week after getting injured Monday. Upshall was seen in a walking boot, apparently the result of an ankly injury he sustained when he was run up against the back boards.
▪ Because the Ottawa Senators previously reserved the ice at BB&T Center on Thursday, the Panthers will hold an open practice at the IceDen in Coral Springs starting at 11a.m. The workout is free and open to the public.