Mike Matheson is at rookie camp with the Florida Panthers because he enters just his second professional season and has only played in three NHL regular season games.
The five postseason games he played in, however, were quite memorable.
While Matheson says he has to fight for a spot on the Panthers this season, his place appears to be safe especially if he keeps up the pace of play he set in the Panthers’ opening round loss to the Islanders last April.
Former Boston College teammate Ian McCoshen doesn’t have the head start Matheson does although the Panthers have been high on him for some time.
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McCoshen is in his first pro season and will attend his first training camp next week.
Both Matheson and McCoshen hope to resume being teammates, with the Panthers, when the season starts in October.
Florida retooled its defense this offseason with four starters from opening night in 2015 gone.
One reason the Panthers felt they could move the likes of Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov while losing Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell was the play of Matheson.
Florida appears deep on its blueline heading into camp but if any of the challengers have an edge, it has to be Matheson.
“I’m happy I was able to get the opportunity to play last year,’’ said Matheson, who was given a surprise start in Game 2 against the Islanders and never hit the bench again.
“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence heading into this year. I was happy with how I played, it was pretty cool being able to play in the playoffs. While I was playing, I don’t think it set in that it was the NHL playoffs. But it has sunk in over the summer. Looking back I was really happy with the way I played.”
Matheson and McCoshen have been linked together as the Panthers’ top two prospects for the past few years.
Playing together at Boston College only helped the Panthers save some money on scouting as they got two for the price of one.
The Panthers have liked what they have seen and excited about the future of their blueline.
“I’ve seen them both since their inception here,” said former Florida captain Bryan McCabe, who is now the team’s director of player development.
“They have both matured tremendously over the past few years. They have grown into men from boys. Now they’re at the next step. Mike really took off in the playoffs, then went to the World Championships and had a really good tournament there. I think the sky’s the limit for this kid. He just keeps growing. .’’
While Matheson left Boston College in 2015 to join the Panthers, McCoshen stuck around for his junior season. As captain of the Eagles, McCoshen had six goals and 15 assists as BC advanced to the Frozen Four in Tampa.
Although the two players are different — Matheson has some offense to his game while McCoshen is more of a physical, stay at home defenseman — they will likely remain linked together with the Panthers.
That seems to be just fine with them.
As McCoshen said, having Matheson there to help him through the rigors of rookie camp and the NHL camp which follows is a nice perk.
“I have to make a nice first impression,’’ McCoshen said. “I need to get to know the players here, but also establish my game heading into training camp. It’s different here and I was talking to Mike about the transition. He said not to go in with too many expectations or they will just mount on your shoulders. I don’t want that.
“I’m just going to come out and play hockey.”
Florida Panthers rookie camp/tournament
▪ When, where: Friday through Tuesday; Florida Panthers IceDen, Coral Springs
▪ Schedule — Saturday: Washington vs. Tampa Bay, 2:30 p.m.; Nashville at Florida, 6; Sunday: Nashville vs. Tampa Bay, 2:30 p.m.; Washington at Florida, 6; Monday: Practice, 10 a.m.; Tuesday: Nashville vs. Washington, 10 a.m.; Tampa Bay at Florida, 1:30 p.m.
▪ Admission: Free