Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers split preseason doubleheader, honor Jose Fernandez

Florida forward Denis Malgin battles Nashville’s Felix Girard for the puck in the Panthers 4-1 preseason opening win Tuesday at BB&T Center.
Florida forward Denis Malgin battles Nashville’s Felix Girard for the puck in the Panthers 4-1 preseason opening win Tuesday at BB&T Center. AP

The Florida Panthers have been built around the young talent which is has now graduated to the NHL level.

As far as current prospects go, the Panthers’ cupboard is far from bare.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Panthers loaded their opening preseason lineup with young players -- many of whom are battling for a handful of spots on the roster.

Coach Gerard Gallant talks about his plans for the Florida Panthers preseason doubleheader on Tues., Sept. 27, 2016 as the Nashville Predators visit BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Florida’s kids got some help from the few veterans sprinkled in as the Panthers scored three in the third period to beat Nashville 4-1 at BB&T Center in the first game of a doubleheader.

The Panthers got their first goal from 21-year-old winger Dryden Hunt, who came to the Panthers as a free agent last spring and is fighting for what’s believed to be one of two forward openings on Florida’s initial roster.

“I think it was the first game for a lot of guys including myself and I was pretty nervous,’’ said Hunt, who gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with 6:53 left in the opening period.

“Once you get the first few shifts out of the way, it’s just another game. It’s a fun game, a lot of firsts, great night. Whatever you can do to get looked at -- a fight, a hit, a goal in my case. They had a few NHL guys in their lineup, so it’s nice to win a game like that.’’

Hunt’s initial goal was the only tally as starting goalie James Reimer -- one of only six players who appeared in an NHL game last year in the Game 1 lineup for Florida -- stopped all 11 saves he faced before turning things over to Sam Brittain midway through the second.

Reimer, 28, signed a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 1 and looked sharp in his Florida debut.

It’s expected Reimer will start the season as Roberto Luongo’s backup but will get far more playing time, and opportunity, than former Florida reserves have gotten in that position.

“Preseason is all about getting ready, getting the cobwebs out,’’ Reimer said. “I thought it was a good game for that.’’

Greg McKegg, who got in 15 games with the PAnthers last year and was named captain of this crew by coach Gerard Gallant, have Florida a 2-0 lead just 11 seconds into the third.

Florida made it 4-0 by scoring twice more -- prospect Jonathan Ang and veteran Jonathan Marchessault -- in the first 4:42 of the final frame.

“They played hard and they played well,’’ said Gallant, adding he was disappointed in the seven penalties taken.

“The kids worked hard, battled hard and made a lot of good plays.”

--The Panthers held a moment of silence in memory of Jose Fernandez and Arnold Palmer before both games Tuesday.

Fernandez dropped the first puck at a Florida game before spring training and kept his Panthers custom jersey in his Marlins locker.

-- The Panthers will take their first day off of training camp Wednesday but return to the IceDen in Coral Springs Thursday morning.

Florida will play a preseason game at Tampa on Thursday night yet resume practice in Coral Springs on Friday and Saturday before leaving for London, Ontario, for its third exhibition game of the preseason on Sunday.

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