Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers head to West Point, plan to name new captain

The Florida Panthers take a team picture with cadets at West Point in 2014.
The Florida Panthers take a team picture with cadets at West Point in 2014. Courtesy of the U.S. Military Academy

Unlike past trips to the U.S. Military Academy, the Florida Panthers won't be spending much time in West Point, New York, as Shawn Thornton put it “slogging through the swamp.”

That doesn't mean they don't have plenty of business to conduct.

Not only will the Panthers entertain the Cadets with a preseason game Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at Tate Rink, but coach Gerard Gallant said he plans on introducing a new captain while there.

“We'll probably do something at West Point, there's a good chance of it,'' Gallant said. “I'm not 100 percent, but I'm pretty sure."

Because of Hurricane Matthew, the Panthers' flight north Friday was delayed three hour and the team will head back Sunday afternoon.

This will be the Panthers third trip to West Point and second since Vinnie Viola — a 1977 graduate of the academy — bought the team in 2013.

In previous trips, the Panthers held extensive team building exercises including a long hike up Mount Tourne in which Willie Mitchell was named captain in 2014.

Florida's schedule will be much tighter this time around, but that doesn't mean players aren't excited about the trip.

“When you see the schedule come out, you see such a prestige place and know you have to take it all in,'' defenseman Keith Yandle said.

“You're excited for the team building, seeing everything to offer. It's pretty cool. It will be amazing, one of those things as an American to put on a show for the men and women who do so much for us is a special thing.''

With Saturday being Florida's final preseason game, a number of players on the bubble may get an extra look.

With the roster down to 25, Florida will make two more cuts following Saturday's game.

Greg McKegg and 19-year-old Denis Malkin (who will get first crack at replacing the injured Nick Bjugstad centering the third line) appear to be locks.

Barring injury, Shane Harper and Paul Thompson may be left behind up north and report to Florida's AHL team in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“This will be the fourth preseason game for me after I played three last year,'' Harper said of the final preseason game. "So it's nice that I've stayed around a little longer. I'm just going to keep going, do what I do to help the team and see where it goes from there.''

With Saturday the final tuneup before Thursday's season opener against these same Devils, Gallant said the plan is for Roberto Luongo to play the entire game in net to get in a full game for the only time this preseason.

The Florida Panthers will face the Devils in a preseason game at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on Saturday.

“He wants to play,'' Gallant said.

▪ Gallant said the decision has been made on who will replace Mitchell as captain and it could be his former roommate -- 20-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Veteran center Derek MacKenzie is the other guy who may get the call.

“I made it long ago,'' Gallant said, “but it was a tough decision for sure. ... It wasn't just mine; it was management, mine, assistant coaches.”

▪ Saturday's game will be broadcast on Fox Florida beginning at 7:30 with Steve Goldstein, Denis Potvin and Randy Moller handling the call.

▪ The Panthers signed defenseman Thomas Schemitsch, 19, to an entry level contract and then sent him to AHL Springfield.

Because Schemitsch turns 20 later this month, he's AHL eligible. Schemitsch was a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2015.