Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers giving youngsters a shot as Shawn Thornton says goodbye

Ian McCoshen fights for the puck during training at the Florida Panthers rookie camp in Coral Springs on SSeptember 16, 2016.
Ian McCoshen fights for the puck during training at the Florida Panthers rookie camp in Coral Springs on SSeptember 16, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Panthers wrap up their season with games that don’t mean much, forgettable contests many fans, players and coaches won’t remember down the road.

Well, not all players.

For youngsters like rookies Denis Malgin, Ian McCoshen and MacKenzie Weegar, these final games are a chance to play in the NHL, an opportunity to catch the eye of management heading into the offseason.

For McCoshen and Weegar, this has been quite the week as both made their NHL debut.

In Saturday’s home finale against Buffalo, both were in the lineup together for the first time and likely will be again Sunday against Washington in the last game of the season.

“I’m just trying to play a simple game right now; get pucks in, get pucks out,” McCoshen said after getting an assist in his NHL debut Thursday.

“We don’t want to have a season like we did here in Florida next year so we’ll go into the summer knowing we have to work on some things. This has been an opportunity I don’t take lightly. I want to be here next year and I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity.”

Nick Bjugstad knows a little of what McCoshen and Weegar are going through, trying to play hard in tough final season games.

In 2013, Bjugstad joined a Florida team fresh out of the University of Minnesota and played in 11 games and score his first NHL goal in a throwaway game at Tampa to finish the season.

“We’re not where we want to be as a team, but one good thing to come out of it is these guys get a chance to come in and get a feel for what it’s like to play in the NHL,” Bjugstad said.

“These guys have played in the minors so their situation is different but mine, but what I took away from my games were what I had to do in the offseason to play at this level.

“They know what the pro level is, but you get some confidence in playing at this level. They need to get their feet wet a bit and that can be beneficial going into next year.”

Malgin is completing a rookie season which started with plenty of promise as he made the team out of training camp when Jonathan Huberdeau and Bjugstad got hurt, scored his first NHL goal on Nov. 1 and then saw his playing time dwindle.

In January, Malgin was sent to the minors only to return just before the trade deadline although he didn’t play much until the final weeks.

Saturday’s game marked the fourth in the past five games he was in the lineup.

“He’s getting more comfortable, a gritty kid with a lot of skill,” interim coach Tom Rowe said after Thursday’s game in which Malgin scored his first NHL goal since November.

“That’s what he’s capable of. We know this is a tough league for a kid to step into ... We’re lucky to have a lot of young kids right on down the line.”

▪ Shawn Thornton’s locker stall was a high traffic area Saturday morning as he concluded his final game-day skate in preparation for his final NHL game.

Thornton, 39, says he will join the business side of the organization sometime this summer.

The Panthers honored Thornton with a video salute.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions being my last one,” said Thornton, who ends his career with 705 NHL games and 605 more in the minors.

“I’m happy to be going out on my own terms but you always think you can play a little longer. I’m trying to enjoy it. I didn’t score on my last breakaway [after practice] and I’ll have to live with that the rest of my life.”

▪ Another banner plane circled the arena before Saturday’s game, this one a little softer in tone than the previous one.

“We [heart] the Panthers. We’ll be back” was the message to fans heading into the arena for the home finale.

On Monday, a plane circled with a message saying “Rowe must go!”

Multiple sources have said Rowe will not return as coach and he has implied that as well.

Sunday: Panthers at Capitals

When, where: 7 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.

Series: Washington leads 63-47-9.

Scouting report: The Capitals, who are 2-0 against Florida so far, already clinched the President’s Trophy for most point in the NHL this season and will have home ice throughout the postseason. The Panthers will end their disappointing season outside of the playoffs.

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