The Florida Panthers, who wrapped up their exhibition schedule on Friday night with a road game at the Montreal Canadiens, still have some roster decisions to make before next week’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Here’s a closer look at the roster, which stands at 26 players — three over the limit — after some moves were made on Friday :
The goalie position is set with Roberto Luongo, 38, and James Reimer, 29, splitting duties fairly evenly. Last year, each made 39 starts. Goalie Harri Sateri was one of three players the Panthers sent to their American Hockey League affiliate on Friday.
Florida’s defense features former NHL Rookie of the Year Aaron Ekblad, now leaner after an offseason spent dieting and refocusing; Keith Yandle, who has seven straight non-strike years of more than 40 points; and second-year pro Mike Matheson, who Panthers broadcaster Randy Moller said is on the brink of stardom.
Also on the roster are veterans Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk, and the last two defensive spots could go to rookies Ian McCoshen, 22, and MacKenzie Weegar, 23.
Two more rookies, Josh Brown 23, and Eddie Wittchow, 24, were still in the mix as of Thursday. But Wittchow was sent down to the AHL on Friday, leaving Brown, a 6-5, 215-pounder, excited just to have made it this far.
“I want to make the coach’s job as hard as possible to get rid of me,” said Brown, who is a gritty, stay-at-home defensive type. “My confidence is growing. I’ve gone the farthest I’ve ever gone in training camp this year, and I want to keep going.”
The top forward line is locked in with Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and newcomer Evgenii Davydov. And Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and captain Derek MacKenzie figure to center the next three lines.
Newcomer Radim Vrbata is being relied on to provide scoring from the wings, and Jared McCann, who has had perhaps the best training camp of any Panther — including a hat trick in Thursday’s exhibition win over the Lightning — figures in the plan.
“Everybody noticed his three goals,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of McCann. “But what I noticed was his compete [game]. He was physical. He finished hits. He won a lot of battles in the D-zone. He won his share of face-offs.”
Reimer said he was also impressed with McCann, a 21-year-old natural center and former first-round pick who has 10 goals in 98 NHL games.
“The kid’s got an all-world shot,” Reimer said. “He’s a scary guy in practice because you know he can shoot the puck hard, and he can make you look foolish.”
Other forwards likely to make the Panthers roster are veterans Michael Haley, Colton Sceviour and Brandon Pirri, who scored 22 goals for Florida in 2014-2015; and Jamie McGinn, who scored 22 goals in 2015-2016.
Rookies still in the hunt include Connor Brickley and Owen Tippett, and they are competing with second-year pro Denis Malgin, 20, and veteran Harry Zolnierczyk. Impressive prospect Henrik Haapala was sent to the AHL on Friday.
So far, the Panthers’ blend of veterans and youngsters is working, judging by their 4-0-1 exhibition record entering Friday’s game.
“The players are buying into the systems,” Boughner said. “And when they see results, it’s an easier sell for us.”