The Florida Panthers open their annual prospects camp Friday morning.
When they hit the ice in Coral Springs, 26 players will be trying to get a jump on impressing the front office before training camp kicks off next week.
For a handful of players like Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck and Rocco Grimaldi, this abbreviated camp — which heads to Nashville for a round-robin tournament against the Predators, Lightning and Bruins after Friday’s workout — is just the beginning of their road to opening night.
Ekblad, the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, is all but assured a spot on Florida’s opening night roster.
Trocheck and Grimaldi, however, know they have stiff competition if they want to be with the Panthers when the season opens Oct. 9 in Tampa.
“The fact that I was here last year isn’t going to hurt me,’’ said Trocheck, who scored five goals with three assists in 20 games for the Panthers last season.
“Now I know what it’s like, what I need to expect and what it’s like to play in an NHL game.’’
Said Grimaldi: “I love it when the pressure is on me. I’m used to it. I don’t even feel it anymore.’’
With the Panthers signing veteran centers Dave Bolland and Derek MacKenzie to join Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, Florida is pretty much set up the middle.
For Trocheck and Grimaldi to find playing time — along with the likes of centers Brandon Pirri and Drew Shore — shifting to the wings is a likely probability.
On Thursday, both Trocheck and Grimaldi said moving from their natural position wouldn’t be a problem or concern.
Grimaldi, who is making his professional debut after three seasons at the University of North Dakota, said he will do whatever the Panthers ask of him.
“I started playing wing [at North Dakota] up until December when they switched me back to center,’’ Grimaldi said.
“I’ve kind of been back and forth, and I’m actually happy now that happened. Now I can play either side as well as the middle. The versatility can help you make a team.’’
For the next few weeks, most eyes will be on Ekblad as he also makes his professional debut with the Panthers.
Ekblad, who signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Panthers last week, said he has no symptoms remaining from a concussion sustained last month in Quebec.
General manager Dale Tallon said Ekblad had been cleared for contact, although the Panthers might go slowly with him during the prospect camp.
If Florida is going to take it easy on Ekblad, no one has told him.
“You have to take things in stride, but I’m a pretty focused guy,’’ Ekblad said.
“I have one goal and that’s to make the Florida Panthers and contribute in any way I can. I think if I go out there, work as hard as I can and show them I have the intensity and ability to be here, if they see that, great.’’
▪ Florida will hold its lone local workout of the prospect camp Friday at the IceDen in Coral Springs. The practice is schedule to run from 9-10:15 a.m. and is free and open to the public.
The Panthers’ veteran players will hold an informal workout once the prospects come off the ice. That, too, is open to the public.
▪ Florida will play its first game of the Nashville prospects tournament on Saturday against Boston in Tennessee. The Panthers will then play Nashville on Sunday and finish with a game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday morning.
The Panthers’ training camp kicks off on Sept.18 with physicals. The first full workout will be Sept.19 at the Coral Springs IceDen.