When the Florida Panthers take the ice Saturday night in Tampa, they’ll do so with much of the team that will open the night, coincidentally, in Tampa next Thursday.
Florida trimmed its roster significantly Friday, sending six prospects — including center Vinny Trocheck and defenseman Alex Petrovic — to its minor-league affiliate in San Antonio.
The Panthers play the host Lightning at Amalie Arena at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the preseason finale for both teams.
“They were tough decisions because they are six good, young players who are going to play on our team,” general manager Dale Tallon said of the moves.
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“They’re going to play some games this year and if guys here don’t pick it up, they’ll be here sooner than later. I’m real confident in them. They had good camps, made it tough cuts.”
The Panthers now have 24 players remaining, with the only likely roster battle waging between free agent defenseman Shane O’Brien and Colby Robak.
O’Brien has played in 528 NHL games over eight seasons and is on the comeback trail after being banished in the minors by Calgary for the second half of last season. Robak finished his third season with the Panthers but has played in just 35 NHL games.
Tallon said he was planning on speaking to O’Brien’s agent Friday about a contract.
“We’ll see where we go from there,” Tallon said. “He’s had a good camp, been aggressive and gives us depth on the blue line.’’
Since Florida could lose Robak via the waiver process in trying to assign him to San Antonio, O’Brien will be offered a two-way contract and possibly sent to the minors for a time.
Whether O’Brien would accept such an arrangement is the question. He didn’t sound too excited about it Friday.
“I feel like I’m part of the team already, so it would be disappointing if I’m not here,” O’Brien said.
“If it’s a two-way, I don’t know. I would have to talk to my family, to my agent. I still feel like I’m an NHL player, I’m only 31 years old. I feel like I’ve had a good enough camp to be here. I take pride in playing hard every night. I’ll let my agent take care of the contract stuff.”
There weren’t many surprises with Florida’s cuts on Friday. Rocco Grimaldi, although a dynamic player, is fresh off three years at the University of North Dakota and the thought is Florida wants him to log big minutes in the AHL.
Drew Shore returns to the AHL despite showing signs he can play at the NHL level. Shore can play in only two NHL games before becoming waiver eligible so when he returns, he likely stays.
Quinton Howden and MacKenzie Weegar were also sent to San Antonio, and Blake Parlett was placed on injured reserve.
▪ The Panthers go into Tampa winless in five preseason games.
Goalie Roberto Luongo, who will not play Saturday as Al Montoya gets the call, said it sometimes takes time for a new team to come together and the exhibition record means little.
“We need to get on the same page,” Luongo said. “Obviously we would like a good preseason record, but it’s important we don’t get frustrated. This next week has us down to our main guys and gives us a chance to iron things out.”
Florida lost 3-0 to the Lightning on Thursday night and will play Tampa Bay twice more in the following week.
After Thursday’s season opener in Tampa, Florida and the Lightning don’t meet again until March1.
▪ Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad played his biggest minutes of the preseason Thusday. He said the game was “tenfold” different from his preseason opener last weekend in Nashville.
“I was much more confident, very excited to play,” said Ekblad, the top pick of the 2014 draft. “I was more calm, more patient. I made some plays I wanted to make.”
Tallon said Ekblad would remain with the Panthers for “a while” and will get at least his nine-game NHL tryout.
Panthers at Lightning
▪ When/where: 7 p.m. Saturday; Amalie Arena, Tampa.
▪ TV/radio: None.