Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Derek MacKenzie: Fourth-line center, first-rate energy

Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie (17) battles Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown (23) during preseason hockey action at the Amalie Arena Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014 in Tampa, Fla.
Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie (17) battles Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown (23) during preseason hockey action at the Amalie Arena Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014 in Tampa, Fla. MCT

Derek MacKenzie wasn’t the flashiest signing by the Florida Panthers on the opening day of free agency – and that’s OK by him.

MacKenzie, after all, isn’t a fancy player, just one who gets after it every night.

Florida’s new fourth-line center, MacKenzie has definitely made his presence known since joining the Panthers.

MacKenzie has one of Florida’s goals this season and his 24 hits lead the team and are ranked eighth in the league.

“We knew what we were getting. His energy level is just extraordinary,” general manager Dale Tallon said. “He has impeccable character and he’s a great role model for our young guys. I’ve never seen a guy play so hard every single shift of every game he’s in. He gives you everything he has in practice. He gets it.”

Said MacKenzie: “It’s nice to hear things like that, especially from a guy like Dale. But you almost have no choice but to play that way if you want to bring energy to the team every night.”

The Panthers’ fourth line – which features Tomas Kopecky but has included Shawn Thornton, Jimmy Hayes and even Brad Boyes this season – has been one of the team’s strong suits.

“We’re playing pretty simple hockey, going in straight lines, trying to create some energy and offensive zone time,” Thornton said. “Being able to play with two pretty good players helps out a lot. It’s been good.”

One reason the Panthers have given up just 13 goals this season – tied for 10th-fewest in the league – has been the play of their fourth line and MacKenzie in particular.

In Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win at Colorado, MacKenzie took it upon himself to scrap with Marc-Andre Cliche.

Florida had just coughed up a 2-0 lead by giving up three straight goals, and a change of mood was needed.

MacKenzie’s fight – he lost – seemed to do the trick as Sean Bergenheim scored just over a minute later to tie the game going into the third period.

“He has great timing and gets it,” Tallon said. “He’ll do anything he has to win.”

Any negative swing of momentum heading into the second intermission was gone.

“I was signed here to be on the fourth line and you have to love that job,” said MacKenzie, who has spent the past 10 seasons playing in the Atlanta and Columbus organizations.

“Our intentions aren’t to be anything more than one of the best fourth lines in the game.”

PANTHERS EN ESPAÑOL

For the first time since the team played at Miami Arena, the Panthers will have games broadcast on Spanish radio this season.

The team announced that the first game broadcast in Spanish (on Miami’s 1210 AM ESPN Deportes as well as West Palm Beach’s 760 AM) comes next Thursday against Arizona. The two other games come after the new year.

“These radio broadcasts will help to continue to grow and enhance our brand and the game with our Hispanic fan base in the tri-county area,” team president and CEO Rory Babich said in a statement.

Arley Londono, the Panthers’ original Spanish-language broadcaster from 1993-1996, will do play-by-play with Octavio Sequera as host and color analyst.

▪ Florida’s penalty kill was put to work in the second period Tuesday as the Panthers were called for four penalties in the span of 10 minutes.

The Panthers killed off two of the four Colorado power plays that originated in the second period. A hooking call on Sean Bergenheim came at the end of the second and bled into the third.

Florida’s penalty kill is ranked 28th in the league, stopping 21 of 29 (72.4 percent).

▪ The Panthers took Thursday off but will return to practice Friday at the Coyotes’ arena in Glendale.

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