Florida Panthers

Veterans aim to make Florida Panthers roster

Martin Havlat during first official practice for the Florida Panthers on Friday, September 18, 2015.
Martin Havlat during first official practice for the Florida Panthers on Friday, September 18, 2015. wmichot@miamiherald.com

Florida would like to see some of its young players rise up and take them — players such as Rocco Grimaldi, Quinton Howden and Lawson Crouse — although there are a couple veterans fighting for them.

David Booth and Martin Havlat, who have almost 1,300 NHL games between them, want to stick around and play for the Panthers this season.

“We have our eyes on everyone,” general manager Dale Tallon said as camp opened last week. “There aren’t many openings so you better be at your best every day. Competition is getting deeper and deeper and we have depth at every position.

“I’m not going to give a guy a job just because we drafted them. They have to earn the spot. Inner competition will make our team better.”

Both Booth and Havlat already have their living arrangements set.

Booth, who spent parts of six seasons with the Panthers, never sold his Parkland home after being traded from Florida to Vancouver in 2011 and is in the process of moving back into the place he has been renting out.

Havlat closed on a home in Boca Raton in June before officially getting a training camp tryout from Tallon earlier this month.

For Booth, returning to the Panthers has been a bit of a homecoming despite all of the changes. Only a handful of players remain from Booth’s final Florida team as he was traded six games into the 2011-12 season.

“It feels like I was just here last year,” Booth said. “Walking in here just feels awesome. I feel like I’m at home. There are nothing but good memories here. When I got off the plane, all I could do is smile. I’m really excited.”

Havlat, 34, spent last season in New Jersey, partly as a teammate of Jaromir Jagr.

Injuries have slowed both Havlat and Booth over the past few years, but both say they are healthy as they fight for a spot on the team.

Although Booth was healthy last year and played in 59 games for Toronto, Havlat was limited to just 40 games with the Devils and hasn’t played more than 50 games in a season since playing in 78 for Minnesota in 2010-11.

“The last few years were tough because of injuries, but that’s part of the game,” said Havlat, who did play 39 games in the 48-game lockout season in 2013. “I’m healthy right now, feeling great and ready to start again.”

Florida plays its third preseason game Tuesday at BB&T Center against Dallas and coach Gerard Gallant continues to look for his best mix of players. Veterans and rookies will be judged, he said, on what they do on the ice during camp and in the final four preseason games.

“Opening night we’re going to have our best players, our best team out there,’’ Gallant said.

▪ Florida split its preseason doubleheader at Nashville on Sunday.

The Predators won the opener 5-2 with the Panthers rallying to win the nightcap 3-2 thanks to a 3-on-3 overtime goal from rookie defenseman Michael Matheson.

▪ Gallant said goalie Roberto Luongo would start Tuesday’s game against the Stars and get at least two periods of work. Veteran Mike McKenna, expected to start the season at AHL Portland, should play the third.

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