Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers rookies Crouse, Brickley make strides in bid for roster spot

Lawson Crouse holds up a Florida Panthers sweater after being chosen 11th overall during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla.
Lawson Crouse holds up a Florida Panthers sweater after being chosen 11th overall during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. AP

With four more players released from training camp, the Panthers were finally able to put all of their players in one locker room Thursday.

Rookies Lawson Crouse and Connor Brickley don’t have their own stalls just yet, so folding chairs set up in the middle of the room will have to suffice for now.

“Hey, it’s a promotion,” Crouse said with a laugh. “At least I’m in the big room, with all the guys. That’s a step in the right direction. I’m glad they moved us in.”

For Crouse and Brickley, it appears Florida is going to let them stick around past Monday’s roster deadline.

Brickley, 23, has been extremely impressive during rookie camp and full camp and is expected to make the opening night roster.

Crouse, 18, was Florida’s top pick at the draft it hosted in Sunrise a few months ago. It appears he will also start the season with the Panthers.

What happens after that, however, remains to be seen.

Florida has the option to send Crouse back to his junior team in Kingston, Ontario, after a maximum of nine games before the first year of his rookie contract kicks in.

If Crouse stays with the Panthers past Oct. 16, which seems all but assured, the eight-game suspension he faces in the Ontario Hockey League will have expired.

Since Crouse is listed on Kingston’s active roster, he’s getting credit for missing OHL games while in South Florida.

The Kingston Frontenacs have already played three games, so Crouse has only five games of punishment left for his head shot to an opponent in the final seconds of what was Kingston’s final game last season.

Of course, Crouse hopes to stay with the Panthers after his tryout and not worry about a return to Kingston.

“I just can’t put any extra pressure on myself to stay,” Crouse said. “I think I’m a good enough player to stay but I still have to prove that. I would like to stay the entire year, but I’ll do what they want me to. If they keep me, great. I’ll do everything I can to make this team better.”

Last year, Aaron Ekblad was in a similar situation (minus a pending OHL suspension) as Florida had to make a decision on whether to return the rookie defenseman to his Canadian junior team.

Ekblad made the decision extremely easy on the Panthers.

On Thursday, coach Gerard Gallant admitted the Panthers knew before training camp broke that Ekblad would spend his season with the Panthers, his junior career over.

“We knew the kid was real good,” Gallant said of Ekblad. “I’m not saying Crouse isn’t there, but Ek is a special player.”

Crouse doesn’t have those same assurances although he still has time to impress the Panthers.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on the kid because he’s 18, he can go back to juniors and have a lot of success there,” Gallant said.

“We want him to have fun, get used to his teammates. If it works out, great. If not, he goes back to Kingston, probably plays in the World Juniors. He’s going to have a long NHL career. It’s just a matter of when it starts.”

Ekblad said he and Crouse haven’t talked about his current situation.

Ekblad, who ended up playing in all but one game last year (flu) and won the NHL’s rookie of the year award, says Crouse just needs to be himself.

“It’s tough because you don’t know what’s going on so you just have to play the game you know you’re capable of playing,” Ekblad said.

“I didn’t try to step out of my game last year. I just did what I always did.”

LINDSAY RETURNS

Bill Lindsay will be in the Panthers’ broadcast booth this season after all.

On Thursday, the team announced that Lindsay — a member of the first Florida team in 1993 — will be the radio analyst for all 41 home games.

The Panthers hinted of such a role for Lindsay in August when his television contract with Fox Sports wasn’t renewed. Lindsay has been part of Florida broadcasts since he joined Randy Moller on radio in 2007.

In 2009, Lindsay became Florida’s television analyst and remained part of that broadcast team through last season. Moller replaced Lindsay as host and in-game analyst on Fox broadcasts this season.

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