Florida Panthers

Hard work pays off for Florida Panthers youngsters Connor Brickley, Quinton Howden

Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie, second from left, is congratulated by teammates Quinton Howden (42), Connor Brickley (86) and Alex Petrovic (6) after MacKenzie scored against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period of an NHL preseason game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers center Derek MacKenzie, second from left, is congratulated by teammates Quinton Howden (42), Connor Brickley (86) and Alex Petrovic (6) after MacKenzie scored against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period of an NHL preseason game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. AP

After a few days of using a folding chair set up in the middle of the locker room, rookie Connor Brickley now has his own stall next to pal Alex Petrovic.

A spot on the Florida Panthers opening night roster comes with some perks, a place to hang your gear apparently being one of them.

Brickley, 23, parlayed a strong season in the AHL last season into an eye-opening training camp that earned him a place on the team.

Although Brickley might not make his NHL debut in Saturday’s home opener against the Flyers, that milestone moment is expected to come in the near future, perhaps in Game 2 at Philadelphia.

“Obviously I’m pretty thrilled about the opportunity right now and I’m going to take it and see where it leads,” said Brickley, who scored 21 goals in four years at Vermont yet tallied 22 goals last season in San Antonio.

“We have a great group of guys and we’re all excited about Saturday night. I just took the process every day and wasn’t handed anything. But I had a good year in San Antonio and that led to better opportunities with the Panthers this year.”

Brickley and Quinton Howden weren’t handed spots on the roster; their play during camp got them there.

Howden has played in 34 games with the Panthers, but he didn’t get a chance to play for coach Gerard Gallant last season as he spent a rough year in San Antonio.

Howden was limited to 33 games with the Rampage after breaking his wrist in the first game of the season, then came back and broke his jaw just five games later.

“I had to prove myself after not getting any games here last year, having a rough season,” Howden said. “That’s already in the past, I’ve forgotten about it. I wanted to prove myself again, earn a spot. I wanted to earn the job and move forward from there. I had the confidence that I could come in and take a job, not let anyone else take it from me.”

This year, Howden came into camp hungry for a spot on the team and looked good on Derek MacKenzie’s fourth line.

Gallant is expecting a lot out of that trio — veteran Shawn Thornton is expected to start Saturday in place of Brickley — with the line looking to have good chemistry from the start.

“Sometimes young guys look at depth charts and feel something catastrophic has to happen for them to make it,” MacKenzie said. “This year, it was obvious there were a few jobs available and right from the start those guys kept getting better and better. They’re both good players and can potentially be top six guys. Right now, though, they’re excited to play on my line. And that’s reciprocated. I like playing with them. They save me a little bit.”

Added Thornton: “I had the privilege of playing a game with Brickley in Tampa and thought he had a great game. Both got better as camp went on and I think it’s great when guys earn their way when nothing is given to them. Competition makes everyone better.”

▪ Jaromir Jagr confirmed he’s growing out his hair again with the hope that his mullet — the style he fancied in his early NHL days — will be in its full glory by the playoffs.

“I’m not going to cut my hair, see if there is still power in the hair,” Jagr said Thursday. “Once I cut it [in 1999] I couldn’t score again.”

Gallant says he welcomes Jagr’s new/old look although he won’t try to copy it himself.

“I think it’s great, think it’s awesome,” Gallant said.

“I played against Jagr when he had the mullet and I think it’s great for our players. They get to have fun in a long season. He’s been great for our crew. But I can’t grow the mullet because I don’t have enough hair for it.”

George Richards: 305-376-4995, @GeorgeRichards

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