Florida Panthers

Steven Kampfer’s patience pays off in opportunity with Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Steven Kampfer plays in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh.
Florida Panthers’ Steven Kampfer plays in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh. AP

Steven Kampfer played in just his second game of the season Monday night against Tampa Bay.

Yet the Florida defenseman has yet to complain about it.

After spending much of his career in the minors — and not playing in the NHL for three years until the Panthers brought him up last season — Kampfer knows things could be worse.

“You have to treat your practices as if they’re your games and if you do that it makes things easier,” said Kampfer, who is back in the lineup after Dmitry Kulikov was injured Saturday against the Lightning.

“You can only be told ‘stick with it’ so many times. You have to tell yourself you’re in the NHL. Other guys are working 9 to 5. I appreciate what I have, try to take advantage of the opportunities when they come. You can’t sulk, no one wants to be around a guy like that. I just want to become a better player.”

Kampfer was one of the Panthers’ biggest surprises last season. Kampfer, who had last played in the NHL in 2012 with Minnesota, came to Florida in a minor-league deal for Joey Crabb before last season started.

After starting with Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio, Kampfer impressed the Panthers’ front office yet stayed in Texas as Florida’s blueline stayed healthy.

But when Willie Mitchell sustained a concussion on Feb. 3, Kampfer was called up, played in 21 consecutive games and signed a two-year extension. He then only played in three of the final 12 games last season.

This season, Kampfer was a healthy scratch for six games in a row before getting in against Chicago on Oct. 22. He then sat for the next 10 games before playing Monday night.

“It was an easy game to get into with the rivalry and all,” he said. “It felt like a playoff game. You get into the action early, throw the body around a little bit and everything feels good. I thought we played well.”

Coach Gerard Gallant has often said how much faith the Panthers have in Kampfer and appreciate the work he puts in when he’s not playing.

Even though Kampfer was playing on a two-way contract since last season, the Panthers are reticent to send him back to the minors to get playing time because they don’t want to risk losing him through the waiver process. Kampfer will be on a one-way NHL contract next season.

“He played real good,” Gallant said. “He hasn’t played much but was fresh, he was excited. He played a real solid game.

“Lets face it, he’s played a lot in the minors during his career. It doesn’t stink to be the seventh defenseman in the NHL. But he’s worked hard every day, and that’s why he played the way he did the other night. We expect him to play good. He opens eyes when he’s out there. He’s a good hockey player.”

▪ Defenseman Aaron Ekblad became the first NHL player to record a game-tying and game-winning goal in consecutive games since Dany Heatley did it for Atlanta in 2003 when Ekblad helped Florida sweep the home-and-home series against Tampa Bay.

“He’s getting pucks through, playing with some confidence,” Gallant said.

▪ Roberto Luongo earned his first shutout of the season Monday and the 69th of his career — he is the NHL’s active leader. Luongo’s 39 saves were his most in a shutout since he made 44 in Florida’s 5-0 win at Washington in 2006.

▪ The Panthers are hosting a food drive this week to benefit Harvest Drive. Fans who bring non-perishable food items to the arena Thursday will receive a free poster. On Friday, players and coaches will be among those at BB&T Center collecting frozen turkeys from 4-7 p.m. Fans who donate a frozen turkey will receive two tickets to a future game.

Thursday: Ducks at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMNA 1210.

The series: Florida leads 13-12-3.

Scouting report: The Ducks, in the middle of a four-game trip, have lost four of their past five. … Anaheim beat the visiting Panthers 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 4 in a game Florida led until the final seconds of regulation.

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