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30 in 15: Panthers' Markstrom set to shed prospect tag

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. — It’s been a while now that Jacob Markstrom has been considered the Florida Panthers’ goalie of the future.

Really, that’s been the thought ever since the Panthers made the tall Swede the first pick in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft.

Markstrom’s time, it would appear, has arrived. And Markstrom says he’s ready for the challenge.

"Obviously, it's been my main goal since I got here and I'm really here to be the starting goalie," Markstrom said at the start of training camp. "That's nothing to be shy about. I'm here to play and I really want to play and I want to play good and help the team win."

Markstrom has had stints with the Panthers each of the past three seasons, with one appearance in 2010-11, seven in 2011-12 and 23 last year, but general manager Dale Tallon said at the start of camp, "[Markstrom] is our goalie."

However, with the announcement Monday that veteran Tim Thomas will attend training camp on a professional tryout, the possibility still exists that Markstrom could find himself again as a backup or at least sharing the duties.

"It doesn’t matter who they [bring] in," Markstrom said about the possibility of a high-profile veteran goalie coming to camp. "I don’t put a lot of thought in that. If it happens, it happens and we’ll deal with it then. But my thoughts and my mind-set, it’s all on myself and trying to be as good as possible right now."

To that end, Markstrom says he worked a lot harder this summer than he normally does. That included spending time with Pekka Alcen, a goalie coach with whom he’s worked since he was six years old.

Markstrom, who will turn 24 in January, said he worked harder because he wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance last season and also because he went into the summer with the mindset he’d come back in September as the Panthers’ starting goalie.

"That’s pretty much my [drive] all summer," Markstrom said. "It’s easy to get up and go out and run or go the gym in the mornings because you always have it in the back of the head, I want this to be my year."

As he did the previous season, Markstrom showed flashes of greatness in 2012-13.

His best outing was probably a 44-save effort in a 3-1 victory against the New York Rangers and fellow Swede goalie Henrik Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden.

But there also were forgettable performances. In particular, Markstrom had issues at the start of games. For example, he was pulled after only 3:10 in a game against the Washington Capitals after allowing goals on each of the first two shots he faced.

"Obviously I wasn’t happy with last season and I want to be a better goalie," said Markstrom, who was 8-14-1 last season with a 3.22 GAA and a .901 save percentage. "I want to be stronger and faster and stop more pucks. You really see how much time and work you have to put down to be a successful goalie in the NHL.

"Last year I played more games than I ever did up in the NHL. I know what it takes. I’ve been a part of ups and downs. So right now I’m just super excited to get this going and pumped to get the games started."

Markstrom was Florida’s first draft choice in 2008 because, ironically, the Panthers had traded their first-round pick to the Nashville Predators as part of a package for goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Since the selection of Markstrom, the Panthers have added several blue-chip prospects through the draft, most notably Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad.

But Markstrom always has remained one of the team’s brightest hopes.

"It takes a while, it’s taken all great goaltenders time," Tallon said. "I like his attitude. I like what he’s been doing all offseason. His preparation looks really good. He learned a lot last year, which is a good thing. We all learned a lot last year. [Markstrom] is a good goalie. I have high expectations for him."

Just in case, the Panthers got Markstrom to agree to a two-way deal in the first year of the two-year contract he signed this summer as a restricted free agent.

Markstrom said he wasn’t disappointed by the nature of the contract.

"I’m happy. I’m here. I’m standing here right now," he said. "It’s up to myself to show that this is my team and I deserve to play here. It’s the best League in the world. You’re not supposed to get anything for free.

"I've always been a determined and stubborn person when it comes to hockey. My goal is more to play a lot of hockey games. I want to play a lot of good hockey games."

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