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Bobrovsky practices patience in first skate with Panthers

Two-time Vezina winner who signed as free agent doesn't want to 'show everything' right away

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers created excitement when they signed goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as an unrestricted free agent July 1. They added a two-time Vezina Trophy winner to a young, talented core, and Bobrovsky said it was all about the Stanley Cup.

But it's a long way to the regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Oct. 3, let alone the ultimate goal. Bobrovsky went through his first practice of training camp at Florida Panthers IceDen on Friday.

"You have to be patient," he said. "You don't need to force anything. We've still got three weeks or so until the first game. It's step by step. You don't want to be, like, show everything for first three days and then, you know, done."

Bobrovsky is known for being meticulous about his preparation in body and mind. He compares athletics to art, having a perfect picture in your mind of what you want to become, then working to make that vision a reality. Except …

"I don't look at that as a work," he said. "I love what I do. It's my passion. I love hockey. I love to be a goalie. It's fun for me. It's interesting. When I'm in the gym or on the ice, I don't count the time. I'm in there, and I'm in that process with my everything, with my energy. So that's my life.

"Again, it comes down to that point when you see what you want to be and what kind of skills you need, which helps you to be better. So you look at that picture … and all little steps towards that makes you so excited and so happy."

Video: Sergei Bobrovsky checks in at No. 2 on the list

When the Panthers were doing their due diligence before free agency, president and CEO Matt Caldwell flew to Salzburg, Austria, where Bobrovsky trained for eight years in the offseason before going to Vierumaki, Finland. Caldwell walked around and talked to people.

"You want to make sure that everything you hear is true," Caldwell said. "There's much more stuff we did, but I think that was the most impactful."

The Panthers ended up making a major commitment, signing Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract. He turns 31 on Sept. 20.

"Bottom line is, we made ourselves very comfortable to go ahead and do this," Caldwell said. "The way we look at is, we've got a five-, six-year window here. You need good goaltending. So, you know, why don't you lock that up with one of the best out there?"

It's early. But the Panthers' first impression of Bobrovsky?

Everything they hear is true.

"He's a guy you can tell he's prepared, he knows what he's doing and he's going to do his job," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "And I think he brings a calmness back there."

The Panthers have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times in 25 seasons, once in the past seven. Last season, they finished 12 points out of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. They were ninth in goals (3.22 per game) and second on the power play (26.8 percent). The problem was keeping the puck out of the net. Their 5-on-5 save percentage tied for the Ottawa Senators for 29th (.907).

So they hired coach Joel Quenneville on April 8, and Quenneville helped recruit Bobrovsky. Over the past seven seasons, Bobrovsky's even-strength save percentage is .929, first in the NHL among goalies who played at least 250 games.

"I've been talking to him every day, and he seems like a really, really nice guy and easy to talk to," captain Aleksander Barkov said. "Then you see him, what he's doing on the ice and at the gym and how professional he is. All that he said this summer, he wants to win and he thinks this is the place to win. It gives us confidence by him saying that and at the same time being in the net for us."

For now, the biggest issue is that Bobrovsky spent the past seven seasons in Columbus. He said Florida has a different "life rhythm" and the most important thing is adjusting. As he steps toward that perfect picture in his mind, he'll start there.

"I think my position, my role, takes lots of responsibility, lots of commitment," Bobrovsky said. "And I think my point, I don't have to overthink or put extra pressure on myself. My job is to be consistent, to give the players confidence that they know they can play relaxed, they know that there is behind (them) the person who will help and who will stand up when they need me. … I'm going to prepare myself and do my best to give the (team) every night a chance to win the game. ...

"It's not easy to win in this League. But again, I think we have a really good group of guys here, talented guys. We have a really good coach. And I think we have a good chance to do something special."

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