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Panthers' Matheson not rushing to play in NHL

by Alain Poupart

CORAL?SPRINGS, Fla. -- During a scrimmage that closed Florida Panthers development camp last week, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the first pick of the 2014 NHL?Draft, scored a goal with a big slap shot.

Come September, he'll be trying to earn a spot on the Panthers roster.

Fellow defenseman Michael Matheson, the Panthers' first-round pick in 2012 (No. 23), had a strong outing in the same game, although he didn't score. He won't be in training camp with the Panthers two months from now because he'll be preparing for his junior season at Boston College.

For Matheson, waiting one more season is simply part of the process.

"I???have to go back there and work hard and make sure I???develop my game so that I???can get it to this level,"???Matheson said. "I???just felt that I???could develop more at BC???and that I have some more developing to do there."

Matheson is taking the same route as Panthers 2010 first-round pick Nick Bjugstad, who signed with Florida after completing his junior season at the University of Minnesota and is coming off a rookie season in which the forward led the team with 38 points in 76 games.

"It worked out really well for Nick Bjugstad going back for a third year,"???Matheson said, "and I???think following in his footsteps will do me some good."

Matheson has made steady progress at BC and last season helped the Eagles reach the Frozen Four. Matheson led BC???defensemen with 21 points in 38 games and had a plus-18 rating.

When he returns to campus in the fall he'll be captain.

"It's a huge honor," he said. "It wasn't the deciding factor [in deciding to return] by any means because it happened after I decided. But it's kind of icing on the cake for sure. To be able to not only go to BC???for another year but to be the captain there is a huge honor."

Skating always has been the biggest asset for the 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenseman, but he arrived at this year's development camp a stronger player than what the Panthers saw the previous two summers.

"He's getting stronger and stronger," Panthers manager of player development Bryan McCabe said. "He's blowing away some of the tests out there. He's one of the stronger guys in the room. He's a quick guy. He's a student of the game, for sure. He asks questions. He thinks it. He sleeps it. He eats it. We're looking for a big year out of him at BC???this year."

Matheson is among the top young defensemen in the organization, a list that includes first-round picks Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Ekblad.

For his part, Matheson just wants to keep getting better. Even after getting another taste of NHL???life in his third development camp, he has no second thoughts about his decision to remain in college.

"I'm feeling pretty good,"???Matheson said. "The summer isn't over yet so I???still have a lot of work to do and a lot of time to get that work in. I still am really, really happy with the decision I???made, and again that kind of went into the decision of not rushing up here and taking my time and just staying down there and working on my game."

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