With their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes ended, the Florida Panthers have used the final weeks of the season as a chance for some of their top prospects to develop at an accelerated pace.
No one has seized that opportunity like center Nick Bjugstad.
The University of Minnesota product last scored a goal March 1, but he's shown an ability to set up others with 11 assists in his past 18 games. With two assists Monday in a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils, Bjugstad became the fourth rookie in Panthers history to reach 20 assists, joining Michael Frolik, Kristian Huselius and Jesse Belanger.
Bjugstad led a brief comeback Monday after the Panthers fell behind 3-0 by setting up Dmitry Kulikov's shorthanded goal with 2:38 remaining in the first and Brad Boyes' goal 50 seconds into the second to cut into the Devils' lead.
The Panthers did not skate Tuesday but Bjugstad will have an opportunity to continue his development against the New York Islanders, who also are fielding a team prominently made up of younger players. The Islanders will again go with nine rookies in their lineup against Florida. It's a group that has found some success, with a 5-2-1 record in the past eight.
There was one familiar veteran face on the ice for the Islanders on Tuesday when forward Michael Grabner skated for the first time since sustaining a concussion March 10. Grabner did not participate in contact drills and will not play against Florida, but the hope is he can return to the lineup in the coming days.
"Things seem to be going pretty well for him right now. As we move forward later this week we'll have a better idea of where he's at for the weekend," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He'll be non-contact here for a few days and we'll see how he moves forward. If things work out he can be available for the weekend."
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov will start for the Islanders. With Dan Ellis starting against the Devils, Scott Clemmensen is expected to make his first start since a 6-3 road loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 1.
Ed Jovanovski will get a rest, meaning Jonathan Racine will make his NHL debut. The defenseman was called up from the American Hockey League Tuesday afternoon, along with forward Bobby Butler.
Here are the projected lineups for the Panthers and Islanders:
Sean Bergenheim - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes
Tomas Fleischmann - Vincent Trocheck - Scottie Upshall
Quinton Howden - Jesse Winchester - Brandon Pirri
Krys Barch - Scott Gomez - Jimmy Hayes
Dmitry Kulikov - Brian Campbell
Colby Robak - Jonathan Racine
Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson
Scratched: Ed Jovanovski, Bobby Butler
Injured: Roberto Luongo (upper body), Tom Gilbert (hernia surgery), Jonathan Huberdeau (lower body), Aleksander Barkov (knee), Tomas Kopecky (concussion), Alex Petrovic (upper body)
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Anders Lee
John Persson - Brock Nelson - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Ryan Strome - Colin McDonald
Mike Halmo - Casey Cizikas - Johan Sundstrom
Travis Hamonic - Calvin de Haan
Thomas Hickey - Kevin Czuczman
Matt Carkner - Matt Donovan
Scratched: Radek Martinek, Eric Boulton
Injured: Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion), Kyle Okposo (lower body), Brian Strait (hand), Michael Grabner (concussion), John Tavares (knee)