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5 Things to Know: Panthers vs. Predators Doubleheader

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

9/19/17 Morning Skate

9/19/17 Morning Skate

Interviews with Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad and Bob Boughner

  • 01:35 •

NASHVILLE - It's the preseason game so nice they'll play it twice.

The Florida Panthers will kick off their six-game preseason with their sixth annual doubleheader against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.

Nashville last hosted the doubleheader in 2015.

The doubleheader will mark the first time the Panthers take the ice as a team since April. The first game will begin at 4:30 ET, with Game 2 following shortly after at 8:00 p.m. ET. Both games will be live streamed and can be found HERE.

"You've got a lot of different guys playing with each other, so I think the first thing is just getting on the same page, trying to build confidence in each other and trusting each other on the ice," Nick Bjugstad said after Tuesday's morning skate. "It's always fun to come to Nashville and play these guys. They got a good squad and had a good season last year. It's a good test to begin with."

With 52 players currently in training camp, new head coach Bob Boughner said that first impressions are going to be "huge" as his coaching staff works to trim down Florida's roster down to 23 before Opening Night.

"I'd like to see some of our structure and detail be implemented in our game plan," head coach Bob Boughner said after morning skate. "But you don't want to handcuff any of these guys. You want them to go out and play with instinct; you want them to play at a high pace. But, you know, they're smart.

"They know at the end of the day there's six exhibition games. If they play in four of them and break it down by the periods then they've got 12 periods to try and make a hockey team. First impressions are huge for this staff. We're trying to keep a clear slate on everybody. Going forward, we're going to take the best 22, 23 guys to help us win hockey games."

Here are five things you need to know about today's meeting in the Music City…

1. EKBLAD, LUONGO RETURN TO ACTION

Aaron Ekblad and Roberto Luongo, both coming off season-ending injuries in 2016-17, will each return to competitive action in Game 2 of the doubleheader.

Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, missed the final 10 games of last season after suffering an upper-body injury on March 11. Hampered by injuries, the 21-year-old former Calder Trophy winner posted career lows in goals (10) and assists (11) while being limited to just 68 games.

With the arrival of a defensive-minded coach like Boughner, however, Ekblad believes that both himself and the Panthers are poised for a big comeback.

"It's all about moving forward," said Ekblad, who is entering the first year of the eight-year contract he signed last summer. "This is a new team, a new year. I'm feeling good with what we have. [The system] looks great. I'm truly confident with exactly what [Boughner] has got on the board. It's a breath of fresh air, for sure. I feel like it's a good mix of systems that I loved to play growing up. It's a good blend. It gives us a lot of different options on every play. I think everyone's on the same page."

Luongo, meanwhile, will slide back into his usual place between the pipes for the first time since a lower-body injury caused him to miss the final six weeks of last season. At 38, Luongo was limited to just 40 games before being shutdown, ending his campaign with a 17-15-6 record, 2.68 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

"We wanted to make sure that some of the guys that missed some time get in here early," Boughner said of his decision to play Ekblad and Luongo. "As we move into next week, obviously, we've got four games in six nights and you're going to see everybody. But I think it was important to bring some of these guys for their first game and let them get their feet wet."

2. McCANN IMPRESSING

Few players have garnered more praise throughout the first week of training camp than Jared McCann. After scoring a goal in Monday's scrimmage at the Panthers IceDen, the 21-year-old forward earned a spot on Florida's second line for Game 2 of the doubleheader.

A natural center, McCann has played mostly on the wing during his time in the NHL with Florida and Vancouver, notching 25 points (10-15-25) in 98 games. At this point, however, Boughner is leaving the door open for McCann to potentially return to his original position.

"The big decision for us is that third-line center," Boughner said. "Is it going to be [Nick] Bjugstad? Is it going to be [Denis] Malgin? Is it going to be McCann? We're trying McCann on the wing as well. We've got to make sure going into the season when it starts in October, who's best at what position. They're all going to get their chance and all play center as we moved forward."

Bjugstad will center McCann and Radim Vrbata on Tuesday.

"He's a super-skilled player," Bjugstad said of McCann. "I played with him a few games last year, so I know what he's got. I agree that he's been doing really well in camp. It's good to see a lot of these young guys playing well."

3. HUBERDEAU, BARKOV STAY HOME

The Panthers made the decision to leave home without two-thirds of last year's top line, as both Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov did not travel to Nashville for the team's two-game tilt.

Boughner said the decision to leave two of his top forwards behind was based solely on the fact that his coaching staff wanted to get a closer look at some of the organization's rookies before the first round of cuts later in the week.

Barkov and Huberdeau are both expected to suit up later in the preseason.

"You've got to make a choice," Boughner said. "You have to give people chances. I think [Huberdeau] and [Barkov] are definitely going to play here once we get back home."

4. MCCOSHEN, WEEGAR BATTLE HEATS UP

The ante has been upped in the battle between Ian McCoshen and MacKenzie Weegar.

With Jason Demers being traded to the Arizona Coyotes for winger Jamie McGinn on Sunday, the two rookie defenseman will now each be given the opportunity to win the now-vacant starting spot on the Panthers blue line.

McCoshen, 22, scored during Monday's scrimmage, but is still considered to be the more defensive-minded of the duo. The 31st overall pick in the 2013 draft, he made his NHL debut with the Panthers last season, recording one assist in three games.

Weegar, meanwhile, was named to the AHL All-Star Game last season after recording 36 points (14-22-36) in 60 games for the Springfield Thunderbirds. The 23-year-old also made his NHL debut with the Panthers last season, but recorded no points in three games.

McCoshen and Weegar will be paired together in Game 2.

"It's a good, healthy battle," Boughner said. "We've got to make sure that we have the ability and we have the talent to make sure that whoever plays in that spot can be a regulars. For me, it's defense first. It's great that we want to skate and be moving pucks and all that, but we have to be able to defend."

5. TIPPETT'S DEBUT

The wait is finally over.

Owen Tippett, who the Panthers selected with the 10th overall pick in June's draft, will get his first taste of NHL action in the opening game of the doubleheader, lining up alongside Denis Malgin and Henrik Haapala on Florida's top line.

"I think he's going to be nervous in the first couple minutes, but we'll help him through that," Boughner said. "Even in the scrimmage yesterday, he got better and better as the scrimmage went on. I expect the same tonight. It's going to be probably a little bit of a wakeup call for him… It's going to be an adjustment for me, but good players always find a way to adjust."

PROJECTED LINES AND PAIRINGS GAME 1

Henrik Haapala - Denis Malgin - Owen Tippett

Dryden Hunt - Blaine Byron - Colton Sceviour

Connor Brickley - Aleksi Heponiemi - Jonathan Ang

Chase Balisy - Curtis Valk - Matt Buckles

Mike Matheson - Josh Brown

Keith Yandle - Alex Petrovic

Ed Wittchow - Reece Scarlett

James Reimer

Harri Sateri

GAME 2

Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Evgenii Dadonov

Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad - Radim Vrbata

Maxim Mamin - Juho Lammikko - Jayce Hawryluk

Harry Zolnierczyk - Micheal Haley - Sebastian Repo

Ian McCoshen - MacKenzie Weegar

Mark Pysyk - Aaron Ekblad

Michael Downing - Thomas Schemitsch

Roberto Luongo

Samuel Montembeault

 

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