Six weeks before the start of training camp and Panther GM Jacques Martin admits he’s excited.
Excited about the “new chemistry on the team, the new coaches…the new team.”
It’s been a busy off-season for Martin. Not only has he hired Peter DeBoer as his successor behind the Panther bench, but he’s overhauled the defense with the addition of Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and brought in a veteran with first-line skills in Cory Stillman.
But nearly four months after the season ended, Martin said; “I think we’re pretty much done as far as movement or signing of free agents.”
Preparing to attend the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., Martin said he’s pleased with what the Panthers were able to accomplish the past several weeks.
“The one area we wanted to address was our defense, and I think we did that at the draft with the trade (for Ballard and Boynton) and then getting Jay (Bouwmeester) signed to a one year deal and not needing to go to arbitration,” he said.
The signing of Bouwmeester, Martin said, is a “good sign.”
“We’ll start working on a longterm deal,” he added. “That can’t be (signed) until Jan. 1, but we would hope we’ll get a longterm deal done at that point.”
With Bouwmeester, Ballard, Boynton, Bryan Allen, Noah Welch, Mike Van Ryn, Cory Murphy and Karlis Skrastins, the Panthers are deep at the blue line.
“I really believe our defense is much stronger, much better at moving the puck, but also much more physical and nasty to play against versus last year,” Martin said. “We definitely have more experience back there. Adding Ballard, a number two defenseman, and Boynton, an experienced guy, really helps us. And the fact Tomas (Vokoun) has been here a year now, and Craig Anderson is here, makes our goaltending very solid.”
|Forward Cory Stillman will add leadership and scoring after signing a three-year deal with the team on July 1st. (AP Photo/John Amis) |
Offensively, the addition of Stillman gives the Panthers a player who has won two Stanley Cups, can play the point on a power play, and who has scored at least 20 goals eight of the past 10 years.
“Up front, the acquisition of Stillman will bring some leadership, some experience, and a winning attitude since (Stillman) won the Cup in Carolina and Tampa and was a big part of that,” Martin said. “I think he’ll fit right in with our kids.”
As for the kids, and the rest of the offense? “Obviously, there’s going to be higher expectations on our younger players, Nate Horton, Stephen Weiss
, (Rostislav) Olesz, David Booth. We’re counting on them to produce for us, as we are with (Richard) Zednik and Brett McLean. So up front, a lot of our younger guys will be counted on.”
Not only will they be counted on, but they’ll be pushed by players trying to make their mark in the NHL, including Michael Frolik, Michel Repik, Anthony Stewart and Shawn Matthias
“We have more depth,” Martin said. “I think a lot of our depth is twofold. Look at some of the veterans we have, people like Stewart, Stefan Meyer, (David) Brine. We have people at that level and also kids coming out of juniors who are very skilled, people like Matthias, Frolik, Repik (Keaton) Ellerby, (Jason) Garrison. We have so much better depth at the American Hockey League (AHL) level.”
One of the biggest questions come the start of training camp will be which one of those young, skilled players could be on the roster come opening night?
“I think they will dictate where they start the year by their performance in camp,” Martin said. “First we’ll have rookie camp where we’ll have a chance to evaluate them in three games at the rookie level. Then we’ll have a chance at practice, then there’s seven preseason games. That should give us a good indication of where they’re at, whether they’re ready to step in and play in the NHL or whether they need some more time at the American League level.”
Those questions will all begin to get answered Sept. 11 at rookie camp, and then Sept. 19 when players report to South Florida for the start of training camp.