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Cats Forecast: The Season Begins, Promo Nights & More!

by Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Jerseys, face paint and big foam claws are all officially back in fashion.

Following a successful series of games in the preseason, the Panthers will finally open up their 2021-22 campaign this week with a pair of exciting games at FLA Live Arena. After hosting the Penguins for Opening Night on Thursday, they'll welcome the Islanders to Sunrise on Saturday.

Pegged by numerous media outlets as one of the top teams to watch this season, the Panthers finished with the fourth-best record in the NHL during the 2020-21 regular season before taking the eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning to six games during the postseason.

Eager to make a deeper run this time around, players can't wait to get started.

"I think there was a lot of good things we did throughout camp and throughout the preseason," Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said after Saturday's preseason finale against Tampa Bay. "We're going to start off on the right foot. It's just a couple more days before we get to work."

Reinhart, who was acquired from the Sabres in a highly-touted trade in the offseason, will be one of a handful of players making their debut with the Panthers on Thursday, a group that could also include 2020 first-round pick Anton Lundell and future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton.

Helping create one of the deepest teams in the league paper, those new faces are set to bolster a dynamic core that already includes all-stars like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, as well as MacKenzie Weegar, Carter Verhaeghe and many other skilled players.

Between the pipes, Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight will be a strong one-two punch.

Then, of course, there's also that mustachioed legend calling the shots behind the bench.

"This is what it's all about," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the season starting. He's not wrong. This is the moment everyone from players to fans has been waiting for. See you all at the rink!

THE GAMES

Thursday: Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:00 p.m.

There's nothing quite like the first game of the season. Embarking on a journey that will last at least 82 games, the Panthers will kick off their season with a matchup against the Penguins at FLA Live Arena on Thursday. The top team in the East Division in 2020-21, Pittsburgh went 37-16-3 during the regular season before losing to the Islanders in Round 1 of the playoffs. Sidney Crosby -- who else? -- led the team in scoring with 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists), while Jake Guentzel ranked second with 57 points (23 goals, 34 assists). Expected to take the ice without two of their top stars in this matchup, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are currently working their way back from offseason surgeries. In their absence, Jeff Carter, who scored 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 14 games after the Penguins acquired him in a trade with the Kings on April 12, will likely be deployed as the team's top-line center. In net, Tristan Jarry is expected to begin the season as Pittsburgh's starter after going 25-9-3 with a .909 save percentage in 2020-21. As for the Panthers, look for Aleksander Barkov to come out flying. With the ink still drying on his new eight-year extension, the captain is poised to take another step forward after recording 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) last season, which were good enough for the second-most on the team.

TV: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); SiriusXM Channel 220 / Streaming 932; NHL App

Tickets: HERE

Saturday: New York Islanders, 6:00 p.m.

Can we still call this a revenge game? I think we can. Due to last season's pandemic-adjusted schedule, the Panthers will host the Islanders at FLA Live Arena on Thursday in their first head-to-head matchup since New York came out on top in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Returning to the postseason in 2020-21, the Islanders finished fourth in the East Division with a record of 32-17-7, but were knocked out in the Stanley Cup Semifinals in seven games by the Lightning. Mathew Barzal led the team in assists (28) and points (45), with Brock Nelson scoring the most goals (18). Despite losing Jordan Eberle in the Expansion draft, the Islanders should get a boost up front with the return of captain Anders Lee, who missed the final two months of last season with an injury. Prior to being knocked out of the lineup, Lee had netted 12 goals in 27 games. In net, Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin should form a potent tandem for New York. Set to start as the No. 1, Varlamov went 19-11-4 with a .929 save percentage and seven shutouts in 2020-21. A veteran of that aforementioned series in the playoff bubble, look for Jonathan Huberdeau to pick up some points in this game for the Panthers. Leading the team in scoring for the second straight campaign, the 28-year-old winger amassed 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) last season.

TV: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); SiriusXM Channel 219 / Streaming 932; NHL App

Tickets: HERE

MILESTONE WATCH

- Jonathan Huberdeau is two points away from his 500th point.

- Brandon Montour is seven games away from his 300th game.

- Sam Reinhart is five points away from his 300th point.

- Carter Verhaeghe is five points away from his 100th game.

NEW CAT ON THE BLOCK

The Panthers are starting to become a change-of-scenery destination.

With a chance to follow in the footsteps of players like Carter Verhaeghe Gustav Forsling, who both had career years with Florida in 2020-21, former first-round pick Olli Juolevi was acquired from the Canucks in exchange for Juho Lammikko and Noah Juulsen in a trade on Sunday.

"We are excited to welcome another young defenseman like Olli to our organization," Panthers general manager Bill Zito said in the team's official release announcing the transaction. "We look forward to Olli developing with our club as he joins our deepening core on the blue line."

After making his NHL debut and skating in one game during the playoffs in 2020, Juolevi, who was originally selected by Vancouver with the fifth-overall pick in 2016, recorded three points (two goals, one assist) while averaging 13:13 of ice time over 23 games as a rookie in 2020-21.

A top producer during his junior career, Juolevi, who only just turned 23 in May, racked up 84 points (19 goals, 65 assists) over 115 games during his two seasons with London in the OHL.

Stay tuned to FloridaPanthers.com this week for more news about this new Cat.

BIG NIGHTS AHEAD

It's never too early to start planning your trips to FLA Live Arena.

With that in mind -- and with the action getting started this week -- there's no time like to present to check out the Panthers' season-long promotions and theme nights and circle a couple dates.

Every Tuesday, fans will be able to purchase discounted Truly Hard Seltzers, while Yuengling, Yuengling Flight, Corona and other domestic beers will be discounted at select concession stands on Thursdays.

New for this season, games played on Saturdays -- now known as "Sunset Saturdays" -- will feature 6 p.m. puck drops, with fans being encouraged to arrive at 4:30 p.m. to enjoy special pricing on select drinks, including an exclusive Stoli cocktail on the CITY Furniture Patio, North Patio and JetBlue Tarmac. Beginning at 4 p.m., families can partake in gameday activations on the JetBlue Tarmac such as a bounce house, inflatable slapshot stand, video games and more.

As for theme nights, check out the list below.

- 10/14 vs. Pittsburgh: Opening Night

- 10/16 vs. New York Islanders: Oktoberfest

- 10/27 vs. Boston: Panthers Celebrate Halloween

- 11/20 vs. Carolina: Hockey Fights Cancer presented by Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

- 12/4 vs. St. Louis: Kids Day presented by Broward Health

- 1/15 vs. Columbus: Pride Night presented by Stoli

- 1/27 vs. Vegas: Military Appreciation Night

- 1/29 vs. San Jose: Hispanic Heritage Night

- 2/24 vs. Columbus: Black History Night

- 3/10 vs. Philadelphia: St. Patrick's Day

- 4/8 vs. Buffalo: Autism Awareness Night presented by South Florida Ford

- 4/21 vs. Detroit: Mental Health Awareness presented by Solis Health Plans

Stay tuned for more details and additional announcements at FloridaPanthers.com/Promos.

PROSPECT SPOTLIGHT

Mackie Samoskevich started off his collegiate career with a bang. Helping lead Michigan to a 6-1 win over Lake Superior State on Friday, the 18-year-old forward lit the lamp just 9:02 into the first period to put the Wolverines up 2-0 with his first NCAA goal.

Tweet from @umichhockey: Samo's FIRST, and first of many 🔥 #GoBlue������ pic.twitter.com/cozShzI8vA

Taken by the Panthers with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Samoskevich, who is considered one of the top freshmen in the nation, will have a great opportunity to pile up points all season long as he's currently the top-line right winger on a powerhouse team in Ann Arbor.

In 2020-21, he recorded 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 36 games with Chicago in the USHL.

CATS CLIP OF THE WEEK

Even though it's been a few days, plenty of smiles are still lingering from this news.

Locking up one of the top players in the league for the foreseeable future, the Panthers re-signed superstar captain Aleksander Barkov to a maximum eight-year extension on Friday.

"I'm going to be here for a long time," Barkov said of the mega deal. "Being in the organization that drafted me, that gave me a chance to play here and develop me into the player I am right now and into the human being I am right now, to be able to stay here for as long as possible is a huge thing for me. I've really loved every second here my whole career. I've never thought about anything else other than being here, playing here and trying to win a Stanley Cup here."

To view all of Barkov's press conference, check out the video below. 

Video: Press Conference: Barkov Extended

CATS IN THE COMMUNITY

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: #FlaPanthers @StanleyCPanther visited 150 soldiers from Charlie Company 1-124IN in appreciation for their service prior to their deployment tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/VRdr3JHHYk

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: In support of @FoodForThePoor���s earthquake relief efforts, our #FlaPanthers staff sorted over 16,000 pounds of food and created 384 baby kits to send to Haiti. ������👏 pic.twitter.com/V1RLlRIz1L

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: We had a blast supporting @goldieonice Annual Goldie���s Gang Golf Tournament today! ������🏒 pic.twitter.com/AUvoaqPDfq

TERRITORY TALK

The battle for the Sunshine State couldn't even wait for the regular season. On the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast, we're already talking rivalry.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Sasha Signs: Panthers Lock Up 'Cornerstone' Player in Barkov 

- Panthers Announce 2021-22 Radio Network 

- Panthers Announce Limited-Time Special Ticket & Merchandise Offers 

- Territory Talk: Rivalry Renewed; Preseason Thoughts 

- Around the NHL: 2021-22 Season Preview with ESPN's Linda Cohn 

- The Panthers Lost a Larger-Than-Life Figure on Saturday 

- Color of Hockey: LATAM Cup set to make return at Panthers IceDen

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