CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The uptick in intensity and physicality was noticeable during the second on-ice session of development camp at the Panthers IceDen on Sunday morning.
From heated 1-on-1 drills to crowded battles in the corners, it seemed like players were continually being sent crashing to the ice before popping right back up to rejoin the play.
For defenseman John Ludvig, the action was right up his alley.
"I love that," Ludvig said of the rough and tough practice. "It's a big part of the game, and it's something I want to teach the young guys coming in here. My game is built off compete, so I want to make sure they know that's going to be in practice and that they follow the same way."
This past season, Ludvig put his game to the test for the first time against professionals when made his debut in the AHL with Syracuse. Finding his footing right away on the ice, the 21-year-old posted eight points (two goals, six assists), 13 penalty minutes and a +4 rating in 13 games. Following that smooth transition, he's now looking to take another big step forward.
"The jump to pro is a big step," Ludvig said. "I'm glad I was able to play some games last season. I started to feel really comfortable there last year. I want to take everything to the next level this year and up my game."
While he was praised mainly for his physicality when the Panthers picked him up in the third round (69th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, Ludvig showed that he also had plenty of untapped potential on offense when he finished third among WHL blueliners with a career-high 62 points (17 goals, 45 assists) in 60 games with Portland during his final junior campaign in 2019-20.
That being said, Ludvig still prides himself on always thinking defense first.
"That's the staple of my game, being hard to play against," he said. "Any team coming in, I want them to see me and be like, 'It's going to be a tough night.' I'm always going to have that, but as I've been progressing I want to work on my offensive side and develop that side of my game as each year goes on."
Getting a taste of life in the NHL a bit earlier than expected, Ludvig's strong play in the AHL earned him a late-season recall to the Panthers. And even though he didn't suit up in a game down the home stretch, he was able to soak up a wealth of information during his time there.
"It was awesome," Ludvig said. "Being around the team is always a good experience. You get to watch how the pro guys handle themselves and carry themselves every day. I took notes all last year when I was up here and I'm ready to go for this season."
Was there one note in particular that suck with him?
"Just come to work every single day," Ludvig said. "There's going to be days when you're not feeling good, but you've got to push through it and really battle."
Although those battles will soon begin to ramp up when training camp begins later this month, Ludvig is enjoying getting loose, building relationships and being a leader at development camp.
"We're here to work and get better," he said. "That's the big thing for me."
NOEL GAINING CONFIDENCE
It's hard to miss Serron Noel when he's circling the rink.
Measuring up at 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, the 21-year-old forward is easily one of the biggest players attending this year's camp. In fact, taking a quick look at the roster, it appears that only goaltender Tye Austin, a fellow member of the 6-foot-5 club, can look him straight in the eyes.
But even with that big frame, Noel admits even he was surprised at the size of the opposition during his debut season in the AHL in 2020-21. Inserted into the lineup for eight games with Syracuse, he managed to tally four points (one goal, three assists) and 13 penalty minutes.
Although it wasn't a full season of action, those few games opened his eyes.
"The speed and feeling out the play and how bigger the guys are," Noel said when asked about some of his top takeaways from last season. "That was definitely important for me, especially coming into camp here and main camp, too. Playing with the pros, it definitely helped translate."
It also helped him regain some confidence.
Despite producing 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 48 games with Oshawa and Kitchener during his final season in the OHL in 2019-20, Noel, who was selected by the Panthers in the second round (34th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft, wasn't fully satisfied with his performance.
However, after getting a few games under his belt in the AHL, he feels he's back on track.
"Obviously the year before wasn't the best year for me," Noel said. "Just being able to see myself against pro players and feel that I can play at that level, that was definitely a huge help."
One of several prospects at camp preparing for their second season in the pros, Noel hopes to use development camp as a springboard into training camp. With that in mind, he doesn't plan to hold back on the ice or in the gym in the coming weeks as he works to show that he belongs.
Prior to camp, he was also able to join the Panthers for some informal workouts.
"Getting a development camp under our belts before training camp is a huge advantage for us," Noel said. "We'll definitely be in game-shape coming into camp. … I'm excited, but I'm not really thinking about [the battles in training camp]. I'm just going in and just giving it my all. We'll see."
For now, Noel's focus is on sticking around in South Florida as long as possible.
"It's the best place to play," he said, flashing a big smile. "I love it here. It's amazing."
Craving an inside look at camp?
Logan Hutsko has you covered.
Putting down his stick and picking up a pen, the 22-year-old forward will be documenting his time both on and off the ice throughout camp with a personal diary at FloridaPanthers.com.
With a new installment arriving each morning, Hutsko will provide fans with unique personal insights into how players spend their time during practices, team-building events and more.
To read what he had to say about Saturday's first on-ice session, click HERE.