CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Looking around the dressing room at the Panthers IceDen, newest Florida Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie, laidback and earnest, couldn't help but remark on the various leaders that occupied the stalls surrounding his own.
"The group of the guys that we have here, especially the young guys, it's obvious that one of them will wear this thing in the near future," said MacKenzie, who served as an alternate captain last season. "To be part of the process at this point in my career, it's a lot of fun.
"For me, and I mean this, it could have gone to any of a handful of guys in the room. It was a fun summer, a good summer and a good chance for me to catch up with the guys and make sure we were all on the same page.''
As MacKenzie pointed out, there is certainly no shortage of leaders within Florida's tight-knit locker room - a characteristic intentionally sought out by the organization in recent years. In fact, it's fair to assume that nearly every member of the team's 23-man roster has been in a position of leadership at one point or another - in either the junior or professional ranks - during their careers.
Jussi Jokinen and Shawn Thornton have both previously served as Panthers alternate captains, while Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr each captained an NHL franchise at point or another during their illustrious careers.
For this reason, MacKenzie, citing respect rather than hesitancy, went out of his way to sit down and speak with several of his Panthers teammates, both young and old, before finally accepting the captaincy.
"It was a nice gesture by him," said Jokinen, who, along with defenseman Aaron Ekblad, will serve as one of Florida's alternate captains this season. "He didn't have to do that, but he wanted to make sure that [Luongo], myself, and a couple others were on board if they were going to choose him. Like I said, I think he's very deserving. He brings it every night and he's really respected on the ice, off the ice, and for what kind of person he is."
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When the Panthers hit the ice for Thursday's Opening Night contest against the New Jersey Devils at the BB&T Center, it'll be the first time MacKenzie dons the "C" since officially being named the ninth captain in franchise history during a private ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. on Sunday.
"I don't know if it will get old, putting that on every night,'' MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie, who signed a two-year contract extension this summer, joins Brian Skrudland (1993-1997), Scott Mellanby (1997-2001), Paul Laus/Pavel Bure (2001-2002), Olli Jokinen (2005-2008), Bryan McCabe (2009-2011), Ed Jovanovski (2013-2014) and Willie Mitchell (2014-16) as the other Panthers captains in the club's 23-year history.
And although he's encountered numerous teammates and coaches throughout his 13 seasons in the NHL, the 35-year-old MacKenzie noted that Mellanby, more than anyone, played an important role in shaping his leadership mentality while the two shared the ice in Atlanta from 2005-07.
"The guy that really sticks out is Scott Mellanby," MacKenzie said. "I had him in Atlanta. The reason I say that is not the amount of time I spent around him, because I wasn't there all the time, but he definitely treated me like I was, you know, as big a piece of the puzzle as anybody else. To this day, if I see him, I love just kind of picking his brain and chatting with him."
A defensive-minded forward and face-off specialist, MacKenzie recorded 13 points (6-7-13) in 64 games last season. He led all Panthers forwards in hits per game (2.4) and blocks per game (0.6), while also ranking first in shorthanded ice time per game (2:38) as the team's top penalty killing forward.
In speaking with several of his teammates, it's clear that MacKenzie will be a captain that inspires those around him through hard work and an unwavering dedication to the game, setting a selfless standard that everyone in the locker room will be expected to live up to.
"He's a hard-working guy who's just the perfect captain,'' said Jagr. "He cares about the team, knows his role on it. Every time he's on the ice, he gives you everything he has. He's a good example for everyone.''