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Dylan’s Dandy Debut

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers
Defenseman Dylan Olsen moves the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in his Panthers' debut Monday.

The Panthers and their fans almost immediately got to see one of the two prospects acquired in the trade that sent veteran forward Kris Versteeg to Chicago.

Big forward Jimmy Hayes made his Panthers debut two nights after the trade was consummated, playing in a 4-1 victory at Colorado.

It took a little while longer for the other prospect to arrive, but defenseman Dylan Olsen made his Panthers debut Monday night and it proved worth the wait.

Olsen came advertised as a big-bodied defenseman not afraid to throw his body around and with some puck-moving ability. And that’s pretty much what he showed in the impressive 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at the BB&T Center.

Coach Peter Horachek praised Olsen’s work after the game, but he already had shown what he thought of his new defenseman during the game by giving him 19:10 of ice time. Here’s an impressive number: Olsen got 1:44 of ice time with the Panthers short-handed, which represented the third-highest total among Panthers defensemen behind veterans Brian Campbell and Mike Weaver.

Finally, Olsen and defense partner Erik Gudbranson both had the best plus-minus ratios on the team at plus-2.

Yes, it was quite the debut for Olsen, who was called up from San Antonio of the AHL on Sunday after playing three games with the Rampage.

Ironically, Olsen was the last first-round pick made by Dale Tallon as Blackhawks general manager in the 2009 NHL draft, and one can quickly see the potential in the guy. As a great aside, Chicago’s first-round pick the following year was a forward named Kevin Hayes, who just happens to be the younger brother of Jimmy Hayes.

In some ways, it was fitting that Olsen was paired with Gudbranson for his first game at the BB&T Center because the two of them not only were teammates on Canada’s Under-18 national team, they also have a similar skill set.

Those two also are part of a nice group of young defensemen in the organization, whether already in the NHL or on the way.

Along with Olsen and Gudbranson, there’s Dmitry Kulikov, who might be in his fifth season but is still only 23, San Antonio standout Alex Petrovic, and 2012 first-round pick Michael Matheson, who is now a sophomore at Boston College.

One of Matheson’s teammates on that BC team is defenseman Ian McCoshen, the Panthers’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft. Another is the aforementioned Kevin Hayes.

Back to Olsen, the game Monday night was his Panthers debut but not his first NHL regular season action. That had come during a 28-game stint with the Blackhawks in the 2011-12 season.

His very first NHL game had come, just like his Panthers debut, against the Philadelphia Flyers. After the morning skate Monday, Olsen recalled that first NHL game and said his most vivid memory was Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds taking a run at him.

Olsen joked he would be looking for Simmonds that night and, sure enough, during a little scrum in the third period there were Olsen and Simmonds face-to-face behind the Panthers net. Olsen certainly didn’t back down from the physical Simmonds, just like he didn’t back down from the challenge of his first game in a Panthers uniform.

Olsen, as well as Hayes, have seen the trade to the Panthers as a big opportunity to jump-start their career. For the Panthers, the trade gave them two young prospects with big bodies and intriguing potential to put in the lineup.

In the early going at least, it sure looks like the Panthers got themselves a keeper on the blue line.

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