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Gilbert Looking To Earn A Spot

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers

All the media attention went to goaltender Tim Thomas on Tuesday, but he wasn't the only player the Panthers brought in on a PTO that day.

Flying under the radar, Florida also added veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert to the mix along the blue line. It was a different experience for the former Edmonton and Minnesota defenseman, having to wait for a chance with an NHL team after being bought out on July 4 by the Wild. A late arrival to camp, Gilbert's goals are pretty simple.

"Come here and work hard. Earn a spot on the team. That's the main goal," said Gilbert following the Panthers pre-season game against the Stars in San Antonio. "It's a little tougher trying to come in half way through camp but things have been going good. Like I said, come in and just work hard."

Playing in his first game in a Panther uniform Friday night, Gilbert scored the lone goal in the Panthers 4-1 loss, played a ton of minutes and in all situations. He was paired with former Lady Byng winner Brian Campbell on the night. First impressions made, head coach Kevin Dineen was impressed.

"I liked his game (tonight). He was one guy that (could) walk away feeling, not the one guy, but he had a solid game," said Dineen. "I thought he was comfortable playing with Brian Campbell. He showed some strong poise out there so I think that was a good first showing for him."

Gilbert on the other hand had a different take on his game.

"It was alright," said Gilbert of seeing his first action of the season. "Being in the game, you actually have the energy and adrenaline rush. It was good at the beginning and then the legs kind of died as the game went through. But that's why you play with Campbell. Just get him the puck and he just skates up the ice."

The Bloomington, MN native has played in 447 career NHL games and can provide offense from the back end, having posted 176 points (36-140-176). He posted 13 goals and 33 points in 2007-08 and then a career-high 40 assists and 45 points a year later.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon brought Gilbert, along with veterans Brad Boyes and Thomas in to compete for roster spots and despite not currently having a contract, Gilbert knows that competition makes everyone better.

"It's good to have that competitiveness in the locker room. It pushes guys to take their game to a new level," said Gilbert. "The situation I'm in, for me I'm just coming in and I'm just working hard. Pretending like it's scratch again and just earn your spot on the team."

Standing at 6-2 and 204 lbs, the 30-year old has played the first seven years of his NHL career in the Western Conference. If he's able to earn a contract with the Panthers, that will obviously change. Playing in the Eastern Conference would be something that Gilbert would embrace.

"I wish I knew more. Most of the time you see highlights on TV," said Gilbert on what he knows about the Eastern Conference teams and players. "The unfortunate part of two different conferences but you know the guys that are on each team. You see the kind of offense that Eastern Conference throws out there and it doesn't matter where you're playing.

"It's always challenging. It's actually kind of refreshing sometimes to see a new look on teams."

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