CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - As the Florida Panthers prepare to begin their seven-game preseason, head coach Gerard Gallant wants each and every one of the 50-plus players attending this year's training camp to know that there are jobs to be won in the coming weeks.
"There's spots available," Gallant said after Sunday's practice at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs. "You look at some of our players, and there's people fighting for jobs. That's what you want every year, nobody gets a free shot at a job. Guys come here and work hard and earn jobs. There are probably 10 guys in line for three or four jobs."
Now, before you begin to shuffle lines in your head, Gallant went out of his way to also make it clear that, although his lineup for the upcoming season isn't set in stone, the club's top-two forward lines from last season "aren't going anywhere."
So where does that leave the rest of the lineup?
Well, if the first and second lines are to remain intact, the first big question marks can then be found to the left and right of third-line center Nick Bjugstad, who lost both of his linemates from last year's playoffs - Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell - to free agency.
"I'm not too stressed out," Bjugstad said with a chuckle. "I think everyone is trying to find linemates. It's not too set in stone, you know, who's sitting where and what position guys are. The first two lines look great to me, but I'm saying that everyone is trying to find out who can play with each other. We'll see what happens."
In an effort to bolster Bjugstad's line, the Panthers went out and acquired three highly skilled forwards during the offseason - Jared McCann, Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour - that currently highlight the heated competition for those two open spots heading into the season.
McCann, who was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks in May, will join Sceviour on Bjugstad's line during Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Nashville Predators at the BB&T Center.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to be here," said McCann, a former first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. "I know I'm going to have to earn everything I get, and I'm OK with that. That's how it's always been since I started [playing hockey]. I'm looking forward to hopefully making the team and moving forward."
A natural center, the 20-year-old McCann is already somewhat familiar with playing on the wing after spending some time there as a rookie in Vancouver, where he had nine goals and nine assists in 69 games. He has no preference between playing on either the left or right side, but notes that he's already working on embracing the on-ice mentality of a winger.
"If that gets me in the lineup, I'll have to learn as quickly as possible," he said.
With the season opener still several weeks away, Gallant admits that he isn't too worried about where certain players like McCann, Sceviour and Marchessault will be lining up at the moment, but rather making sure his team has all of the right pieces before figuring out exactly where they fit into the puzzle.
"That's later on," Gallant said. "Right now, we're just trying to fill holes. We've got a lot of guys at camp. A lot of guys are playing different positions, so it's not a big deal for me. When the season starts, we'll know what we've got and see where everyone fits."
FONTAINE HOPING TO IMPRESS
Another player hoping to carve out a spot somewhere in Florida's bottom-six is Justin Fontaine, who is one of two NHL veterans attending this year's training camp on a professional tryout.
"I just want to go out there and compete," Fontaine said. "I want to get used to the system as quick a possible and be able to execute smartly on the ice in the games to come."
Fontaine, 28, spent the last three seasons with the Wild, scoring five goals and 16 points in 60 games last season. His career high in points is 31 from the 2014-15 campaign and 13 goals from his rookie year in 2013-14.
"Over his career he's been a pretty good hockey player," Gallant said of Fontaine. "He came here with an opportunity to make our team, and I'm sure that's what he's what he's trying to do and he's working hard... If he works hard and things go well, then hopefully he'll earn a contract."
A fourth-line player for the majority of his tenure in Minnesota, Fontaine prides himself on being able to make a big impact despite playing limited minutes. He led the Wild with 2.25 points per 60 minutes at 5v5 in 2014-15 and hopes to bring that same level of efficiency to the Panthers.
"If you're a third-or-fourth-line guy that can also create offensive and contribute defensively while other guys rest, I think that helps," Fontaine said. "This league is turning into more a speed league, where you need all four lines going every night… I think if you can have that kind of execution, you can put a lot of pressure on the other team."
NEW LOCKER ROOM
The Panthers unveiled their new-look locker room at the BB&T Center on Tuesday, showing fans that far more than the roster was upgraded over an eventful summer in Sunrise.
"It's super nice," Bjugstad said of the locker room. "I think they made it more personal to the team. They put in a lot of work. I think when you have a room to walk into like that it feels more like home. It's definitely something that you're proud to walk into."