In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Anthony Duclair slides up to the top line, Olli Juolevi joins the Cats on the ice, and Spencer Knight is set for his first start of the season.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - A hot start has led to an early-season promotion for Anthony Duclair.
After being moved up from the fourth to first line during Saturday's victory over the Islanders, the speedy forward was back in that same spot during practice at the Panthers IceDen on Monday, skating on the right side of a line that also featured Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
"No matter where you play on this team, you're surrounded by talent," Duclair said of sliding up the depth chart. "There's always plays to be made. It doesn't matter what line you're playing on. For me, moving around doesn't really matter. It's just a question of going out and working hard."
Coming off a season in which he recorded 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) in 43 games, Duclair, who inked a three-year extension with the Panthers this past offseason, has been a sparkplug on the offensive side of the puck once again this season, scoring a goal in each of the first two games.
In possession of one of the best sets of wheels in the NHL, both of those goals were the result of him turning on the jets and driving to the net. And while his goal against Pittsburgh benefited from some puck luck - "I'll take that any day of the week," he laughed - his breakaway goal on Illya Sorokin of the Islanders was easily one of the top highlights we've seen so far this season.
Don't believe me? Check out the replay in the video clip below.
Video: NYI@FLA: Duclair nets nifty breakaway backhand goal
"Even when the puck's not going into the back of the net, I want to be able to affect the game in other ways, using my legs, using my speed and creating some offense out of that," Duclair said. "You never know, that can build some confidence for the next line going up or draw a penalty."
Making Duclair's transition to the top line a bit easier is the fact that he's been there before.
In fact, the 26-year-old spent a whopping 236:55 on a line with Verhaeghe and Barkov last season, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Finding great success, the Panthers led 15-8 in goals and 144-76 in scoring chances when that trio was deployed on the ice at 5-on-5 play.
"We had some chemistry last year, and we saw that a little bit in the third period last game," Duclair said of the line being reunited. "Now, it's just a matter of doing that for a full game."
More than anything, Duclair's promotion is another testament to Florida's incredible depth.
With an embarrassment of riches throughout the lineup, it's likely that multiple players will move freely up and down the depth chart as the season rolls along. For the players in the locker room, that also means opportunity. Under head coach Joel Quenneville, the team has shown time and time again that strong play will be rewarded, and Duclair moving up is another example of that.
It's almost like the roster is a puzzle, except all the pieces can fit together.
There's no wrong answers.
"I think the strength of our lineup is that you can put guys with different guys throughout the course of the game and then all of the sudden something elevates and they take advantage of it," Quenneville said of his successful in-game adjustments. "We could easily see either of them [back on the top line] there quickly. Putting them in the short situation worked out, but we'll see."
With Duclair moving up, Sam Reinhart spent practice on the third line skating with Frank Vatrano and Anton Lundell. Additionally, Eetu Luostarinen was on the second line filling in for Owen Tippett, who missed practice but is expected to play against the Lighting on Tuesday.
Returning practice, Kevin Connauton was paired on the blue line with Matt Kiersted.
JUOLEVI JOINS PRACTICE
Speaking of players on the back end, a new face made his debut this morning.
Picked up in a trade with the Canucks on Oct. 10, Olli Juolevi finally took the ice for his first practice with the Panthers and spent most of the session paired up with Brandon Montour.
"It was a good skate today, high-pace," Juolevi said. "It's a really good team here. I'm just excited to be a part of this team and get to know everybody. … It's a really good chance. I'm really happy to be here. This feels like a really good place to play hockey right now."
Originally selected by Vancouver in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Juolevi, who turned 23 in May, appeared in 23 games with Vancouver last season. Averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time, the 6-foot-2, 182-pound defenseman notched two goals and one assist.
After practice, Quenneville said there's a chance Juolevi will play on Tuesday at Tampa Bay.
"I think he's getting familiar with a new system and a new way of doing things," Quenneville said. "He's excited about a new chance and a new opportunity. We'll get to know him a little bit better here, but he's got the right attitude as far as coming in here and looking at a fresh start."
Still full of promise, Juolevi, a native of Helsinki, Finland, was a top producer during his career in the junior ranks, posting 84 points (19 goals, 65 assists) in 115 games with London in the OHL.
With the Panthers, he believes he can start to get back to being that type of player once again.
"You want to play a lot of games," Juolevi said. I really think I can help this team."
After Sergei Bobrovsky opened up the season with two consecutive strong starts, Quenneville said that rookie Spencer Knight will handle goaltending duties on Tuesday against the Lightning.
"We started looking at the forecast of the how goaltending situation was going to go, and that was according to the plan," said Quenneville, who added that he's mapped out a good load-management schedule between the two netminders with the help of goalie coach Robb Tallas.
After signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers in March, Knight, who was taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, went 4-0-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .919 save percentage over four appearances to close out the regular season.
No stranger to facing the Lightning, the 20-year-old also went 1-1-0 with a 2.06 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in two starts during the Sunshine State Showdown series in the playoffs, including turning aside 36 of 37 shots to lead the Panthers to 4-1 win in Game 5.
With the Panthers sitting at 2-0-0 on the season, this tilt in Tampa Bay should be electric.
"You know it's going to be a tough one," Duclair said. "We know the rivalry with them. We saw it in the preseason, but now it's the real deal. We play four times against them this season, and it's going to be a battle each game. It's going to be a good test for us, and we're ready to go."
MONDAY'S LINES & PAIRINGS
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Eetu Luostarinen
Frank Vatrano - Anton Lundell - Sam Reinhart
Ryan Lomberg - Joe Thornton - Patric Hornqvist
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas
Olli Juolevi - Brandon Montour
Matt Kiersted - Kevin Connauton