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NOTEBOOK: Panthers Roster Battles Beginning to Heat Up

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

9/23/19 Practice

9/23/19 Practice

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Anthony Greco, defenseman Riley Stillman, and goaltender Sam Montembeault

  • 02:05 •

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - When the NHL tweeted out a list of the league's top scorers through the first week of the preseason on Monday morning, there were plenty of names you'd expect to see and one name that likely raised a few eyebrows among fans living outside of South Florida.

Sandwiched in between New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes, the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and Winnipeg Jets star winger Blake Wheeler was Anthony Greco, who is tied for fourth in preseason scoring with four points (three goals, one assist) in three games.

Heading into his fourth season with the Panthers organization, Greco made his NHL debut and played in one game with Florida in 2018-19. He also led the team's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, in scoring with new AHL career-bests in goals (30), assists (29) and points (59).

With just over a week until the Panthers kick off their 2019-20 season against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 3, the 25-year-old is one of a small group of players still competing for a spot.

"It's been a long camp and the days have been pretty hard. But, for myself, it's just taking day by day and trying to prove myself every single day and see what happens," Greco said after this morning's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "I think every year it's kind of unexpected. You get more and more comfortable as years go on, but so many things have changed over the last few years. Everything's more expected. For me, it's trying to come in and be confident every single day. I'm taking it one practice at a time and one period at a time in games. Just try your best."

Entering the professional ranks as an undrafted free agent in 2015 after four seasons at Ohio State, Greco said he's gotten used to fighting tooth and nail for every inch on his career path.

"It's not any secret. It's been sort of how it's been the last however many years," said Greco, who's tallied 59 goals over the last two AHL seasons. "I'm used to it now at this point, trying to come in and prove myself. I have no problem with it. I've grown to be comfortable with it."

Greco was one of several players on the bubble that had a big game in Florida's 6-0 win over the Dallas Stars in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday. Named the second star of the game, he registered two goals and an assist - a performance that caught the attention of head coach Joel Quenneville.

"I think Grecs is a guy that we're kinda talking about," said Quenneville, who's preparing for his first season with the Cats. "All the sudden he comes up with a big game. I think he's improving without the puck… His speed catches your eye. All the sudden he's got a breakaway here, and he's got some finish around the net. His speed can turn some pucks over as well."

With the roster currently sitting at 29 players, Greco is most likely competing with players like rookie Owen Tippett, who has two goals in the preseason, veteran Troy Brouwer, who is on a PTO after playing in 75 games with the Panthers last season, newcomer Dominic Toninato and Dryden Hunt, who has earned praise during camp and spent 31 games in Florida in 2018-19.

"You had some guys that all the sudden you're looking at, and you're going to assess what's going to happen with them, and all the sudden they come up with big games and make it harder and tougher," Quenneville said of the current battle for roster spots. "That's a positive thing organizationally, that they look like they can help us. That depth's going to be important as you go along."

When asked about defensemen, Quenneville had some nice things to say about Riley Stillman.

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Stillman, the son of former Panther Cory Stillman, tallied four goals and 13 assists in 59 games with Springfield during his first pro season in 2018-19. On Feb. 26, the 21-year-old blueliner earned his first NHL call-up and suited up in one game with Florida.

"Don't take anything for granted," Stillman said when asked about his mindset. "I'm just coming in here trying to work as hard as a I can and do what I can to help the team win… I'm just trying to get a little bit better every day and move forward and hopefully earn a full-time role… There's been some dramatic improvement with my game over the span of the last couple years."

Quenneville said that Stillman having a left shot on a camp roster that featured a lot of righties helped him earn more playing time early in camp. Through the first three days of scrimmages before the preseason began, he was most often paired with Aaron Ekblad on the blue line.

"Him being on the left side helps him get a little bit of an extended stay or look," Quenneville said. "He's coming off a real strong game. They [Greco and Stillman] have helped themselves."

In three preseason games, Stillman has certainly been noticeable. Bringing a physical presence to each of his shifts, he posted an assist and a plus-2 rating while also participating in one fight.

"It was a dream come true and a big step to get that call-up to come play last year," Stillman said. "It was a cup of coffee last year. This year, I want more. That's what I'm here to do."

MONTY'S THE MAN

Sam Montembeault is eager to get things started.

After making 42 saves during a 5-4 shootout loss in Montreal on Thursday, the third-year pro was outstanding on Saturday in Tulsa, shutting out the Stars with a 30-save performance. In three preseason appearances, the 22-year-old has turned aside 90 of 95 shots (.947 percent).

"It felt pretty good," Montembeault said of the win. "I think we did alright in the first period, but then we stepped it up in the second and played a really good game. I think our defense did a good job of clearing the puck. When I gave up rebounds, they really helped me."

A third-round pick in 2015, Montembeault his NHL debut last season and competed in 11 games with the Panthers. In that short stint, he registered a 4-3-2 record - including a four-game winning streak early on -- with a 3.05 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.

Thanks to that experience, he's feeling more confident than ever about the road ahead.

"I just feel more comfortable," he said. "Last year, my first experience, I played 11 games. Now, coming into this year, I know what to expect going to into buildings. It's not as impressive as it was going into them last year. I'm just way more comfortable. I'm ready for the season to start."

Montembeault entered camp hoping to land the backup job behind Sergei Bobrovsky in Florida.

"It was all on me," he said. "The second the goalie spot became open it was up to me to take it. I had to what I had to do this summer to get ready for training camp. I think it's going well so far."

TAMPA TIMES FIVE

The Panthers will be seeing a lot of the Lightning this week.

Following three straight games against each other to close out the preseason - including home contests at BB&T Center on Tuesday and Thursday - the two teams will open up the season on Oct. 3 in Tampa. After that, they'll meet again in Sunrise for Florida's Home Opener on Oct. 5.

The Lightning won the Presidents' Trophy last season after going 62-16-4 for 128 points.

"Tampa's got as good as team as you're going to see as far as watching all their systems, how they play, the skill, the pace, the speed," Quenneville said. "You're going to see a lot of different things that'll help us learn about our team and how to play as well. It'll be good competition."

TRIMMING THE ROSTER

As previously mentioned, the training camp roster is getting thinner and thinner.

After opening camp with 61 players, the roster is now down to 29 after goaltender Phillipe Desrosiers and defensemen Ethan Prow and Thomas Schemitsch were all loaned to the Thunderbirds on Monday. All three players are expected to attend Springfield's training camp.

Florida's camp roster now stands at 17 forwards, nine defenseman and three goaltenders.

For an updated version of the team's roster, click HERE.

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