NOTEBOOK: Quenneville Talks as Cats Close out Rookie Campby Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Joel Quenneville is ready to get started.
Following the second and final day of rookie camp on Wednesday morning, the new Florida Panthers head coach met with the media at the Panthers IceDen to discuss his excitement for the 2019-20 season, his first behind the bench in Sunrise after being hired by the team in April.
"Let's play," he said, grinning through his famous silver mustache.
Over the past two days, Quenneville has watched from the sidelines with his assistants as Geordie Kinnear, the head coach of the team's AHL affiliate in Springfield, guided 25 of the team's prospects and future pros through a series of rigorous drills and up-tempo workouts.
Despite the small sample size, he liked what he saw.
"It's good getting started here," Quenneville said. "The rookies have looked good. They had a good summer. The last couple days, seeing them out there on the ice, I thought the practices were good. They were teaching them some of the tendencies we want them to have this year."
With training camp set to begin on Friday, Quenneville said the goal of the two-day rookie camp was to help give the organization's younger players some time to get comfortable and settle into their new surroundings before the veterans are thrown into the mix and the roster grows to 61.
At the moment, they're big fish in a small pond. By the weekend, that pond will be an ocean.
"I think it probably helps them get a little more comfortable with the setting, with their equipment, with their peers, and push themselves in the right way knowing that they're going to soon be playing against guys with experience and strength and speed and quickness," Quenneville said. "There's another level when they go into it -- be comfortable, be confident, trust your instincts when you're out there against the big guys. A lot of guys look like they're going to fit right in."
For Quenneville, the next month will not only be about finding who fits, but also where they fit.
Sure, it's easy to already pencil in guys like Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau into the Opening Night lineup, but that doesn't mean there won't battles to watch throughout camp. In fact, Quenneville said he can't remember a camp where there wasn't at least one surprise.
"The younger kids coming in, it's an opportunity for them to show that, hey, they're not happy with where they're sitting on the food chain or on the depth charts," he said. "Everybody should have an opportunity to move ahead and not be satisfied with where they're sitting.
"You've got some young kids in camp that we're watching to see. There's always a surprise or two that we're hoping comes forward and gives us something to consider. Almost every single camp we've been around, there's always one or two guys that end up making it tough on us."
The second-winningest coach in NHL history, Quenneville has already accomplished just about everything a bench boss can do. He's won the Jack Adams, amassed 890 regular-season wins and lifted the Stanley Cup four times -- once as an assistant and three times as a head coach.
But on the eve of training camp, Quenneville isn't looking back.
Now, it's all about what's ahead: a good start and a bright future.
"We're looking forward to getting acclimated and getting a better understanding of everybody and getting accustomed to how we're going to do things," Quenneville said. "I'm looking forward to getting off to a great start. That's what the whole focus of camp is going to be all about."
HEPO IN THE HOUSE
Already an NHL superstar, Aleksander Barkov apparently isn't a bad billet either.
The Panthers captain has been housing fellow Tampere, Finland native Aleksi Heponiemi at his home in Boca Raton for the past few weeks, helping the 2017 second-round pick prepare for his first pro season - both on and off the ice - after he spent the 2018-19 campaign playing overseas.
"It was great," said Heponiemi, who's older brother, Ville, used to play with Barkov back home. "He obviously has a really nice house and all the great things there. It was great to live there and practice with him. For him to take care of me and take me to practice with him was great."
Aside from training, Barkov said the two have also enjoyed chilling outside the rink.
"We both like tennis and watch tennis," Barkov said. "Of course, we also go to dinners, eat at home and play video games. It's pretty relaxed. We're not doing something all the time."
The runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting in Liiga (Finland's top men's league), Heponiemi led all rookies in scoring with 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games last season. At the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, he led the tournament in scoring to help Finland capture gold.
At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he's eager to show he can continue playing beyond his size.
"It's great to be here," Heponiemi said. "That's why I got here early, to practice, be ready for the camp and fight or a spot here… I just want to do my best and show that I can play here, just battle with the big guys. There's so many great players and they're all fighting for the spots."
In their time together, Barkov said he was impressed with the young forward's skillset.
"He's good kid," Barkov said. "He listens. He wants to get better and make the team. He has all the tools… We have the same agent, so he'd been telling me a lot of good things about him."
BORGY BULKS UP
Henrik Borgstrom arrived at rookie camp with something to prove.
Selected 23rd overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old center spent most of last season in the NHL, notching eight goals and 10 assists in 50 games as a rookie with the Panthers. Prior to that call-up, he'd produced 22 points in 24 games to earn an invite to the AHL All-Star Classic.
But at locker clean out in April, Borgstrom said he wasn't satisfied. He knew he could be better and wanted to show that in the future. To do that, however, he said he needed to "get stronger."
With rookie camp now in the books, did he feel a summer intense training provided him that?
"I do, but rookie camp is different from the main camp," said Borgstrom, who spent most of his summer training in his native Finland. "But, yeah, I feel stronger than last year, that's for sure."
Borgstrom said the "game-like feeling" of rookie camp has helped prepare him for main camp. "I like those drills that Geordie and the guys are coaching," he said. "I think it's help for all of us."
Heading into the preseason, Borgstrom is looking forward to showing off his progress.
"I want to play more with the puck and be more confident," he said. "That's probably my main thing right now. I want to work as hard as I can to prove myself and show what I got."
Speaking for Borgstrom, he made an appearance on this week's episode of Territory Talk. Give it a listen!