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Panthers Getting Head Start on Next Season at World Championship

by Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. -- There's plenty to play for at the 2017 IIHF World Championship.

The annual tournament, which will run from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany, promises to be full of exciting matches, moments and more as some of the best hockey players from around the world battle for international bragging rights and a place atop the podium.

From the Florida Panthers, forward Nick Bjugstad will represent Team USA, defensemen Jason Demers and Michael Matheson will play for Team Canada and forward Denis Malgin will suit up for Team Switzerland.

And while all four players undoubtedly have their sights set on bringing home a gold medal, there are also plenty of smaller, personal goals that the Cats' talented quartet hope to achieve during their brief time overseas.

"There are some things in my game that I let slip from the last couple years that I'm going to try and find and work on," Demers, 28, said when asked about his decision to play in the tournament. "I want to win and get that feeling and start my summer off on the right foot."

Like Demers, there are plenty of Panthers eager to get back to work and get a head start on next season. A disappointing 35-36-11 record and lack of a playoff berth has left an admittedly bad taste in their collective mouths, a lingering annoyance that has left them all craving for the clean slate that comes in October.

"I'm just going to go out there and play and have fun with it," said Bjugstad, who was a member of USA's bronze medal-winning team at the 2013 World Championship. "It was obviously frustrating times this year for myself. I think it'll be good. I'm looking forward to it. My biggest thing is just finding confidence going into next year and being happy about my play."

After injuries limited him to just 54 games this past season, Bjugstad hopes to use his time at the World Championship to rediscover the type of play that helped the 24-year-old score at least 15 goals in each of his first three NHL seasons.

"I obviously didn't have a full season, so it'll be good to get some more games in and maybe find my confidence a little," said Bjugstad, who tallied 14 points (7-7-14) in 2015-16. "I think it'll be good, going over there to play. I'm excited."

For Malgin and Matheson, the pair of Panthers soon-to-not-be rookies simply couldn't resist the chance to continue playing hockey, believing that the more competitive games under their belt, the better, as they look to have impactful sophomore seasons in South Florida in 2017-18.

"I think it helps a lot," said the 20-year-old Malgin, who notched 10 points (6-4-10) for the Panthers and 12 points (3-9-12) for the Thunderbirds (AHL) during his first season in North America. "After my first NHL season, it will get my confidence even higher. I hope it'll be a good World Championship for Switzerland and for me."

A surprise standout at last year's tournament, Matheson is also eager to help Canada defend its World Championship title. The 23-year-old was named the tournament's best defenseman in 2016, leading Canada's star-studded blue line in scoring with six points (2-4-6) in 10 games.

"I'd obviously rather be in the playoffs, but it's a good consolation to be able to continue playing hockey and have something to fight for," said Matheson, who recorded 17 points (7-10-17) in his first full NHL season. "It's always an honor to wear the Canadian flag and represent your country. I really enjoyed it last year and I'm looking forward to it this year."

To stay updated with the Panthers at the World Championship visit floridapanthers.com/worlds.

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