The Panthers have assured themselves both competition and intensity on the blue line by extending training camp invitations to NHL veteran defensemen and former first-round draft picks Martin Skoula and Christian Backman.
The Panthers will now head to camp Saturday in Nova Scotia with Bryan Allen, Jordan Leopold, Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard, Ville Koistinen, Clay Wilson, Skoula, Backman and rookies Jason Garrison
, Dmitry Kulikov
and Keaton Ellerby
“We needed some depth on defense,” said assistant GM Randy Sexton. “Skoula and Backman turned down offers early in free agency and then the market kind of went away. So it’s an opportunity to assess what they can do and for them to try and earn a contract. We’ll assess their ability and how they would fit in as part of our defensive corp. And, if the opportunity presents itself and we want to, we’ll be in a position to sign them.
“Kitch coached Backman in St. Louis and knows him as a player and person and Mike had a good chat with him. Skoula was a guy on our radar, but after some discussions we both agreed it would make more sense to offer him a tryout.”
Skoula, a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado in in 2001, has played 242 games the past three seasons with the Wild and is a veteran of 724 NHL games. The 6-3, 226-pound defenseman was selected 17th overall by Colorado in the 1998 Entry Draft. Skoula has proved to be extremely durable while missing only four games the past three seasons in Minnesota and eight games the past four seasons. He had 16 points with the Wild last season and 11 in 2007-08.
Backman, drafted 24th overall by the Blues in ’98, spent 3 ½ seasons in St. Louis before being traded to the Rangers in February of ’08. He was traded to Columbus in July of ’08 along with Fedor Tyutin for Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche. He played 56 games with the Blue Jackets last season and had seven points.
“Both of these guys will add depth to our preseason and it will be a chance for both players and us to get to know each other. They’ll be hungry, they’re both established NHL guys and bonafide NHL defensemen who want a chance to earn a contract. I expect them to have a high level of intensity and push for jobs.” MORE ROOKIE CAMP
The Panthers 20 rookies skated a hard 90 minutes Tuesday during day two of camp before spending more than an hour working out off ice.
“Difficult practices, but there’s good flow and tempo, so it’s another good day,” said defenseman Jason Garrison
Sexton mused about how far the Panthers system has come the past several years. “This is my fourth season here and this is the best depth, quality and quantity that we’ve had during my time,” Sexton said. “Three years ago, we would have had to have five invitees to round out a team. Now there’s guys we didn’t invite just because we had so many guys.
“Definitely, the quality is there.” NOTES
Making their way on the ice Tuesday for the veteran’s informal practices were Gregory Campbell, Ville Koistinen and Michael Frolik. Practices continue Wednesday at IncredibleIce with the rookies on at 9:30 a.m., and the veterans at 11 a.m.