The Panthers went through a spirited practice at the BB&T Center as they prepared for Saturday’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes but it was off ice activities that got the most attention.
With the roster deadline set for 3pm Friday, they first shored up their top six forwards by signing winger Alex Kovalev to a one-year deal. The forward had been in camp on a tryout basis.
Then with practice at the BB&T Center almost complete, head coach Kevin Dineen pulled his players aside and announced the leadership committee for the upcoming season. He announced that defenseman Ed Jovanovski will be the seventh player in franchise history to don the ‘C’ while making forward Stephen Weiss and defenseman Brian Campbell alternate captains.
“His depth of experience gives him a lot of knowledge that you have to go through things,” said Dineen when discussing his decision into making Jovanovski the captain. “It’s personality and what he can bring to the table for us as a group.”
For Jovanovski, it’s an honor to be chosen as he said he'd wear the letter with pride.
“Being the captain of this team, I think it’s special, especially the team that you’re drafted by, started my career. To be able to lead this team, I’m honored,” said the defenseman who looked up to captains like Brian Skrudland, Mark Messier and Markus Naslund. “As far as guidance and anything I can do to help the guys, I’m always here for them.”
Dineen said that he had pretty much made the decision this past summer but said it was a difficult choice.
“It was a tough decision because I have a tremendous amount of respect for Stephen Weiss and the way he plays and what he does for this hockey team,” said Dineen. “But Ed is our captain and we’re very excited to have him as the leader of our group.”
The letter bearers were happy about Jovanovski’s promotion and will take a sense of pride in being part of a leadership group that will hopefully push the Panthers up another level.
“The only thing that changes is that we have a guy with a ‘C’ on his chest now,” said Weiss. “In terms of the way Jovo is going to go about things, and Soup and I, nothing has changed. We’re going to play the same way, act the same way. All those things.”
“He brings a lot to the table,” said Campbell. “In the dressing room, he’s great.”
Shoring Up The Second Line
Looking to take pressure off their top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg, the Panthers hope to have a second dynamic scoring line this season with the signing of Kovalev to go with center Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau.
The trio have worked together from the start of camp and should provide some additional fire power.
“It’s obvious that he’s a guy that has great skill, depth of experience,” said Dineen. “He adds to our leadership group. He’s a good fit for us right now and we’re excited to have him.”
“It’s been a long time and I never thought I would have a chance to go back to the NHL again,” said Kovalev. “But I kept my hopes alive…I’m glad this organization gave me a chance.”
Kovalev has posted more than 1,000 points in his NHL career. The 39-year old winger still believes he has enough juice in the tank to be productive.
“I still have a lot of energy and I can still make plays,” said Kovalev. “Draw a lot of attention to myself and open up space for (my line mates).”
Return Of A Defenseman?
Media reports have said defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is close to signing with the Panthers. If accurate, that would help the defensive core as he was a valuable part of last season’s unit.
“There’s still some stick-handling to do to make sure he’s ready to go but that’s real exciting news for us,” said Dineen about Kulikov. “We don’t have any confirmation on that yet.”
If a contract were to be completed before opening night, Dineen believes that the young rearguard could play against Carolina.
“Kuli’s been around (the organization). He knows how we play and how we operate and that will make the transition very easy,” said Dineen. “He’s 22-years old so I’m not too worried about where he is. I think enthusiasm will take over there.”
Excitement For Saturday
The week has gone by fast and the Panthers are certainly excited to kick off the abbreviated season.
“We don’t have that elephant in the room any more like we had in previous years,” said Weiss. “We got that out of the way which is nice. It frees you up a little bit. But that’s in the past. We’ll enjoy the ceremony tomorrow and reflect back on last year for a couple of minutes and then it’s over with. It’ll be time to move on and focus on this season.”
For the team, they’re just happy to get back and play for the Panthers fans.
“It makes me feel proud,” said Campbell about tomorrow night and raising the banner in front of the fans. “Proud to be back, proud to be hanging a banner. I’m happy that we’re able to give fans something to cheer about and support…It’s going to be great having everybody out here tomorrow night.”