After their first on-ice day of rookie camp this morning, the Florida Panthers prospects will hop on a plane and head over to Nashville to begin the annual prospect tournament between the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and this year’s host the Nashville Predators.
“It’s good to see how (the prospects) will compete with other teams, the other kids. It’s an exciting time”, said Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon. “[We’re] Looking forward to next week and the years to come with some of these top prospects that we have.”
The Panthers prospects will play the Boston Bruins prospects tomorrow at 1pm at the Ford Ice Center in Nashville as they come armed with a diverse and deep group of players ready to show what they can do.
“We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle, [our] depth chart is really balanced in all positions. Competition from within will force our guys to continue to play at a high level. The big club will see some of these young guys perform and they’ll know there’s an opportunity for them, that if they slip that someone is going to come up and take their jobs,” said Tallon.
“That’s what the goal is here right now is to develop and mentor and fill our depth chart with players at every position so the guys up top know that it’s not going to be a cake walk for them, they are going to have to fight for every game, they’re going to have to perform at their best or otherwise someone is going to come up and take their jobs.”
Internal competition is the name of the game and Tallon has given glowing reviews to the young players ready to show what they can do this season. One of those players is a defenseman who was taken in the seventh round at last year’s draft and turned heads at rookie camp last season, earning an invite to the main camp.
MacKenzie Weegar made a name for himself within the Florida organization after a strong showing at last year’s camp followed by a 59 point (12-47-59) campaign in 2013-14 with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.
“Weegar is a really good player, very skilled on the point and the power play,” said Tallon.
“That’s what he’s going to be for us down the road. A power play guy that can shoot the puck, pass the puck, he’s a quarterback.”
Weegar, signed his first pro contract in May and is looking at training camp a bit differently than last season, but is on a mission to continue to impress.
“It’s different this year because it’s my first year pro. I think I have a lot to prove out there. I’m not one of the bigger defensemen, but I can use my offensive skill to make a difference out there,” said Weegar.
Aaron Ekblad will be another player to watch in the tournament as the 2014 first overall pick looks to continue his climb to the opening night roster for Florida. Although confident in his abilities, Ekblad knows the tournament is the first hill to climb.
“It’s going to be fast-paced, there’s going to be a lot of good players,” said Ekblad. “It’s going to be good to get our feet back under us, get the pace where it needs to be.”
Tallon has a lot of confidence in his squad of youngsters and knows they will force him to make difficult decisions come training camp. But having that kind of a dilemma is a good thing for a General Manager.
“I think Rocco Grimaldi is going to be a tough guy to cut if we have to make the tough decision, but I think he’s got a chance. Vincent Trocheck obviously played some really good games for us last year and it was a great experience for him,” said Tallon.
“Some of these kids will go back to junior and some of the kids will go to our next camp. We just want to see how they compete and how they fit into the system and how they fit in with the other young players.”
This time of the year is always a highlight for fans and the organization alike as the potential stars of tomorrow hit the ice today.
“The future for us is exciting,” said Tallon.
“I can’t wait until they all play together at the same time.”