CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Often found hunched over their sticks and gasping for air, Florida Panthers players have been putting in hard work during the first two days of training camp at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.
With a new system to install and an abundance of talented young players to be evaluated, practices thus far have been in-depth and rigorous, running just over an hour under new head coach Bob Boughner.
"There's a lot of work to do," Boughner said after the team's final on-ice session at the team's practice facility on Saturday. "We've got a new staff, a lot of new faces, and these guys haven't played since early April. There's a lot of work to be done. Once that gets out of the way, things will shorten up. But my philosophy is it's not how long you're out there, but rather what you're doing, how hard you're working and what you're getting done in that time."
It's that sort of philosophy that has already managed to help Boughner strike a chord with Florida's talented young core of players, such as Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck. For after going from winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16 to missing out on the playoffs entirely this past season, the idea of a fresh start is being welcomed with open arms and the sense of positivity among the club's players is absolutely palpable.
"I think it's about forgetting about what happened last year," said Trocheck, an All-Star in 2016-17. "It obviously wasn't the best season and nobody was happy about it, so they made a lot changes this offseason to make up for it. Everybody in here is pretty excited about this season.
"[Boughner] has got a really good mix of intensity. He wants what he wants out of his players, and he's going to get it. At the same time, he's a good players coach. He's easy to approach outside of the ice and I think he's going to be a good fit."
With less than a month to cut his roster down from 52 to 23 players, Boughner is already pushing players hard in preparation for Florida's Opening Night matchup against the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Oct. 6. As of now, the Panthers are still focusing on the basics of Boughner's system, with an emphasis on conditioning and culture.
"We want to be a tough team to play against," Barkov said when asked about Boughner's overall message to the team. "That means we need to skate hard. We need to be a fast, skilled team. Like [GM Dale Tallon] said, we need to be a sandpaper team, too. We need to be a tough team to play against. That's why we work hard on the ice."
In order to become the team that Boughner wants them to be, players like Barkov understand that the hard work they put in today will be rewarded later in the season. For although these painstaking practices will likely continue to keep them short of breath and reaching for water bottles throughout the remainder of camp, the prospect of a brighter future makes it all worthwhile.
"I love it," Barkov said. "[The coaches] are great guys, all three of them. As just a first impression, I like it. Everything is organized. Practices are hard, but they're going to get us ready for the season."