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Petrovic aiming for 'one of the best years of my career'

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

Even on vacation, Alexander Petrovic is hard at work.

After inking a one-year extension with the Florida Panthers on Friday, the rugged defenseman grabbed a few of his buddies and hopped on a flight from Edmonton to Falmouth, Massachusetts, where he'll spend the week splitting his time between hanging at the beach and training with legendary skills instructor Paul Vincent, whose offseason camps have long been a part of Petrovic's regular summer routine.

"It's the reason why I came here," Petrovic told on Monday. "I'm with a couple guys on vacation, but I thought it would be good to come here again and get some reps in with Mr. V. It's good. I'm skating for an hour and then doing an hour with the pucks. I'll probably do three more sessions at two hours each. It's a vacation and a way to get away from home, but it's also a good way to train."

A second-round pick of the Panthers in 2010, Petrovic is one of the longest-tenured skaters on Florida's roster, joining Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad as one of only three players whose career with the club can be traced back to the 2012-13 season. Having already spent eight seasons working his way up through the organization's depth chart, the 26-year-old views his newest contract as a way to earn a full-time spot in the lineup and eventually be counted among the team's core group of players.

"I want to prove myself and show that they chose the right guy when I got drafted," Petrovic said." I've seen a lot of changes over the years - a lot of different coaches, players. I think the organization's in a good spot now. We've got a really good foundation of guys, a great off-ice crew, and I think everything is coming together now at the right time.

"I'm very excited to still be here and very fortunate to play in Florida. It's probably one of the best places you can play in the league. A lot of guys know that around the league, too. They're not just letting anyone come in here and play. We've got a good group of guys. It's going to be a good year."

Like the Panthers, Petrovic is hoping to build off a strong finish to the 2017-18 campaign.

After getting off to a slow start, Petrovic shook off a string of healthy scratches and went on to play some of the best hockey of his career, posting two goals and 11 assists while averaging 14:39 of ice time over a career-high 67 games. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Panthers also controlled 51.53 percent of shot attempts - the fifth-best mark on the team and second among the club's defensemen.

At 6-foot-4 and 206 pounds, Petrovic also brought a high level of physicality to a blue line already loaded with some of the league's top-offensive rearguards in Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson. While that dynamic trio focused on putting up points, Petrovic racked up the second-most hits (142) and fights (6) on the team, while also chipping in 74 blocked shots and a career-high 17 takeaways.

"Alexander is a dependable young defenseman who adds size and physicality to our lineup," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said. "He plays the game with an edge and has grown into a strong shutdown defender. We look forward to Alexander taking the next step in his development with the Panthers and are pleased to have agreed to terms with him."

In an effort to turn those next steps into sweeping strides, Petrovic said he began skating about six weeks after the season ended. In addition to his usual workout routine, he's been competing locally on one of his friend's men's league squads in Edmonton. And while he's admittedly "not going too hard," the contests do typically feature at least a few other current pros, including fellow Panthers defenseman Mark Pysyk.

"I just kind of pop in whenever they need me," Petrovic said. "It's fun. I don't go 100 percent, but a lot of the teams have some guys that have played pro hockey. A lot of guys don't start playing games until July, but I just think I need to be skating a lot more and not just working out in the gym."

With 228 career NHL games under his belt, Petrovic will take a now-or-never mentality into training camp.

"If you haven't learned enough in that amount of time, then you probably won't ever figure it out," Petrovic said. "I'm coming into this season needing this to be one of the best years of my career. I'm carrying that weight so that I can earn that next contract and help the team, too. We missed the playoffs by one point last year. Coming into this year, we have the foundation and we have everyone we need."

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