CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Throughout the summer it was hard to ignore the buzz building around the Florida Panthers as they dominated the headlines with moves like the hiring of legendary head coach Joel Quenneville and the signing of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
But as the team took the ice to begin the second day of training camp at the Panthers IceDen on Saturday morning, that buzz was no longer simply a sensation. With fans lining up outside the rink to catch a glimpse of the action, that buzz has become something you can now see.
Before practice even started, hundreds of fans were already lining the ice and in the stands.
"That was pretty exciting," Panthers center Henrik Borgstrom said. "It was like 10 a.m. in the morning and [the building] was already packed and people were cheering. It was amazing."
Throughout each of the camp's three scrimmages, fans kept the building rocking with cheers, a potential taste of things to come as the Panthers have their eyes set on the playoffs this season.
"The fans in the stands were great," said new Panthers center Noel Acciari. "That really gives us an extra boost out there. I think everyone's excited in Florida for the Panthers, and so are we."
After setting the stage during the first day of camp on Thursday, Quenneville, who joined Florida after leading the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups (2010, 2013, 2015), said he was a lot happier with the team's pace and execution throughout today's scrimmages and practices.
"Much better today," Quenneville said. "I thought there was way more pace, especially in that first scrimmage. That [game] started off with exactly what we're looking for. The practices were good, too.
"There was a little bit more speed. I think the guys are getting a little more predictable with where they need to go in certain situations, but I still think today was definitely an upgrade from yesterday."
The Panthers will have two more practices to get comfortable before opening up their eight-game preseason with their annual doubleheader against the Nashville Predators on Monday.
"That's where the best bonds are built," Acciari said of the importance of the team's first road trip together as a group. "The quicker you do that, the better you are in the regular season."
FRANKIE ON FIRE
When asked which of his new players have already started to catch his attention through the first two days of camp, one of the first names out of Quenneville's mouth was Frank Vatrano.
"Frankie V's been pretty good right from the outset here," he said.
He's not wrong.
After scoring one goal on the opening day of camp, the 25-year-old winger added two more today. In the first scrimmage of the morning, he found the back of the net twice to lead Team Red to a 2-0 win over Team White. The first goal came from on the doorstep after a nice feed from newcomer Brett Connolly, while the second was an empty-netter that secured the victory.
Acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for a third-round pick on Feb. 22, 2018, Vatrano, who entered the league undrafted, broke out during his first full season with the Cats in 2018-19, setting new career-highs in goals (24), assists (15), points (39) and games played (81).
In each of the first two days of scrimmaging, Vatrano has been deployed on a line with Connolly and Vincent Trocheck, who he saw a lot of time with on Florida's second line during last season.
"We know what Frankie can do," said Trocheck, who's skated a total of 341:40 with Vatrano at 5-on-5 over the past two seasons, per NaturalStatTrick.com. "He's a shooter and works his butt off every game."
KOLYACHONOK'S BIG DAY
Vladislav Kolyachonok couldn't have dreamed up a better start to camp.
A second-round pick at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver earlier this summer, the 18-year-old defenseman put pen to paper on a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers on Friday afternoon, the moment coming not long after he exited the ice following his first day of practice.
"I'm really excited, first of all," Kolyachonok said. "I have lots of more maturation to do with what I want to do. I'm going to keep working on every part of my game. I want to win the Stanley Cup as fast as I can."
Despite that burning desire to win, Kolyachonok knows he must be patient.
After spending two seasons building up his game with U-17 and U-18 squads in the Belarusian Extraleague B, the native of Minsk, Belarus made a successful transition over to North America in 2018-19, racking up four goals and 25 points in 53 games with the OHL's Flint Firebirds.
He also shined on the international stage, where he produced at a point-per-game pace at the 2019 U-18 IIHF World Junior Championship. Serving as captain for Team Belarus, he chipped in one goal and four assists over five tournament games while also holding down the blue line.
"I want to get bigger and work on my offense and defense, just everything," Kolyachonok said when asked about the road ahead. "I want to do everything faster, think faster."
Hoping to one day play for the Panthers, Kolyachonok said he's excited to learn from the best.
"Every player here is just an awesome player for every team they've played for," he said. "It's just a great experience. Everything's fast, everyone's smart. I'm excited to play with these guys."