When the Panthers remade their roster two summers ago, a rebuilding project that led to the 2011-12 Southeast Division championship, the first NHL veteran to join the team was forward Scottie Upshall.
In announcing the acquisition of Upshall, General Manager Dale Tallon said the following: “Scottie is a character player that is tough to play against and we are pleased to have signed him. He is a player that will bring energy and enthusiasm to our lineup every night.”
In large part because of injuries, we didn’t get to see that player often over the past two seasons and even early this year. But in the past couple of weeks, Upshall has been making his presence felt on the ice.
Simply put, Upshall has been the player the Panthers thought they were getting when they signed him on July 1, 2011.
It could even be argued that Upshall has been the team’s best player since the Oct. 27 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Of course, Upshall gave the Panthers a point Tuesday night when he scored two third-period goals, including his tying goal in the final minute of play, to help erase a 3-1 deficit in the 4-3 overtime loss against the Edmonton Oilers. The first goal was particularly impressive because, before he took a pass from Jesse Winchester, he had kept the puck in the Edmonton zone by going to the ice to block a clearing attempt.
Upshall also recorded the first assist in the game at Washington Saturday and against Tampa Bay the previous Sunday. And even though he wasn’t on the ice when the Panthers tied the game at Washington in the third period, he played a big role as it was his check on defenseman Steve Oleksy that caused a retaliation and a slashing penalty that put Florida on the power play late in the third.
Upshall has been playing on a line with Nick Bjugstad and Winchester, a free agent signing this summer who has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the Panthers roster early this season. The three clearly have something going.
After his big effort Tuesday night, Upshall said he was happy to be able to contribute while reflecting on the frustration of some tough times.
“It was nice to chip in,” Upshall said. “You evaluate your play after every game and practice and you want to do the right things and play hard and play with heart and with energy. And when things don’t go your way, it seems like the world is kind of crashing down. It was nice to chip in. I love playing on our line. Winny is gritty and Bjugstad is a big body.
“I find I usually play more successful with guys that bang and check and go to the net hard, and it’s kind of the way we’ve been playing. It’s not good enough, but it’s getting there.”
What Upshall brings to the Panthers lineup is a physical presence to go along with some speed up front. It’s what made him the sixth overall pick in the 2002 NHL draft and what Panthers assistant GM Mike Santos saw when he was working in Nashville at the start of Upshall’s career.
As the Panthers look to get back on track, they’ll need contributions from every part of the roster. So having Upshall on an upswing certainly is a good sign.