CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - There was a noticeable absence during the first day of the Florida Panthers 2018-19 training camp on Friday, as it was announced shortly before the team took the ice that Jamie McGinn will be out indefinitely after undergoing successful back surgery.
"Obviously a guy you can't really replace," center Jared McCann said. "We're going to have to try. I hope he's OK and I hope he makes a speedy recovery… definitely someone has to step up. I'm going to try and do my part wherever the coaches see me."
McGinn spent the majority of last season playing alongside McCann on Florida's third line and was penciled in for a similar role this season. Acquired in a trade with Arizona late last summer, the 30-year-old brought a reliable veteran presence to the Panthers, posting 13 goals and 16 assists while averaging 13:27 of ice time in 76 games during the 2017-18 campaign.
A veteran of 598 NHL games, McGinn's experience was also key down the stretch. As the team clawed its way to within one point of the playoffs, he played some of his biggest minutes in late April, posting two assists while averaging 16:17 a night over the final five games of the season.
McGinn previously had back surgery in December of 2014, which limited him to just 19 games with Colorado that season. Since then, however, he's managed to stay quite healthy, averaging 77 games per season over the past three seasons with Anaheim, Arizona and Florida.
While the Panthers initially hoped that McGinn wouldn't have to go under the knife again, coach Bob Boughner said that "it just got to the point where something needed to be done." With the season set to begin on Oct. 6 in Tampa, Boughner said he expects McGinn to miss "months."
"He was here early," Boughner said, adding that McGinn felt fine at the end of last year. "He was skating with the guys, working with the guys, but just reaggravated [his back] again. He played really well for us, in the second half of the season especially."
Having endured a back surgery of his own in 2015, Nick Bjugstad said he understands what McGinn is going through right now and believes that he'll be missed both on and off the ice.
"He's awesome," Bjugstad said. "Super bummed out, obviously. Any time you have to get surgery it's no fun. He experienced something like that a few years ago, so he's been through it. I wish him the best on recovery and we're going to miss him for a while. Hopefully he comes back sooner than later. In the meantime we're going to have to try and hold the fort down. Hopefully he's around because he's a fun guy to have in the locker room, a joy to be around."
In searching for McGinn's replacement, the Panthers have no shortage of options.
At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, McGinn served as a strong net presence for the Panthers and did a lot of important work in the dirty areas. In fact, of his 13 goals, five came off rebounds. In looking at the depth chart, there appears to be two big-bodied forwards ready to fill that void -- second-year pro Maxim Mamin (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) and veteran Troy Brouwer (6-3, 215 pounds).
Before signing a one-year deal with the Panthers on Aug. 27, Brouwer, the lone Stanley Cup winner on Florida's roster after tasting victory with Chicago in 2010, said he was informed of McGinn's diagnosis and the opening it presented. With 763 regular-season NHL games under his belt, the 33-year-old believes his playstyle is very similar to what the team lost in McGinn.
"We've played similar styles," said Brouwer, who posted 22 points in 76 games with Calgary last season. "For me, to be able to fit into that role, hopefully, and help out where I can. I'm a guy that likes to be in the corners, be in front of the net, go get the pucks, give them to my teammates and let them do their thing."
As for Mamin, the 23-year-old is coming off quite the rookie season.
After making his NHL debut on Jan. 7, the Panthers went on to post a 21-3-2 record with Mamin in the lineup. And while you'd be crazy to give Mamin sole credit for that torrid stretch, there was no denying his all-around contributions, even if he did score just three goals in 26 games.
"He works hard," McCann said of Mamin, who he shared time with on the third line last season. "He's a skilled guy. He's got that Russian mentality, where he can turn it on whenever he wants. He's a special player for sure."
While Brouwer and Mamin both make sense as players that could replace McGinn's production, they aren't the only options. With as many as 14 players fighting for just a handful of spots in the Panthers bottom-six at training camp, the opportunity is certainly there for someone to step up.
"He'll be missed, but it's an opportunity for someone else," Boughner said.