Following their game against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, the Panthers will close out the 2013-14 season with the longest season-ending homestand in franchise history.
The Panthers wrap up the regular season with five consecutive home games, starting Friday against the Calgary Flames and ending a week from Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In between will be visits by the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
For Panthers fans, this will represent more chances to see the team’s young players and brightest prospects as they continue to show that better days are soon to come for the organization.
We’ve seen several glimpses already. Two of them were provided Tuesday in the game against the Islanders.
Left wing Quinton Howden continued his impressive late-season run with a shorthanded goal that showcased his speed after he poked the puck away at the Panthers blue line. It was Howden’s fourth goal in 11 games since being called up from San Antonio.
Howden’s history shows that he has the scoring ability. Remember, he had 40 and 30 goals in his last two seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. Howden’s speed alone should make him a valuable contributor for years to come and if he can deliver offensively it could very well cement his standing as a top-six forward.
The Panthers’ second goal on Tuesday night was scored by Brandon Pirri, who was touted as an offensive threat when he was acquired in a late-season trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and has proven to be just that after posting nine points (5-4-9) in his last 13 games. Pirri is another young player who will only get better with additional experience.
Pirri had four shots on goal against the Islanders, tying for the team lead with another impressive young player, Vincent Trocheck. After 15 games with the Panthers, it’s easy to see how Trocheck ended up leading the Ontario Hockey League in scoring last season on his way to winning the Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s Most Outstanding Player. The Pittsburgh, PA native is a factor on offense every game thanks mostly to his tremendous instincts.
The game against the Islanders also featured the NHL debut of defenseman Jonathan Racine, who wasted no time in demonstrating his rugged style by laying out Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck in the first minute of play.
Florida’s roster for the Islanders game featured 10 players who are 24 or younger. That doesn’t include Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau or Alex Petrovic, all of whom missed the game because of injuries.
No doubt, the plethora of young Panthers players are gaining valuable experience as the regular season winds down. That experience will pay dividends when next season rolls around.