Jacob Markstrom

Panthers will have their eyes on goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom during rookie camp

The Florida Panthers made a lot of questionable moves during their summer of radical change. Yet if you ask me, the worst alteration happened in net. The Panthers’ best option in net was the guy who was already there.

The Panthers would probably agree with that last statement, the only thing is that they might not see eye-to-eye with me about who that person is. My feeling is that Florida should have brought Tomas Vokoun back into the mix since they had a ton of money to spend and the Czech-born goalie accepted a one-year contract with Washington. The Panthers brass were likely hoping that a different holdover would be their starter (or at least in their goalie rotation) next season: top prospect Jacob Markstrom.

Unfortunately their plans were put on hold when Markstrom underwent knee surgery in February, which will probably put his full-time NHL plans on hold until 2012-13. (Of course, these situations are always fluid; one injury to Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen could open the door for Markstrom to become this year’s Sergei Bobrovsky or Michal Neuvirth.)

The Panthers’ suddenly deep pool of prospects began their rookie camp on Saturday, with top picks such as big defenseman Erik Gudbranson (third overall in 2010) and rising center Jonathan Huberdau (third overall in 2011) among those on display. While George Richards nods to Gudbranson as the most likely guy to make the jump to the NHL next season, he reports that GM Dale Tallon & Co. will keep a watchful eye on Markstrom.

One person the Panthers will be keeping their eyes on is goalie Jacob Markstrom. The 21-year-old made his NHL debut with the Panthers in New Jersey last January, but sustained a season-ending knee injury a few weeks later while playing for Florida’s then-AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.

With Scott Clemmensen and Jose Theodore under contract, Markstrom is expected to start the season with Florida’s new farm club in San Antonio.

“This is what you’ve worked for all summer. I’m definitely excited,” Markstrom said. “I can’t wait for the games to start. I’ve been 100 percent with the knee for about a month. It hasn’t felt this good in a long time. I don’t think about it at all when I practice. You don’t want that in the back of your head.”

Theodore’s numbers have been pretty solid during the last two seasons, so he should have a solid hold on the starting job for at least the first campaign of his two-year deal with Florida. Clemmensen is quietly putting up respectable backup numbers, as well, but neither goalie seems like the type you would want to depend on too heavily. Barring some outstanding play, they could probably be seen as stopgap solutions while Markstrom (hopefully) comes into his own.

Markstrom is still young at 21, but the Panthers probably want to see him make the big time in the near future. This weekend could mark another step in that process.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”