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.)

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) fires a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) during the second period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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There’s only one game on the docket tonight, but it’s a marquee matchup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals split their games in DC and now switch to Pittsburgh for Game 3. We’ve seen great work from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe especially Braden Holtby so far … not to mention a considerable cast of supporting characters.

Which team will take a 2-1 lead in this captivating series?

We’ll find out on NBCSN. You can stream the game live via the link below as well:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are Game 5 start times for all four series this coming weekend

St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) and Dallas Stars left wing Patrick Sharp (10) tangle during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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When it comes to arranging your life for maximum playoff viewership, it’s never too early to plan.

The weekend may seem like a distant cry from this Monday evening, but imagine all the bruising hits, circus saves and beautiful goals you’ll get to see and share a hearty smile.

Here’s the full rundown for when each Game 5 will start … with the Nashville Predators – San Jose Sharks series needing at least one Preds win to drop the “if necessary” disclaimer (via the NHL):

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues has been set for 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT on Saturday, May 7, in Dallas. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has been set for 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7, in Washington. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, if necessary, has been set for 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT/7 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 7, in San Jose. The game would be televised exclusively on NBCSN in the U.S. In Canada, the game would be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders has been set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 8, in Tampa Bay. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

After ‘rough year,’ Kronwall seeking options for ailing knee

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) is tripped up by Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Detroit. The Red Wings defeated the Jets 3-2. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Coming off one of the worst seasons in an otherwise solid — and lengthy — career, Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall is already looking to ensure the knee issues that plagued him won’t continue on into 2016-17.

Kronwall is “getting opinions” about how to fix the knee, Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. The injury limited the Swedish rearguard to just 64 games played — and those 64 games were largely played with Kronwall not close to 100 percent.

More, from the Free Press:

At 35, Kronwall is showing the wear and tear of being, at his best, a hard-hitting workhorse defenseman. Productionwise, he had the lowest numbers of his career since 2006-07, scoring just three goals and finishing with just 26 points in 64 games. (Even during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he had five goals and 29 points in 48 games.) His minus-21 was eye-popping.

“It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways,” Kronwall said. “Definitely, a summer of good training is the first thing that you need, and the rest of it will play out as you go along.”

The Wings will be hopeful Kronwall can return to form.

He’s still got plenty of time left on his current deal — three more years, at a $4.75M cap hit — and is still considered a key part to the Red Wings defense, which wasn’t great this year and doesn’t project to be a heckua lot better next year.

If Kronwall can’t get back to form, it could push Holland even harder to make a trade to beef up the blueline.

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

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Jaroslav Halak took a major step in his return from a groin injury on Monday, participating in a full practice with his Islander teammates ahead of tomorrow’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

“He’s progressing,” head coach Jack Capuano said, per the Isles’ website. “I don’t know how far or where he is or when he could play, but I know that having him on the ice going through a full practice, but again it’s about conditioning and timing with goaltenders and their movement, but he’s progressing and it’s great to see.

“I don’t have a timetable yet though.”

Halak hasn’t played in nearly two months — he suffered his groin injury on Mar. 8. His initial timetable for return was 6-8 weeks, and Tuesday will mark his eighth week out of action.

It seems highly unlikely Halak will be an option — at least in terms of starting — anytime soon. He told the Isles’ site the lengthy layoff means it now feels “like the beginning of the season for me,” and Thomas Greiss has performed well through the playoffs thus far, posting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.

If anything, Halak’s goal could be to get in good enough shape to serve as Greiss’ backup at some point. J.F. Berube has filled that role during the postseason, but has yet to see any action.

Prior to getting hurt, Halak was New York’s No. 1 netminder and played reasonably well, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.30 GAA in 36 starts.