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.)

No-NHL 2018 Olympics makes for unique preparation strategies

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When Brian Gionta last played in the Olympics in 2006, his final NHL game before the break allowed him just three days to fly to Italy and get acclimated before suiting up for Team USA.

This time around, the semi-retired U.S. captain and his Olympic teammates will get four whole practice days before opening the tournament against Slovenia on Feb. 14.

”With the NHL setup, you fly over there, you have a small window to practice in and then you’re right into the games,” Gionta said. ”We’ve had the added benefit of being able to go over to the Deutschland Cup and be together for that week. A lot of the guys that were there are on the team and have a good understanding of each other. But I think that’s a nice change, I guess, from previous Olympics.”

Still, the U.S. lost all three games at that tournament in November and didn’t score more than two goals in any of them. Preparation under a new coach, learning the nuances and habits of new teammates are certainly key, but every men’s hockey team going to South Korea is in a much different situation from any previous Olympics.

Before NHL players began participating in 1998, national teams were centralized and spent months together – much like women’s teams do now. In contrast, the past five Olympics featured quick turnarounds when it came to training because so many players were also in the NHL, which decided this time around not to pause its 82-game regular season.

However, no NHL didn’t automatically translate into more practice time as the teams were put together.

Almost everyone on an Olympic roster is playing professionally or in college, so there isn’t much of an opportunity for training camps – though Canada, Russia and other countries are making the most of any time they have to get together. Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League has its final games before the Olympic break Jan. 28, and other European leagues will release players shortly after that so they can prepare.

Chock full of stars from the KHL, including former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, Russia should be the first to have its full team together and will play exhibition games in Moscow on Jan. 30 and Feb. 4. Canada is gathering as many players as possible in Latvia on Jan. 28 and will play two exhibition games there and one more in South Korea before the Olympics begin as it tries to win a third consecutive gold medal.

”We have access to our players very early, and we’re going to take advantage of that,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s vice president of hockey operations and national teams. ”We’re actually going to simulate the first two games of the Olympics with the ice times and the game times and try to get used to that kind of quick turnaround from a 9 p.m. game and a day off and a noon game.”

Sweden, which has a handful of former NHL players and projected 2018 No. 1 draft pick Rasmus Dahlin , will gather in Seoul for four days of practice before facing Canada on Feb. 12. The Czech Republic will hold training camp in Prague from Jan. 29-Feb. 6 before practicing in Seoul and playing an exhibition game against Finland on Feb. 11, while the Swiss are scheduled to play Germany in Kloten, Switzerland, on Feb. 6 and Norway in Goyang, South Korea, five days later.

USA Hockey general manager Jim Johannson said his team won’t play any exhibition games with most U.S. players arriving in South Korea on Feb. 8. Johannson said the U.S. will practice Feb. 10-13 and get in a game-day skate Feb. 14, which coach Tony Granato feels will be enough preparation.

”We’ve all been parts of multiple tournaments like this, so we’re not unfamiliar with them,” said Granato, who played 49 games with the U.S. national team prior to the 1988 Olympics and currently coaches at the University of Wisconsin. ”A lot of the excitement and build-up leading up to it makes it that much better – you’re going to get there, we’re going to jump on the ice, we’re going to practice and then a few days later we’ll be center stage and ready to play.”

Seventeen of the 25 U.S. players were at the Deutschland Cup in November and won’t be back on the ice together until nearly three months later. The U.S. women’s team? They gathered in Florida in September, played a series of games against top Olympic rival Canada and have been together since.

”It’s a huge bonus and a huge advantage to be together all year,” forward Meghan Duggan said. ”(It’s ) a difference from a world championship year, a non-Olympic year where we play with our pro teams and our club teams or college teams and get together for certain periods of time whether it be for world championships or Four Nations Cup or training camp.”

Canada’s men’s team took part in several Olympic tune-up tournaments for evaluation purposes. GM Sean Burke, who played in goal for Canada in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, is trying to make the most of this hybrid schedule to put coach Willie Desjardins and his team in the best position to succeed.

”We’ve had a lot of time to not only evaluate our players but have them together to do some team-building and we’re going to get a good two-week training camp. I like the process,” Burke said. ”Our coaching staff can really get down to working on our systems and having everything in place that they’re comfortable with. That’s a real nice luxury to have.”

AP Sports Reporters Teresa M. Walker and James Ellingworth contributed.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

PHT Morning Skate: Kane talks future; NHL responds to Kid Rock backlash

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Likely-to-be-traded Evander Kane on his future with the Buffalo Sabres “One thing I’ve always said is that I’ve really really enjoyed my time here and will continue to do so for as long as I’m here.” [Buffalo News]

• The NHL explains the decision behind having Kid Rock perform during next weekend’s All-Star Game, which has garnered a bit of backlash. [ESPN]

Jack Johnson and John Tortorella talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman’s decision to request a trade. [Dispatch]

• Before he became one of the league’s top scorers, Anders Lee was chucking the pigskin as a top high school quarterback in Minnesota. [Sports Illustrated]

• How has Willie O’Ree not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame? [Stanley Cup of Chowdah]

• With Paul Martin in the AHL, Brent Burns has a lot of lifting to do to improve his game. [NBC California]

• It’s taken some time, but Kyle Okposo of the Buffalo Sabres is finally feeling comfortable following a concussion suffered last season. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• It’s time that Phil Kessel gets more respect around the league. [FanRag Sports]

Sebastian Aho is out of the lineup indefinitely. How can the Carolina Hurricanes replace him? [Canes Country]

• The Olympic rosters for South Korea’s men’s and women’s teams have a touch of North America on them. [Olympic Talk]

• A look at the good and bad of the NHL partnering with women’s hockey teams. [The Ice Garden]

• Why Adam Lowry is important to the Winnipeg Jets. [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Solid breakdown of Eric Nystrom’s lawsuit against the Nashville Predators. [On the Forecheck]

• Trying to explain why some players missed out on the 2018 NHL All-Star Game. [Featurd]

• Finally, here’s Eddie Olczyk telling the story of the time the Toronto Maple Leafs traded him to the Winnipeg Jets while he was in the delivery room with his wife:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Bergeron’s at it again, Nash’s resurgence continues

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Players of the Night:

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron did it again. The perennial Selke contender showed off his scoring prowess (again), scoring his second hat trick in 12 days. He now has nine goals and five assists in his past eight games. The Bruins have run up a 15-game point streak (11-0-4).

Rick Nash, New York Rangers: Nash scored twice for the second consecutive game in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nash now has four goals in this past two games after putting up a goose egg in his previous 12.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s successes this season have been well documented, and he kept that narrative going with two more goals — his 21st and 22nd — and an assist in the Avs 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s hat trick came after some trickery by Brad Marchand:

A Double Dustin:

Robin Lehner made this dandy of a save. Unfortunately, he allowed a goal moments later. Still, this save.

Bonehead play of the Night:

Dustin Brown strikes again. This time in the wrong category. Someone’s getting suspended.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Bruins 5, Islanders 2

Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1 (SO)

Rangers 4, Sabres 3

Blues 4, Senators 1

Golden Knights 4, Lightning 1

Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

Predators 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)

Avalanche 5, Sharks 3

Penguins 3, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hornqvist, DeSmith help lift the Penguins past the Kings 3-1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins annual jaunt up the west coast didn’t start according to plan on Wednesday.

The Pens dropped a 5-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks and had to quickly rest and recover for a date with the Los Angeles Kings 24 hours later.

The odds weren’t favoring them, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions pulled one out of their hats in a 3-1 win in the City of Angels on Thursday, handing the Kings their fifth straight loss.

The Penguins handed Casey DeSmith his first NHL start and the New Hampshire native stepped up in the absence of Matt Murray, who missed his first game after the passing of his father on Tuesday.

DeSmith filled in admirably making 28 saves in his first NHL win, and he got some timely goal support, including two markers from Patric Hornqvist.

Hornqvist alleviated some of the first-start jitters on DeSmith as he opened the scoring 43 seconds into the first period.

The lead lasted until the 14:10 mark of the second period when Adrian Kempe made a slick deke on DeSmith to tie the game 1-1.

Evgeni Malkin broke the deadlock with another early period goal for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh went on the offensive off the opening faceoff, and after a point shot was blocked in front, Malkin grabbed the rebound in the slot and fired his 21st home on a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick.

Malkin finished the game with a goal and an assist.

Hornqvist added some insurance just after the midway point of the third, making it 3-1 on the power play with his second of the night.

Meanwhile, Dustin Brown was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct after boarding Justin Schultz in the third period.

Schultz had to leave the game and did not return.

Schultz said he was fine after the game and that he did not suffer a concussion on the play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck-