By BILL WHITEHEAD
SUNRISE — Funny, I get out of working baseball for 2018 and what’s the first thing I get when I come down to the BB&T Center for Florida Panthers hockey?
Anyway, there’s nothing quite like the annual twi-night doubleheader that kicks off the brief NHL preseason. It’s a lot of hockey, but there can ever be too much puck, so hey, let’s keep this as our September tradition.
The Preds rolled in for a pair, and here are some quick bits from Game 1 of a long day/night double-dip in Sunrise:
Florida iced a squad that featured many players who will be among the first cuts in camp while Nashville had Kyle Turris, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok and P.K. Subban, with the latter two scoring goals in the first two periods as the Preds held a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers generated little offense in the first 40 minutes. The highlights came on the defensive play of goalie Michael Hutchinson, who stopped 1-on-1 shots by Yannik Weber and ex-Cats forward Rocco Grimaldi, and Bobby Farnham, who appeared to hit everyone wearing the visiting white.
Grimaldi tipped in a shot by Weber to make it 3-0 in the third, but Maxim Mamin was the most visible player when it came to Florida’s scoring chances in the period.
The Russian forward was stuffed by Preds backup goalie Thomas McCollum in close in the first two minutes then missed a backhander on a breakaway minutes later. He soon drew a penalty when Viktor Arvidsson had to hook him at 9:42 as Mamim was flying in for another chance.
BIDING HIS TIME — No. 3 goalie Michael Hutchinson gave up five goals on 31 shots and said the traffic was his biggest problem as Subban and Grimaldi’s goal came with some clutter in front of him.
Hutchinson, 28, said he understands his role with the Panthers and is just taking care of his own business as he slots behind Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.
“I just focus on myself,” said Hutchinson, a member of the Winnipeg organization from 2013-18 after being drafted by Boston in the third round in 2008. “I try to improve my game and make a good impression.”
After the Panthers played four goalies last season due to injuries to Luongo and Reimer, Hutchinson said he saw Florida as a good destination.
“You’ve seen it the last few years throughout the whole entire league (that) there are few teams that get through a full year with only two goalies. If you want to make a deep run, you need three goalies to make a push for the playoffs,” the right-handed catching Hutchinson said.
“Every organization is kind of realizing that now and that’s an important position to have.”
ANG FAST — Forward Jonathan Ang’s days in camp are likely numbered, but the speedy winger made an impression on Alex Petrovic, showing off the jets and beating Nashville defenders, especially in the third period.
“That’s huge,” Ang said when told of the compliment Petro gave him for making some standout plays driving hard to the net. “That’s what you try to do here — do your best. When someone says that, it’s nice to hear. You’ve got to keep going to and playing hard.
“Ever since I was young my mentality was to just try to have fun playing hockey and try to make the NHL. That’s what I’m doing right now.”
Ang played right wing instead of center on a line with Micheal Haley and Harry Zolnierczyk, recording a shot in 16:31 of ice time.
FINNTASTIC CHOICE — The organization announced early Monday morning that Aleksander Barkov, 23, was named the 10th captain in Florida Panthers history, replacing Derek MacKenzie.
Barkov is the second-youngest captain in the NHL, younger than all of them except Edmonton’s 21-year-old superstar Connor McDavid, who’s not bad himself.
It’s a decision that really is hard to argue against, frankly.
Sure, you could make the case for Vincent Trocheck, an emotional player who wears his heart on his sleeve just like Scottie Upshall did. Or Jonathan Huberdeau, whose temperament is somewhere between that of the soft-spoken Barkov and occasionally explosive Trocheck.
But those three were the only ones who should have been given serious consideration. Aaron Ekblad could almost enter the conversation, but the power trio of Barky, Vinny and senior member Huby all have at least one more season of experience with the club that gives them a skate up, so to speak.
Barkov sports the characteristics and demeanor that an organization wants to see in a captain: a strong 200-foot game, determined work ethic, admiration and respect of his peers, an emerging sense of superstardom in the league and a media-friendly player, win or lose.
And the Finnish center’s accessibility in the room is only exceeded by his genuine humility as person and player.
Really, what’s the worst thing you can say about Barky? That he’s too unselfish? He overpasses and would rather see a teammate get the glory of a goal instead of himself, almost to a fault?
That may be it. And if so, I’ll take that in my captain — an all-around fantastic player and even better guy works his butt off and puts others before himself.
Barkov is the kind of player who is a face-of-the-franchise guy, one whose likeness will be on stadium walls, arena hallways and billboards up and down South Florida thoroughfares.
And while I understand any player, regardless of his elite skills, can be traded, Barkov comes across as the kind that could be in South Florida his entire career, immortalizing the No. 16 and leading the Panthers to whatever NHL postseason fruit it can sink its dangerous claws into.
Nice pick, Cats.
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