Panthers Opening night got a little clearer.

By Mark Fischel

Going into this training camp, there were realistically 2-3 open spots for new blood to make their mark on a rapidly improving Panther team. With their last pre-season game in Louisville tonight, the Panthers headed back to Florida with what is essentially their final roster.

After a very competitive rookie camp at all positions, 3 of the 6 players in contention for the job will start the season in the NHL.

Forward position:

Denis Shvidki beat out Ivan Novoseltsev in a highly entertaining pre-season showdown. Both players were among the scoring leaders in the pre-season, and both impressed Bryan Murray enough that he is fairly confident that both of them will be stars in the NHL. Denis was slightly favored in this competition due to his all-around game, as opposed to Ivan’s emphasis toward being a one-dimensional goal scorer. Shvidki was able to play on all 4 lines and contribute offensively in scoring goals and setting them up, and he scored 8 points in 7 games. He shared 2 games playing with Bure and Larionov, and also played several games sharing his line with the grinders, such as Paul Laus and Marcus Nilson. Bottom line on Shvidki…he simply showed the Panthers that he can bring slightly more to the roster at this point that Ivan was able to. This battle was won by the slimmest of margins.

Nilson has also been given this final week in South Florida to solidify his spot as well. It isn’t too clear now if he has been given that spot outright, and it may seem that a trade is in the works of a Panther veteran to open up the roster spot. Marcus had a strong camp so far, and was a very dependable grinder. He was strong along the boards, and his relentless and gritty style will earn him his share of face-rubs in many scrums this year. If Marcus makes the team, look for him to be a main-stay on the 4th line where his high-energy style will make him a valuable plumber on a Panther team in dire need of selfless players.

Defensive Position:

While the forward position was a choice between what type of scorer is needed, the defensive position was needed for each type of defenseman to step up and make their claim. The battle between Dan Boyle and Peter Ratchuk has been finally decided, after the last few years both players having their share of ups and downs.

Dan Boyle came to camp this year with a whole new attitude, especially after his horrible mid-season call-up last year, where he neglected to play in the manner that Terry Murray wanted him to play. Boyle has always been a head-strong player, but he seemed to rein his attitude in and let his strong play in pre-season, not last years stellar AHL season, prove that he should be in the NHL this year. Terry Murray noted “I feel comfortable playing him among the top six as well as both special teams,” which was a far cry from last year when Terry couldn’t wait to send him back to Louisville.

Peter Ratchuk’s future with Florida is now basically at a crossroads. He has been unable to make the team after three training camps, but continues to have good years in the AHL. He has moderate enough talent to play in the NHL, and his future might lie in being traded to another team to give him a better shot at his dreams of making a team.

John Jakopin will again start the season on the Panther roster, as he did last year out of training camp. This decision was made easier for Bryan Murray due to Brad Ference’s much publicized broken jaw at the hand of Calgary’s Steve Smith, and the fact that Jakopin would have to clear waivers in order to be sent down to the minors. It is a noted feeling in the Panther front office that Jakopin will be pounced upon by several teams scouring the waiver wire, and there is the chance that Jakopin could be traded to make room for Ference once his jaw heals and he gets back into playing shape.

Goalie Position:

This battle seems neck and neck, with both goalies playing superbly. Roberto Luongo is doing everything he practically can to earn the starting position, and the choice faced by Terry Murray might be one of the most difficult he has had to do in a long time. Luongo has had two shut-outs in pre-season and has been making spectacular jaw-dropping plays and saves, and has a much better Save Percentage than Trevor Kidd. Luongo might have earned the spot since Trevor’s last two appearances have both been losses, and comments as of the last pre-season game by Terry Murray show he is leaning toward Roberto Luongo to start the season in the pipes

Training camp and Pre-season Quick Hits: (written in the Larry King Style)

There is no better story than Serge Payer coming back from Guillen-Barre Syndrome and Mono to have a great pre-season….keep an eye out for that kid……..

How refreshing is it to see defenseman Lance Ward and Joey (Lil’ Joey Bag O’ Hortons) Tetarenko playing at forward in a game, and making a difference……..

Is there a smaller center prospect than Eric Boguniecki?……..

Move over Rich Shulmistra, here comes Sean Gauthier……..

“Almost Famous” is one of the best movies I have seen in a long long time……..

Will Chris Allen ever see the light of the NHL…….ever?

Amatuer Try-out players Benoit Morin, Mike Cirillo, and Dan Passero get the opportunity to make the Louisville squad, while Phillipe Roy, Luke Murphy, Aaron Goldade, Bob Brandon, and Brent Belecki will have to look elsewhere for the Benjamins…………..

Alex Auld should be getting some help in North Bay this year from Vladimir Sapozhnikov, who was somehow able to get out of the Russian league after the IIHF deadline. Could that story be a made-for-tv movie?……….

Good night, and thank heaven that hockey season is back!!!!!!!

As always, any comments or questions is appreciated.

Mark Fischel