Thanks for the memories: Saying goodbye to Panther Parkway

After 5 seasons as a blogger, I am calling it quits.

I made this decision about 2 weeks or so ago, but I wasn’t quite sure how I would approach it, so I stared at a blank document for a few days. Well, I finally put my emotions in my back pocket, and mustered up a few words. So, here is goes:

It’s no secret that hockey is my life. I know that sounds cliché’, but this sport literally consumes my entire family. With that being said, I think it’s in the best interest of my family that I stopped writing about the Florida Panthers for Panther Parkway. Even though this decision was quite difficult to make, a good friend once told me “No matter what you choose to do with your career, the sport of hockey isn’t going anywhere”. As simple as that may sound, he’s right, which made my decision to leave Panther Parkway a little easier.

If I’m being honest, I’ve had, on a few occasions, times when I thought about stepping away from this site to spend more time with my son, school work, or to focus on my day job. But every time, something pulled me back in. Well, not this time.

For the past 5 years, I have invested a great deal of my time into various blog sites. I was originally affiliated with The Rat Trick of Fansided.com, and after 2 seasons we decided to move into a different direction (enter Panther Parkway).

Frank Rekas and I began Panther Parkway 3 seasons ago, and it has been everything to me. Although Mr. Rekas called it quits a few weeks ago, this was still very much mine and his baby from the start. Because we were not affiliated with any affiliation site, we spent countless hours trying to build this site from the ground up, with very limited help promoting our independent blog. Well, I’m proud to say that our site has produced over 50 podcast episodes with some of the best guests in the business, along with 1,500 articles since the sites launch 3 seasons ago. We’ve had incredible support over the years from our readers, and we are all so incredibly thankful for each and every one of you. Trust me when I tell you, your support and passion means the world to us.

During my time as a blogger, I’ve seen some amazing writers come in and out – writers who have helped this site grow tremendously, and I’d like to thank them all for it. To Frank, Jameson Cooper, Mike Lewis, Mike Obrand, Dave Lasseter, Chrissy Parente, Josh Luecht and JV Siegal, I can’t thank you all enough for, not only your expertise blogging skills, but being my best friends. You all mean the world to me. I really do mean that.

Along with our staff writers, I can’t tell you how many friendships I have built over the years, and how many amazing people I have met because of this website. As a female trying to pave her way into the hockey world, putting your voice out there was something I was always afraid to do, but many of you welcomed me into the unknown with open arms. I want to thank you all for being my friends, and accepting a female hockey blogger from Florida into your blogosphere. This site, and you people, have been my home away from home for so many years. On my darkest days, I could always count on the hockey community to give me a good laugh, whether it was through a silly little tweet, or a snarky article about Tyler Bozak. I’ve had a blast getting to virtually know all of you.

I want to specifically thank the Florida Panthers and PR Director Justin Copertino for taking a chance on me as an 18-year-old intern, and then again as a full-time credentialed media member. I want to thank you for giving me such a great deal of experience, as well as supplying me with a lifetime of great memories. I hope this website has supplied the team with adequate coverage over the years, and helped do its part in growing the sport of hockey in South Florida.

With both co-founders of Panther Parkway stepping back, I’m not sure what the future has in store for this site yet, nor am I sure if this site even has a future at all. All I know is I am walking away from the site I helped create, and that’s OK. Like I said earlier, I’ve met some amazing people, gained so much experience, and have made some incredible memories to last me a lifetime. But for now, it’s time to stand beside my family, and cheer on the Panthers, the team I love so much, from afar.

Cheers, everyone.

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Aaron Ekblad: “I want to be on that opening night roster”

As Aaron Ekblad settles into life in South Florida for his big push towards making the Panthers’ roster as an 18-year-old, it should be apparent to Panthers fans that this will be the first time that Ekblad has faced any sort of adversity as a hockey player. This isn’t to say that you can expect any sort of Lindrosian behavior from the Belle River, Ontario native; the honor roll student is touted for his complete game as a defenseman, more than justifying the fact that he is just one of four players to date to have been granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada.

What strikes you immediately (besides his model-esque appearance) is Ekblad’s ability to walk a tightrope between confidence and meekness. When asked if he had spoken with veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell–a signing I have lauded as a great move by Dale Tallon, not just for the development of Ekblad, but for the progression of the defensive corps as a whole–he said that it “…would be awesome to meet Willie Mitchell,” as if he were hoping the veteran d-man would stop by his locker to extol the virtues of using longer sticks in the NHL.

His performance–to date–is anything but vague. What excited Hockey Canada about the 15-year-old has only matured as he’s grown. Now, the 6’3 216 lbs. blue liner is known for his all-around game, excelling just as much on special teams as he does at even strength. His one-timer is considered lethal, and while he doesn’t do it very often, he’s more than willing to drop the gloves to prove a point. Some have compared his style of play to legendary defenseman Denis Potvin, a favorable comparison that Ekblad takes with a grain of salt. “All comparisons are good, especially to guys who have had storied careers,” Ekblad said, while adding “I want to pave my own path in the NHL.”

With the uncertainty as to what his role will be with the organization next year, Ekblad has a few things going in his favor. For one, the Panthers have only four defensemen locked in as starters (at this point): Erik Gudbranson, Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell, and Dmitry Kulikov. Another is that he is right-handed, something only one of the four assumed starters (Gudbranson) can boast. Although he’s 18, his two-way game and size should translate well to the NHL, something that naturally keeps 18-year-olds in junior hockey for at least another year or two.

“I want to be on that opening night roster,” Ekblad said. “I want to be given that opportunity and I think if I do, I’ll be able to run with it.”

Along with the natural spark that adding an 18-year-old, former number one overall pick to the fold, is the Panthers much publicized power play woes. Ekblad’s play could easily bolster a unit that shot a comically low 7.6%, while serving to boost the play of Brian Campbell, who could settle into the power play quarterback role, setting up Ekblad’s big one timer.

Aside from Ekblad and Alex Petrovic, who is entering the last year of his entry-level deal, the Panthers have Dylan Olsen and Colby Robak, who would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the AHL. Additionally, Shane O’Brien was invited to camp, and Greg Zanon was signed to a one year, two-way contract.

Like Vincent Trocheck, it’s the options the Panthers have in Ekblad, and that they can send him back to his junior team, that are stacked against him. With that in mind, Ekblad obviously has nothing else to learn in the OHL, as his 23 goals and 30 assists in 58 games would suggest.

If all Ekblad wants is to clear his own path in the NHL, his route thus far is a pretty good start.

Florida Panthers sign D Aaron Ekblad to entry-level deal

Today the Florida Panthers announced the signing of D Aaron Ekblad to a three-year Entry Level Contract. Ekblad, 18 was selected first overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft back in June.

“We are very pleased to have signed Aaron,” said Panthers GM Dale Tallon in a release courtesy of the team’s website. “He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career. We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition.”

One of the most highly touted prospects in recent years, Ekblad holds the distinction of being the first defenseman taken first overall since the St.Louis Blues selected Erik Johnson first in 2006. Only the  second player to earn exceptional player status in major junior hockey and the first ever defenseman to earn this honor, Ekblad joined the Barrie Colts of the OHL as a 15-year old. Taken first overall in the 2011 OHL draft by Barrie, Ekblad arrived with very high expectations, and exceeded them all.

Ekblad was an All-Star, a Rookie of the year, represented Team Canada on two occasions including winning a Gold Medal at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament  and being the youngest defenseman on Canada’s 2014 World Juniors team. Ekblad most recently won defenseman of the year in the OHL while captaining the Colts. His resume on paper is quite impressive to say the least, but it’s his versatility and maturity as a player that puts him on an elite talent level.

His 6’3″ 216 lb frame make him an intimidating figure, but his ability to use that frame to his advantage is what made him one of the most sought after defenseman to come along in years. Finishing with a plus-31 rating in his junior career, tells the tale of his defensive responsibility, but his outstanding 116 points (40-76-116) in 175 games shows that he can be a force offensively as well. Ekblad exploded in what could be his final season in juniors. Posting 53 points (23-30-53) in 58 games, Ekblad began showing his capability to quarterback a power play, and rush the puck as well. Ekblad’s 23 goals made him the league leader in goals scored by a defenseman.

Panthers Re-Sign Defenseman Erik Gudbranson

On Thursday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Erik Gudbranson to a 2-year deal.

From the Panthers press release:

“Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the team’s website. “He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community.”

Gudbranson, 22, is a former 3rd overall draft pick in the 2010 draft and kicked off Dale Tallon’s tenure as the general manager of the Panthers. The Orleans, Ontario native is coming off of a career-high 9 points (3G-6A-9P) and 114 penalty minutes.

The 6’5, 216lb Gudbranson, known for his efforts within the South Florida community, was recently awarded the Panthers Community Ambassador of the Year.

 

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Aleksander Barkov puts on a show at Development Camp

After Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning was seen showing off his sweet moves during the Bolts prospect camp this past week, cross-state counterpart Aleksander Barkov, who went one pick ahead of Drouin in the 2013 NHL draft, gave fans a show of his own.

At the end of day 2 of Panthers development camp, the prospects had a little fun with shootout drills. Barkov was instructed to shoot twice, and boy he did not disappoint.

One-handed? No problem. I’d say he has pretty strong wrists.

Yeah. He’s good.

 

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Mike Kelly and Mark Morris join Gerard Gallant and John Madden behind the bench

Monday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced that they have hired two assistant coaches to join head coach Gerard Gallant and current assistant coach John Madden behind the Panthers bench. The new additions are Mike Kelly, former head coach and general manager of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, and Mark Morris, former head coach of the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.

Kelly 54, joins the Panthers coaching staff after spending four seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs as Gallant’s associate coach during Saint Johns infamous dynasty years. After Gallant left the QMJHL to join Michel Therrien and the Montreal Canadiens in 2012, Kelly was promoted to general manager and head coach of the Sea Dogs for one season before being relieved of his duties in 2013.

Before joining the Sea Dogs in 2009, Kelly had already gotten a taste of the pro leagues, where he was an assistant coach for both the Mantioba Moose of the AHL and Vancouver Canucks of the NHL.

Morris, 56, is no stranger to the pro leagues either as he spent 8 season’s with the Manchester Monarch’s, making him the longest tenure coach in franchise history. During his time in Manchester, Morris had coached a handful of notable players such as Jonathan Quick, Matt Moulson, Jake Muzzin and Brayden Schenn.

In 628 games behind the Monarch’s bench, Morris compiled 338 wins, which is 10th all-time in AHL wins for a coach, just two behind current NHL head coach Bruce Boudreau.

Along with retaining current assistant coach John Madden, the Panthers have re-signed goalie coach Robb Tallas.

 

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NHL players tweet their goodbyes 2014

With the tumultuous early days of this year’s free agent frenzy now behind us, recently moved players are beginning to adjust to their new organizations as fans still lament their departures. In years past, if a player wished to show their gratitude to a former fan base or organization they were limited to mainly newspapers as their only outlet to express their appreciation. In today’s modern world, however, social media has made it possible for fans and players to be closer than ever in terms of communication.

Although not everyone chooses to participate, many players around the NHL have turned to twitter to help build stronger relationships with fans as well as opening their lives up to the public. It is through this social media revolution that players can now openly express their thanks when their time with a club has expired.

With all of the chaos that comes with free agency, many players have changed area codes within the past week and bid farewell to the organizations they once called home. After scouring twitter for a while, I have compiled a list of farewell tweets from some of the NHL’s recently moved skaters.

Willie Mitchell

[Read more…]

NHL Free Agent Tracker

Welcome to Free Agency Day! Things are going to get quite hectic out there, so be sure to follow along with Panther Parkway’s Free Agent tracker! We will be tracking all free agent signings, as well as each trade that is made today!

SIGNED: Nashville Predators sign F Olli Jokinen for 1-year, $2.5M

SIGNED: Pittsburgh Penguins sign F Steve Downie for 1-year, $1M

SIGNED: New York Islanders sign F Jack Skille

SIGNED: Detroit Red Wings sign D Kyle Quincey for 2-years, $4.25 AAV

SIGNED: New York Islanders sign F  Cory Conacher for 1-year, $600K

SIGNED: Washington Capitals sign F Chris Conner

SIGNED: New York Islanders sign F Harry Zolnierczyk

SIGNED: New York Rangers sign F Tanner Glass

SIGNED: Pittsburgh Penguins sign F Marcel Goc for 1-year, $1.2M

SIGNED: Tampa Bay Lightning sign G Evgeni Nabokov for 1-year

SIGNED: Tampa Bay Lightning sign F Brian Boyle for 3-years

SIGNED: Florida Panthers sign D Willie Mitchell for 2-years, $4.25M AAV

SIGNED: Chicago Blackhawks sign F Brad Richards for 1-year, $2M

SIGNED: Washington Capitals sign D Matt Niskanen for 7-years, $5.75M AAV

SIGNED: Los Angeles Kings sign Adam Cracknell for 1-year, $600K

SIGNED: Edmonton Oilers sign Luke Gazdic for 2-years.

SIGNED: Philadelphia Flyers sign G Ray Emery for 1-year, $1M

SIGNED: Arizona Coyotes sign G Devan Dubnyk for 1-year, $800K

SIGNED: New York Rangers sign D Matt Hunwick for 1 -year, $600K

SIGNED: Buffalo Sabres sign Andrej Meszaros for 1-year, $4.125M AAV

SIGNED: New Jersey Devils signs G Scott Clemmensen for 1-year, 2-way contract

SIGNED: Calgary Flames sign D Deryk Engelland for 3-years, $2.9M AAV

SIGNED: Washington Capitals re-sign Michael Latta for 2-years, $575K AAV

SIGNED: New York Rangers sign C Chris Mueller

SIGNED: Tampa Bay Lightning re-sign Mike Angelids for 1-year, 2-way contract

SIGNED: Colorado Avalanche sign Zach Redmond for 2-years

SIGNED: New Jersey Devils re-sign F Steve Bernier for 1-year, $600k

SIGNED: Tampa Bay Lightning sign D Anton Stralman for 5-years

SIGNED: Chicago Blackhawks re-sign C Peter Regin

SIGNED: Vancouver Canucks sign D Bobby Sanguinetti

SIGNED: Carolina Hurricans sign Jiri Tlusty for 1-year, $2.95M

SIGNED: Toronto Maple Leafs sign Leo Komarov for 4-years, $2.95M AAV

SIGNED: Colorado Avalanche sign Jarome Iginla for 3-years

SIGNED: Buffalo Sabres sign Nick Foligno for 2-years

SIGNED: Buffalo Sabres sign Cody McCormick for 3-years, $1.5M AAV

SIGNED: Colorado Avalanche sign Nick Holden for 3-years.

SIGNED: Buffalo Sabres sign Matt Moulson for 5-years, $5 AAV

TRADE: San Jose Sharks acquire a 2nd-round pick (2016) and a sixth-round pick (2017)/Colorado Avalanche acquire Brad Stuart

SIGNED: New Jersey Devils sign Martin Havlat for 1-year

SIGNED: Dallas Stars sign G Andres Lindback

SIGNED: Florida Panthers sign Derek Mackenzie for 3-years, $1.3 AAV

SIGNED: New York Rangers sign F Tanner Galass

SIGNED: Minnesota Wild sign Brett Sutter

SIGNED: New York Rangers sign F Dominic Moore

SIGNED: Toronto Maple Leafs sign D Stephan Robidas

SIGNED: Minnesota Wild sign F Thomas Vanek for 3-years, $6.5 AAV

SIGNED: Calgary Flames sign G Jonas Hiller for 2-years, $4.5 AAV

TRADE: Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Matt Frattin/ Columbus Blue Jackets acquire Jerry D’Amigo

SIGNED: Edmonton Oilers sign Keith Aulie for 1-year, $800K

SIGNED: Winnipeg Jets sign F Mathieu Perreault for 3-years, $3 AAV

SIGNED:  Montreal Canadiens sign Jiri Sekac for 2-years

SIGNED: Buffalo Sabres sign F Brian Gionta for 3-years, $4.25 AAV

SIGNED: Florida Panthers sign F Shawn Thornton for 2-years, $1.2 AAV

SIGNED: Pittsburgh Penguins sign F Blake Comeau for 1-years, $700K

SIGNED: Pittsburgh Penguins sign G Thomas Greiss for 1-years, $1 million

SIGNED: Dallas Stars sign F Ales Hemsky for 3-years, $4 AAV

SIGNED: Vancouver Canucks sign G Ryan Miller for 3-years, $6 AAV

SIGNED: Florida Panthers sign G Al Montoya

SIGNED: Florida Panthers sign F Dave Bolland for 5-years, $5.5 AAV

SIGNED: Arizona Coyotes sign F Joe Vitale for 3-years, $1.117 AAV

SIGNED: Washington Capitals sign D Brooks Orpik for 5-years

SIGNED: Anaheim Ducks sign D Clayton Stoner for 4-years, $3.5m AAV

SIGNED: Montreal Canadiens sign D Mike Weaver for 1-year, $1.75

SIGNED: Calgary Flames sign F Mason Raymond

SIGNED: New York Rangers sign D Dan Boyle for 2-years, $4.5 AAV

SIGNED: Florida Panthers sign F Jussi Jokinen for 4-years, $4 AAV

SIGNED: Montreal Canadiens sign D Tom Gilbert for 2- years

SIGNED: New Jersey Devils sign F Mike Cammalleri for 5-years, $5 AAV

SIGNED: St. Louis Blues sign F Paul Statsny for 4-years, $7 AAV

TRADED: Buffalo Sabres acquire Josh Gorges/ Montreal Canadiens acquire 2nd round pick (2016)

SIGNED: Washington Capitals sign G Justin Peters

SIGNED: Ottawa Senators sign Milian Michalek for 3-years, $4 AAV

SIGNED: New York Islanders sign G Chad Johnson for 2-years,$1.3 AAV

SIGNED: Colorado Avalanche sign F Jesse Winchester for 2-years, $900,000 AAV

SIGNED: St. Louis Blues sign F Jorie Lehtera for 2-years

SIGNED: Edmonton Oilers sign D Mark Fayne for 4-years, $3.5 AAV, and F Benoit Pouliot for 5-years, $4 AAV

SIGNED: Montreal Canadiens sign F Manny Maholtra for 1-year, $850,000

SIGNED: Pittsburgh Penguins sign D Christian Ehrhoff for 1-year, $4 million

TRADE– Dallas Stars acquire: Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson/ Ottawa Senators acquire: Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul, 2nd round pick (2015)

 

 

Panthers Extend Qualifying Offers to Seven Players

On Monday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced that Dale Tallon has extended qualifying offers to seven players.

Qualified players and notable stats:

  • D Erik Gudbranson: (Last season NHL totals) 63 games played, 9 points (3G-6A), 114 PIMs, 91 blocked shots, 158 hits, and Corsi F: 51.2%
  • F Jimmy Hayes: (Last season NHL totals) 55 games played, 18 points (11G-7A), 18 PIMs, 115 hits, 72 shots, 15.3% shooting percentage, and Corsi F: 47.5%
  • D Dmitry Kulikov: (Last season NHL totals) 81 games played, 19 points (8G-11A), 66 PIMs, 127 shots, 125 hits, 92 blocked shots, 21:41 TOI, and Corsi F: 51.2%
  • F Ryan Martindale: Played in AHL with the San Antonio Rampage.
  • D Dylan Olsen: (Last season NHL totals) 44 games played, 12 points (3G-9A), 116 hits, 55 blocked shots, and Corsi F: 51.1%
  • F Brandon Pirri: (Last season NHL totals) 49 games played, 25 points (13G-12A), 16.3% shooting percentage, 44.9% face-off, and Corsi F: 51.7%
  • F Garrett Wilson: (Last season NHL totals) 3 games played, 0 points, 4 shots, 11 hits, and Corsi F: 45.9%  (Played majority of the year in AHL)

The Panthers did not extend qualifying offers to Anthony Luciani, Jonathan Hazen, and Mattias Lindstrom.

Player Usage Chart for the 7 who were qualified (Courtesy of Extra Skater)

Unknown

(No information on AHLer Ryan Martindale)

 

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Florida Panthers Select Jayce Hawryluk in Second Round, No. 32 Overall

SECOND ROUND –

The Florida Panthers kicked off Day 2 of the NHL Entry draft with the 32nd overall selection, which they used to select Brandon Wheat Kings right-winger, Jayce Hawryluk.

Hawryluk, 18, becomes the 37th prospect selected from the Western Hockey League by the Florida Panthers in franchise history. Notable WHL draftees include Jay Bouwmeester, Rhett Warrener, and Rob Neidermeyer.

Hawryluk was a huge part of the Wheat Kings success this past season as he led his team in scoring, tallying 64 points (24G-40A) in 59 games. Standing at 5’10, 192 lbs, Hawryluk plays a big game, and is comparable to gritty, small forwards Brendan Gallagher and Brad Marchand.

Hockey’s Future Talent Analysis:

“Hawryluk is an offensively skilled forward used in all situations. Shoots the puck well. Gritty forward that will drive to the net aggressively. Reliable defensively.”

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

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