Florida PanthersOur new NHL affiliate is off to a blazing start. At 5-0-1, the Panthers are one of only two teams (Washington) that has yet to suffer a regulation loss. They are tied with Columbus, which has played four more games, for first in the Central division. Only a shootout loss to the Blue Jackets on Thursday has kept them from posting a perfect record.
The Panthers’ offseason additions of Patric Hornqvist, former AHL scoring leader Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair have fit in nicely with mainstays like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Keith Yandle – all of whom have enjoyed excellent starts to the season.
Another key contributor has been former Checker Eetu Luostarinen, who seems to have found a home centering the Panthers’ third line. Including his first NHL goal and a first star nod in Florida’s first game of the season, he has chipped in three points (2g, 1a) in six games.
A fun moment occurred in the Panthers’ game at Detroit on Saturday when Aleksi Heponiemi, a second-year forward who might have started a normal season with the Checkers rather than the Panthers’ taxi squad, picked up the overtime winner in his NHL debut. Check out our earlier profile of Heponiemi, a diminutive yet prolific scorer who spent all of last season playing for Checkers coach Geordie Kinnear in Springfield.
What a pass by Duke.— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 31, 2021
What a moment for Hepo. pic.twitter.com/6HFBMPRAIP
Syracuse CrunchThe AHL season is set to start this weekend, with a number of Panthers prospects playing on a temporary joint Tampa/Florida affiliation in Syracuse. Beginning with Saturday’s match-up with Utica, the Crunch’s 32-game season will consist mostly of games each Wednesday and Saturday through mid-May.
Checkers coach Geordie Kinnear will spend some time with the Crunch this season and was there for the start of their training camp two weeks ago.
“When you look at Geordie Kinnear’s background, he’s been an assistant coach in this league for 13 years and a head coach for four,” Crunch coach Benoit Groulx told Syracuse media. “When you played Springfield (Kinnear’s former team), you knew you’re going to have a hockey game. If you talk to anyone in the AHL and the hockey business, you know that Springfield was doing things the right way, so I was very excited when I got the call and was told that Geordie was coming down.”
“It’s his team, and I’m here to teach and consult with players,” said Kinnear of his relationship with Groulx. “Anytime we get together and discuss the game and different ways to teach or approach it, provoke thought or discussion, I think is a great opportunity. That’s how we’re looking at it. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to grow and to help teach the players. It’s ultimately about the players and for us to get them better.”
The Crunch currently have 10 Panthers prospects on their roster. In the Crunch’s lone preseason game against Utica this past weekend, former Checker Chase Priskie picked up a team-high three points, all assists, and former first-round draft choice Grigori Denisenko picked up a goal and an assist. Rookie defenseman John Ludvig made his presence known with an assist and a fight against veteran forward Curtis McKenzie.
Coach Kinnear checks in from Crunch camp ⬇️ https://t.co/75CfUfdpnA— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) January 21, 2021
Greenville Swamp RabbitsThrough 16 games, the Checkers’ ECHL affiliate has a record of 6-3-7 and sits fourth in the Eastern Conference. Greg Meireles, a former Panthers draft pick who the Checkers signed to an AHL contract over the summer, ranks second on the team in points (14) and penalty minutes (28) in 13 games played.
In goal, Florida prospect Ryan Bednard is 5-1-3 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. The league’s busiest goaltender in terms of minutes played and saves made, he has already earned the league’s Goaltender of the Week award on two separate occasions.
Chubby was on hand for Stomper’s birthday on Saturday.
In Other News...
- A few former Checkers have stepped into the Carolina Hurricanes’ lineup as a number of their regulars went on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list. Steven Lorentz, who enjoyed a breakout season with the Checkers in 2019-20, made his NHL debut against Tampa Bay on Thursday, a 1-0 game that Martin Necas won in overtime, and went on to record his first point with an assist against Dallas on Saturday.
- Through six games, Necas ranks fourth on the Hurricanes with four points and leads the team with a plus-4 rating. Brock McGinn scored his first goal of the season in Sunday’s win over Dallas that pushed the Canes to 5-1-0 on the season. Jake Bean and Max McCormick recently made their NHL season debuts (McCormick has since gone on the injured list), while Alex Nedeljkovic backed up James Reimer after an injury to Petr Mrazek.
- Janne Kuokkanen, who has played in all nine games for the New Jersey Devils, scored his first NHL goal against Buffalo on Saturday. Scoreless in his first 11 NHL games with Carolina, he’s got three points for the Devils so far.
First NHL goal vibeeeezzzzz pic.twitter.com/hvr3KC3RWk— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 30, 2021
- With the coaching staff in AHL Henderson filling in for the coaching staff in Vegas due to COVID-19 protocol, former Checkers captain Patrick Brown helped run the bench for the Silver Knights this past weekend.
- Former Checkers defenseman Trevor Carrick is now a member of the Anaheim Ducks organization following a three-team trade that took place last week. Now with the San Diego Gulls, he is reunited with former Charlotte teammates Andrew Poturalski and Keegan Lowe, not to mention his brother Sam.
Brothers ▶ Teammates.— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) January 27, 2021
Looks like we'll need a new picture! pic.twitter.com/W6ZkeA0Ty6
- If you’re still following the AHL this season and want to hear a familiar voice, former Checkers broadcaster Jason Shaya has joined the Utica Comets and will be a part of their enhanced AHLTV production this season. The Comets will take on Florida’s prospects with the Crunch a whopping 14 times this season.