Florida Panthers veteran forward Derek MacKenzie recently relinquished his captaincy to young centerpiece forward Aleksander Barkov, the reason for which has now become more clear. MacKenzie revealed to The Athletic’s George Richards recently that 2018-19 will be his final NHL season. The 37-year-old is in the final year of of two-year extension signed with the Panthers back in 2016 and his fifth year overall with the organization. MacKenzie is entering his sixteenth and final season, having worked his way up from a young, part-time player with the Atlanta Thrashers to a dependable fourth-liner with the Columbus Blue Jackets to a locker room leader and botto-six mainstay with Florida. However, it’s this hard-working style that has finally caught up to the respected veteran, as he tells Richards “the way I have had to play over the past 18 years — the pace I have to go — it has become tougher and tougher over the years.” MacKenzie’s usage and production has maintained relatively consistent in Florida, but he could be in for a drop-off this year, playing in a deep, young, and fast Panthers forward corps. MacKenzie recognizes that his years of wear and tear have caught up with him and that this season will be the last gasps of a hard-nosed career. However, it likely won’t be the end of his time with Florida, as MacKenzie adds that “I love this team, love this organization. I would like to try and stay involved and try and pick up where I left off.” MacKenzie may not be out on the ice for the Cats moving forward, but rest assured the former captain will still be present in the organization.
- When the Panthers take the ice tonight in their opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it will mark the NHL debut for defenseman Jacob MacDonald, per Richards. Who? MacDonald, 25, is a largely unheralded prospect who has somehow worked his way into Florida’s starting lineup to begin the year. The team signed MacDonald to a two-year, two-way contract this off-season after three seasons in the minor leagues. The Cornell University graduate hasn’t even been exclusively in the AHL these past three years; he played most of the 2015-16 season in the ECHL and then split time between the two leagues in 2016-17. Only last year did he play his first full AHL season, skating in 75 games with the Binghamton Devils and leading the team with 55 points. He came into camp as unlikely candidate for the Panthers’ roster, but with injuries to Bogdan Kiselevich and Josh Brown and a nagging issue for MacKenzie Weegar, MacDonald has gotten the call. That is not to say that he hasn’t earned his spot though; experienced options like Ian McCoshen and Julian Melchiori were reassigned to the Springfield Thunderbirds while MacDonald remained in camp. The puck-moving defenseman will line up on the Panthers’ third pair with Alex Petrovic tonight and, if he sticks, could be one of the more inspiring stories of this season. For more, check out Erin Brown’s article for The Athletic.
- Florida has one of the more concrete goalie tandems in the league with Roberto Luongo and James Reimer. They even went out and added a solid third option in Michael Hutchinson this summer. However, those three keepers are 39, 30, and 28 years old respectively with birthdays on the way this season. Behind this group, the Panthers actually are one of the more shallow teams in terms of organizational goalie depth in the league, with just young AHL backstop Samuel Montembeault, a third-round pick in 2015, and Bowling Green State University starter Ryan Bednard, a seventh-rounder the same year. For that reason, don’t be surprised to see Montembeault squeeze in some NHL appearances this season as well. The Springfield Thunderbirds goalie struggled in his first pro season last year, but was a competent keeper in the QMJHL and, more importantly, is the closest thing that the Panthers have to an heir apparent regardless of his performance. Luongo is signed for four more years, but it is doubtful that he plays out the entirety of the contract and could retire as early as this summer, and Hutchinson is an impending unrestricted free agent. A future exists where Florida enters the off-season with just Reimer and Montembeault under contract. The youngster has to be ready to embrace his role as the organization’s only standout young goalie and the team has to prepare him for the possibility of an increased role sooner rather than later.