Let’s take a look at five key takeaways from the Prospect Showcase.
COME TOGETHERDespite having only a few days on the ice at Rookie Camp before jetting off to Raleigh for the Prospect Showcase, the Florida squad came together seamlessly as a group once the games started - quickly building a chemistry that was immediately apparent.
“It’s hard when you haven’t played or practiced a lot together,” said Checkers Head Coach Geordie Kinnear, who served as the bench boss for the team of prospects. “But they seemed to know where everyone is, it’s nice to see.”
For the younger-skewing squad, a chunk of that chemistry from bonding off the ice during the four-day excursion to North Carolina.
“We had a big poker tournament yesterday to kind of get the guys together,” said Dennis Cesana after Sunday’s game. “I think everyone has been good guys and everyone’s kind of open and chatting it up. We’re just preaching being loud on the bench and communicating and it’s been working out. We’ve been having fun.”
FIERCE COMPETITIONThe Prospect Showcase wasn’t structured as a tournament. Instead, the four participating clubs - Florida, Carolina, Nashville and Tampa Bay - each played the other teams over the three-game slate.
That didn’t diminish the competitiveness on the ice one bit, however - a positive note for the coaching staff.
“I tell everybody that we put the highest value on compete,” said Kinnear. “You’re playing against your peers, playing against guys you’re going to see moving forward. You’re competing for jobs. Guys across the way are fighting to make an impression. You always want to make sure you’re ready to go and put your best foot forward. You want to get noticed? Make sure you’re ultra competitive.”
That lesson was drilled into the group early, and by the time they made it to Raleigh they were champing at the bit to get going.
“I think that was all set during training camp,” said Liam Arnsby, a seventh-round pick by Florida in 2022. “We had high-tempo practices, we worked hard.”
“We were all looking forward to getting down here since the start of Rookie Camp,” said Josh Davies, a 2022 sixth-round pick by Florida.
The Panthers funneled that competitive drive into a 2-1-0 record for the Showcase. They came out of the gates hot with a lopsided 6-1 win over Carolina on Friday and an impressive 4-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday before suffering their lone loss of the event on Sunday at the hands of Nashville.
“They competed,” said Kinnear after the Showcase finale. “Eight periods they played very, very hard. The last one got away from us, but the identity is there and that’s what we were looking for. We want to build off it individually and as a group.”
THE “VETS” DELIVERAs two of the most experienced members of the prospects squad, Cesana and Patrick Giles, were leaned on over the course of the Showcase and the duo showed up.
Coming off of a four-year career at Michigan State and an eight-game stint with Charlotte a season ago, Cesana put together a strong showing in Raleigh.
“Being an older guy in one of these you’re supposed to stand out, and he did,” said Kinnear. “I felt like he made a lot of plays, had a lot of composure with the puck, settled it down and allowed us to play fast. I thought he stood out.”
Serving as an alternate captain, Cesana was all over the ice throughout the three games and highlighted the offensive flair to his skill set - most notably wiring home the eventual game winner on Sunday.
“The game these days is a lot of offense and you have to be able to play both sides of the puck, so that’s just something I try to preach in my game,” he said. “Being an undersized defenseman, I’m not going to be the most physical guy out there, so I want to contribute offensively and move pucks and do what I can do.”
Giles, also donning an A on his Panthers sweater, was similarly a force across the board for Florida.
“I was thrilled with Patty,” said Kinnear. “He had the puck a lot. He’s ultra-competitive and that’s what I put the highest value on. The goal [on Sunday] is a bonus but I thought he had an identity, had the puck a lot, played the right way.”
After appearing in every postseason game for the Checkers last season, Giles had plenty to draw from as he enters his first proper pro campaign.
“It was good being [in Charlotte] for a little bit last year and getting to know [Kinnear] and how he likes the guys to play,” said Giles. “I’m just trying to emulate that and spread it throughout the room. Just working hard and playing his style.”
CATCHING EYESAfter strong performances to cap off the Showcase on Monday, two names who could be featured heavily in Charlotte jumped out.
One was Justin Sourdif, Florida’s third-round pick from 2020. A highly-touted prospect, the 20-year-old showed plenty of flashes over the course of the weekend that should have Panthers fans excited for his rookie campaign.
“Very good,” said Kinnear on Sourdif’s performance at the Showcase. “He’s dynamic, gritty, he wants the puck on his stick and wants to be a gamebreaker. We’re excited about him.”
The other was Ethan Keppen, an AHL-contracted forward who looked strong and connected with Sourdif for the Panthers’ lone goal on Sunday.
“I enjoyed his game throughout,” said Kinnear. “He played direct, held the puck, went to the blue paint. We’re excited about him.”
Sourdif will battle for a roster spot at NHL camp, but if he ends up starting the season in Charlotte he could be a force for the Checkers. Keppen will look to keep his positive impression going at the Checkers’ training camp and secure his spot on the opening night roster in the Queen City.
BIG PICTUREAs is the case with any of these rookie tournaments across the league, the final scores aren’t necessarily the main point of Florida’s time at the Prospect Showcase.
“We’re not just focused on the results,” said Kinnear. “There’s a big picture here. We want to build over the course of a long season.”
The work put in by these prospects over the last few days will set the stage as they ramp up for a new season.
“You want to enjoy these but there’s lots of work ahead of us to make sure we get better,” said Cesana.
“With camp and the games I’m just learning to pick up what I can and get better every day,” said Giles.
In the end, the combination of hard work off the ice and strong showings on it made the Prospect Showcase a positive outing for the Panthers prospects and a springboard to further growth.
“It’s about learning lessons along the way so you can win in the end,” said Kinnear. “Big picture I felt very appreciative of the work the kids put in. Proud of the work ethic and the compete. Overall very positive rookie tournament.”