Another cut came along today, and this time training camp surprise Mike Kostka was the victim. Not many predicted Kostka to stick with the Panthers as long as he did, and he didn't have too bad of a camp, playing in a lot of situations with a lot of different defensive partners throughout the preseason. That now leaves the Cats with seven defensemen on the roster: Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov, Jason Garrison, Keaton Ellerby and rookie Erik Gudbranson. The Panthers are expected to start the season with seven defensemen on the roster, which means another forward will likely be cut to bring the roster down under the maximum of 23.
A lot of fans seemed to be perplexed with Kostka's presence with the big club this far into the preseason. Lest we forget, folks: this new regime is intent on creating a very healthy atmosphere of competition for jobs. Perhaps Ellerby or Gudbranson needed that proverbial underdog nipping at their skate laces, pushing them to keep working hard else they may end up losing a top-six job on a vastly different Panthers club that needs them less than they need it. Maybe Kostka's play spoke to the coaching staff and he truly earned his extra time and extra looks in preseason games:
"He's just found a level of stability," Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's a little older, a college guy who's been in the pros for three years. His intelligence has been a strong point. He's got patience with the puck, so he's done a good job in training camp and has earned a longer look."
No one really knows but the Panthers coaching staff, but my guess is that it would be the former, especially for Gudbranson, who could be returned to juniors after the first nine games are up. Either way, the defensive roster seems to be set, and management and fans have to be happy with the depth. What will be truly interesting is to see which one of the seven will not regularly dress for the team. Or, and hopefully this is not the case, Gudbranson looks shaky through his nine games and is returned to juniors for another year, which wouldn't be a horrible situation, but could damage his confidence a bit.
Regardless, this is a very deep and talented top-six, no matter who starts.