Panthers’ Opening Night roster taking shape

Cats almost set to go in 2017-18

With the preseason process almost over, the Florida Panthers' 2017-18 roster is beginning to take shape.

After their fourth preseason contest on Tuesday night, the Panthers made their second round of roster cuts, reducing the roster from 32 to 29. The roster needs to shrink to 23 before Florida's first regular season game in Tampa Bay on October 6. Gone in this round of cuts are Sebastian Repo, Maxim Mamin, and Jayce Hawryluk. These departures bring the Opening Night roster a bit closer to solidification and give us a pretty good idea as to how the Panthers will line up against their interstate rivals next week on the Gulf Coast. Here are as few things we can surmise as a result of these cuts.

1. Jared McCann will make the team

With his biggest competition, Mamin and Repo, gone, Jared McCann seems a lock to make the roster, especially after last night. McCann went up against most of the Lightning's starting roster and recorded a hat trick. It was a great night for McCann who was around the net all game long, allowing him to become the beneficiary of two rebound goals and he also scored a beautiful breakaway goal in which he came in from the right wing, faked to Vasilevskiy's stick side then went back glove. He was also good in the faceoff circle where he won most of his draws.

McCann’s gotten most of his work at center this preseason which could point to Boughner thinking about moving Nick Bjugstad back to right wing on the third line with McCann in the middle. While he is more of a natural center than winger, the most likely scenario is he fills the void at left wing on the second or third lines. McCann doesn't have a flashy stick, but he is a puck-moving distributor who has a knack for finding holes on the ice. He's a quick skater who would advantageously offset the lack of speed between McGinn and Bjugstad on the third line, but he could also rack up helpers feeding Vincent Trocheck. McCann is also an active forechecker who, despite his limited 6'0, 198 pound size, can get a bit feisty at times, evidenced by his 55 PIMs in Springfield last year. The former Canuck needs to be a bit more disciplined defensively, and while he probably won't ever be a 30+ goal-scorer, McCann's crisp passes and nose for the net could make him a 50+ points guy, provided he's paired with the right linemates.

2. Denis Malgin will probably make the team

Though he is still technically battling with Brandon Pirri, Malgin, who has performed much better than his older counterpart, will likely make the roster at 3 RW. The 20-year-old Malgin is a tiny 5'9", 175 pound purely offensive forward who, like McCann, isn't going to wow you with stick skills,  is tough on the puck, especially for his size and more than quick. He makes good decisions with the biscuit and has good playmaking abilities. His shot is accurate but still a bit immature, best suiting him for a bottom six role as he fills all the way out. He's also looked improved on faceoffs in camp. Expect him to flank Bjugstad and McGinn at 3RW.

3. Connor Brickley should make the roster

Hard work pays off and here's your proof. After coming into camp as a long shot at best to make the team, Brickley is on the verge of suiting up for the Cats on Opening Night. If Brickley does indeed make it, it will be his second time making the club out of training camp. He did it for the first time in 2015. The 25-year-old is a solid two-way forward who grits out possession by winning board battles and forechecking hard. He's also spent some good time on the PK in his minor-league career. Brickley's best asset is his speed, which has been on full display this preseason as he's scored three goals and helped out on two others. It's a testament to Brickley's tenacity and drive that he has been able to come out of nowhere and potentially make this club after a clock-cleaning fight with Nick Seeler forced him to miss almost a month of action in the AHL last year. Brickley isn’t flashy, but what he lacks in that department he makes up for by getting his hands dirty and jumping on greasy chances, the perfect background for a bottom-six grinder. Look for Brickley to share time with Michael Haley on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Colton Sceviour. He could also get a shot with Bjugstad and Malgin on the third line if Jame McGinn remains out for an extended period of time.

With one game left in preseason and one more round of cuts still left to be made, here is how I envision the Panthers lining up next week in Tampa.

Huberdeau / Barkov / Dadonov

McCann / Trocheck / Vrbata

McGinn / Bjugstad / Malgin

Brickely or Haley / MacKenzie / Sceviour

Matheson / Ekblad

Yandle / Petrovic

McCoshen / Pysyk