CHICAGO – Tyler Plante has heard all the talk surrounding Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers 'goalie of the future.'
Plante may just become the team's 'goalie of the meantime.'
If Tomas Vokoun doesn't return to the Panthers next season – he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1 – Florida could look at having a combination of Scott Clemmensen and Plante in net next season. Of course, with over $30 million to spend just to get to the salary cap floor, the Panthers have plenty of money to throw at Vokoun – or another starting caliber goalie.
Plante would like the chance – and feels his strong play in Rochester the past two seasons has helped his cause. Plante, a second round pick by Florida in 2005, has made saves on 91 percent of shots faced in each of the past two years in the AHL.
“It's been an up-and-down year, I had some injuries early on and didn't get off to the start I wanted,'' Plante said Tuesday night, hours after he was called up from Rochester after Clemmensen suffered a minor knee injury. “I'm just pushing forward, trying to end as strong as I can. I think I've been solid this year, feel like I've showed consistency and an ability to win games. I just have to keep showing that.''
Plante hasn't received any of the hype that Markstrom has, with the Panthers putting plenty of hope that the 31st overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft will take over in net sometime down the road.
Markstrom, just 21, looks like he's going to need at least another year in the minors to develop his game.
Markstrom struggled early on in his first North American professional season with the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., before suffering a knee injury in February that ended up requiring surgery. Markstrom did play better after a rough start, with Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas crediting Plante's guidance for some of that.
“Tyler has been very patient,'' Tallas said of the 23-year-old Plante. “We were honest with him when we signed Jacob and told him we were going to give him every opportunity to play this season. He became a leader and helped [Markstrom] but never lost that edge, that will to play. He's a lot more mature than when he first came in and thought it would be easy. When he's had opportunities, he's made the most of them.''
Plante was called up last season when Vokoun shut things down early when his back tightened up, only unlike Markstrom and Alexander Salak, Plante has yet to make his NHL debut.
Salak, whom Plante replaced in Rochester last year and carried the team into the postseason, backed up Vokoun early in the 2009-10 season when Clemmensen had to return to Iowa because of family issues. Salak replaced Vokoun during a game at Carolina and has since been traded to the Blackhawks. Markstrom came up for one game in January and took over for Clemmensen for the final 40 minutes of a loss to New Jersey.
Plante wouldn't mind making that next step and could have started Wednesday night against Chicago. But with Vokoun looking outstanding in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday – and his record against the Blackhawks – he was given another start.
If Clemmensen's knee feels better on Thursday, Plante would fly with the team to Buffalo and then report back to Rochester.
“Every goalie wants to play, and I'm here for the guys,'' Plante said. “If I don't play, I'll try to be good in the room, do everything I can in practice to help them get better.''
-- Center Stephen Weiss missed his second straight game with what coach Pete DeBoer said was a leg injury, adding that it didn't have anything to do with Weiss' knee.
-- The Panthers returned winger Patrick Rissmiller to Rochester on Wednesday after determining that the team's forward lines – save for Weiss – were healthy after Tuesday's game in New York. Florida got forwards Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias back on Tuesday.
-- Florida is scheduled to practice in Chicago on Thursday morning before resuming their road trip by traveling to Buffalo. The Panthers visit the playoff-hopeful Sabres on Friday night at HSBC Arena.
Is Tyler Plante the Panthers 'Goalie of Next Year?' ... Stephen Weiss OUT for Second Game ... Patrick Rissmiller to Rochester