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Florida Panthers Send Jacob Markstrom to AHL San Antonio, Recall Scott Clemmensen

Markstrom (2)Jacob Markstrom's NHL career was put on the fast-track in September. Florida's so-called 'Goalie of the Future' was slated to start the season in the minors.

With Scott Clemmensen needing minor knee surgery, the 21-year-old instead stayed with the Panthers as Jose Theodore's backup.

Markstrom played so well, it was thought he may never find his way to the minors.

Well, on Monday, he did.

With Clemmensen's knee healed, Markstrom lost out on the numbers game and was assigned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Markstrom's play warranted a spot on the Panthers roster, although general manager Dale Tallon didn't want to keep three goalies and Clemmensen is a veteran making $1.5 million through the end of this season.

The next time Markstrom plays for the Panthers, Tallon says, it's probably for keeps.

"When Jacob comes back,'' Tallon said, “he'll probably be back forever, as far as knowing that he has the ability to play."

Clemmensen will join the Panthers in Toronto and could play on this abbreviated road trip that sees the Panthers play the Maple Leafs Tuesday and in Winnipeg on Thursday. On Saturday, Clemmensen saw game action for the first time since the preseason and stopped 32 of 33 shots to help end San Antonio's four game losing streak. 

Markstrom, meanwhile, went 2-2-1 with a 2.05 GAA and made 94 percent of his saves. His biggest moment came on Oct. 24 when he stopped 40 of 41 shots as the Panthers won 2-1 at Montreal.

On Oct. 18, Markstrom made his first career NHL start at Washington, stopping 29 of 31 shots in a 3-0 loss. A few days later, he got his first NHL win in relief of Theodore, stopping all 18 shots faced in the third period. 

“He showed his true worth in training camp, showed his true worth in the games he played,'' Tallon said. “We have a bright prospect with a great future ahead. That's what we're all about. [Goalie] is a position where you can lose your confidence in a hurry then never bounce back. We're being cautious here and conservative in his development"

With Tyler Plante demoted to Florida's ECHL team in Cincinnati, Markstrom becomes San Antonio's starting goalie with Brian Foster backing up.

Even had Markstrom stayed, he wouldn't get the playing time he'll now get with the Rampage. And that's important.

Markstrom's first professional season was cut short last year as he suffered a knee injury in February. In San Antonio, he'll get big minutes. His Rampage debut will likely come Thursday in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena. 

"It's based on long term, it's based on where we're headed and based on numbers," Tallon told the South Florida media on a conference call Monday morning. “We can't have him sitting around playing once every two weeks. We want him playing a lot. We know he can play and we know where we're headed with him. .-.-. We want Jacob to be a number one. He's got to play number one minutes. That's where we're at.''

The thought of Markstrom heading to the minors has been a reality since Clemmensen joined the Panthers for Monday's morning skate. It was Clemmensen's first practice with his teammates since training camp and although the Panthers could move the 34-year-old, they had few suitors until Clemmensen actually plays. 

“I came off a long summer, there were a lot of changes here and excitement was building,'' Clemmensen said Wednesday after he learned he was off to Texas for a brief rehabilitation assignment. 

“And then a week into training camp I get hurt. My season has been delayed by about five weeks so I'm excited to get it going. I want to be a part of this thing. I need some game time and see some game situations.'' 

Markstrom started Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots. He also stopped two of three shots in the shootout with Patrick Kane winning the game for Chicago on the third shot of the session. 

News of Markstrom's possible – and then official – move to the AHL was met with skepicism by many fans on various social media outlets. 

Markstrom himself went to Twitter to express his desire to keep up his strong play with the Rampage. 
“I'm heading out to San Antonio,'' Markstrom wrote, “and can't wait to see all the boys and start."

Although Markstrom obviously wanted to stay with the Panthers – “who wouldn't?'' Tallon said – he was upbeat after meeting with Tallon and being given the news. Goalie coach Robb Tallas said Markstrom knew this day was coming. After all, Tallon said, had Clemmensen not gotten hurt in the first place, “he would have been there six weeks ago.''

Tallon, as usual, did not let popular opinion cloud his decision. The Panthers have a number of top prospects in the system and Tallon doesn't want them thrown into the fire too quickly. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick in 2010, played with his junior team last season despite a strong training camp. Forward Jonathan Huberdeau, third overall in 2011, was sent back despite leading the Panthers with three goals this past preseason.

"This isn't a popularity contest," Tallon said. "This is about producing players for the long term. We want this guy to be our goalie of the future. We want to make sure he's handled right. We want him to be ready to handle the load at the right time. With him and Gudbranson and Huberdeau, we 're going to be cautious with them all. We want to be sure they're ready and that we don't ruin them. The fans should look and see how bright our future looks."

TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT MAPLE LEAFS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Toronto leads 29-20-7

The game: The Maple Leafs looked much improved over previous versions as they have taken 19 of their first 28 available points as they vie for their first playoff spot since 2004. Toronto and Florida are the only teams in the NHL to not make the playoffs since the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. Florida has lost three straight – all in shootouts – but is 3-1-3 in its past seven. 

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