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PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Say Hello to Quinton Howden, Latest to Make NHL Debut ... Weiss, Versteeg Still Out


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers are only five games into this season, yet they lead the league in NHL debuts.

Well, at least it seems that way.

Quinton Howden became the latest Florida player to play in his first NHL game as he joined the fray Saturday against the Flyers.

With Stephen Weiss out of the mix for the second straight game -- and Kris Versteeg still out -- coach Kevin Dineen put in the latest member of Florida's 2010 draft class into the lineup.

Of the three first-round picks in 2010, only center Nick Bjugstad (who stars at the University of Minnesota) hasn't made his NHL debut yet.

"I called my dad right away. He was pretty excited,'' said Howden, who was taken 25th in 2010 with the pick Florida acquired form Vancouver for defenseman Keith Ballard.

"I made sure I called my mom, my brothers and sisters as well. They've always been there for me. This is something I've always dreamed of but I've always had my family's support. This belongs to them as much as it does me.''

Dineen put Howden on a line with Drew Shore (who made his debut Tuesday in Montreal) and Scottie Upshall to start. Shore, in his first professional season, scored XX goals with XX assists in XX games at AHL San Antonio.

Defenseman Michael Caruso and winger Jonathan Huberdeau also made their NHL debuts in the past week.

"His No. 1 asset is his speed,'' Dineen said. "If he can come out and establish that, that it is part of his game, that's a good step. We've been talking about him, now we get to see him in action. He's still a work iin progress but he deserves his shot.''

-- Weiss was out for the third straight day with an undisclosed lower body injury. The top-line center practiced Thursday morning but then informed Dineen later that afternoon he couldn't play against the Senators. Weiss missed two games in all of last season.

Weiss hasn't been himself this season leading to speculation he may have been playing hurt. Weiss, who had 57 points last year, had one assist and wasn't credited with a single shot on goal in Florida's first three games.

"He had been a little tender for a couple days,'' Dineen said. "You always test how you feel and if it's heading in the right direction, I don't think it was. He needed to step back and start feeling healthy.''

-- Versteeg (groin) worked out Saturday and had an extended practice after the morning skate. Florida is not expected to practice Sunday but will Monday before Tuesday's game at Tampa. Versteeg missed his fifth game on Saturday.

"We have to be careful with him because he heart is telling him one thing,'' Dineen said. "We need to get over this hump of early season injuries and make sure guys are prepared to go instead of not firing on all pistons.''

-- Defenseman Mike Caruso will not need surgery on his injured wrist and says he'll be in a cast for the next five to six weeks.

Caruso was injured when he was checked into the boards last Tuesday in Montreal. Caruso said this is his first real injury of his career; it came in his second NHL game.

The good news for Caruso is that the injury came in an NHL game, which means he will be paid NHL money during his rehabilitation.

-- The Panthers scratched center Mike Santorelli and defenseman Tyson Strachan on Saturday.