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PANTHERS-PREDS NOTES: Barkov/Jones Rivalry Kicks Off ... Upshall Benched as Bjugstad Returns

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NASHVILLE -- The focus of Tuesday's game was not of two struggling sun belt teams trying to find their way this season but of the matchup of budding stars.

Florida held the second overall pick in last June's NHL draft and skipped Seth Jones -- the top ranked defenseman available -- and took Aleksander Barkov instead.

Nashville had planned on taking Barkov with the fourth pick but gladly took Jones when the Panthers and Lightning didn't. Jones said at the draft that he "wanted to prove them wrong" and Tuesday was his first shot at the Panthers.

Neither Jones nor Barkov scored, although Jones got an assist on Nashville's second goal. Both were on the ice together for much of the night as Jones was on for 15 of Barkov's 21 shifts.

"It's cool to see the second and fourth picks out there,'' said Jonathan Huberdeau, the NHL's reigning rookie of the year. "Seth Jones is already a good defenseman and we know the skill Barkov has. It's nice to see them battle. They'll be doing that for years.''

-- The Panthers sat veteran winger Scottie Upshall Tuesday as center Nick Bjugstad played in his first game of the season.

Upshall had an assist in Florida's season-opening win at Dallas but is minus-6 since. Upshall, who makes $3.5 million, is signed through next season and has six goals in 59 games with the Panthers.

"I'm just trying to put the best players I can on the ice,'' coach Kevin Dineen said, "to give us the best opportunity to win. That's all that was.''

-- Bjugstad jumped back into the lineup after having just one full practice with the team. Bjugstad missed all of training camp after suffering a concussion Sept. 8. Florida's offensive concerns all but necessitated Bjugstad's quick return. It was thought he would start the season in the minors.

"He was fine,'' Dineen said. "He hasn't played a real game in months and I thought he stepped in and did a solid job.''

With Bjugstad at center, Shawn Matthias moved over to right wing on the third line.

-- John Madden, a center on Florida's division championship team two years ago, worked with the centers during Tuesday's morning skate. Madden is currently a pro scout for the Panthers after working in Montreal's front office last season.

-- After playing five of the first seven games away from South Florida, the Panthers now come home to bask in the sun for the next few weeks.

Florida's upcoming six-game homestand is its longest of the season as the team doesn't play on the road again until visiting Washington on Nov. 2. The Panthers open their long homestand Thursday against Boston.

"Maybe that's what we need to get going,'' Marcel Goc said.

Florida is 1-1-0 at home this year.