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STILL HIGH ON PETRO: Panthers Have High Hopes for Young Defenseman

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Alex Petrovic was excited to get word he was being called back to the Panthers on Sunday night. His stay may have been short lived.

The 21-year-old defenseman filled in for Erik Gudbranson in Monday night's 6-1 loss to the visiting Lightning. On Tuesday he was sent back to San Antonio -- it may be just for Christmas or could be longer.

Although Petrovic wasn't singled out by coach Peter Horachek following Monday's loss, it appears he didn't do much to stand out from the crowd.

"I think all of our defensemen were bad,'' said Horachek, who coached Petrovic for the first month of this season at AHL San Antonio. "There was no one in a positive situation.''

A second round selection in a 2010 draft that also brought Gudbranson to the Panthers, Petrovic had a very successful final junior year with the Red Deer Rebels in 2011-12. Petrovic joined San Antonio for its playoff series at the end of that year then spent the majority of last season with the Rampage.

Petrovic played six games for the Panthers last year and the 21-year-old was thought to be a contender for a roster spot during training camp. Yet Petrovic didn't have a strong camp and was among the first sent to San Antonio.

"I didn't have a good camp at the start and that's what happens when you don't show up,'' he said. "I put that on myself. Hopefully I can prove myself different. I have to have good year here or in San Antonio .-.-. come back next year with a better effort.''

On Sunday night, after getting word Gudbranson was hurt, Petrovic was told to come back.

"I was ecstatic to get the call. It was a great Christmas present,'' Petrovic said.

Gudbranson underwent orbital bone surgery in Boca Raton on Monday and could be out for a month. With one of their top d-men missing, the Panthers need to find other options.

Petrovic very well could be it although the Panthers although they have depth at the position.

Florida could play Mike Mottau, who has been a healthy scratch for 13 of the past 14 games.

The Panthers could also recall veterans Matt Gilroy or Ryan Whitney. Colby Robak is also an option.

Petrovic, assistant general manager Mike Santos said, was called up based on his recent run of strong play.

"He's a work in progress and has played well lately,'' said Santos, who serves as GM of the Rampage. "He's still a young guy, only in his second year. He needs to get physically stronger to play the type of game he likes to play. He's a big kid but needs to fill in. I think once he does that, everything else will fall in for him.''

Said Horachek: "This was the right time for him to come up, although it was a bad situation to fall into.''

Making the full-time jump to the Panthers is the ultimate goal for Petrovic. It just may not come right now. The Panthers remain high on Petrovic and he figures in the future of the franchise.

Whether that continues through the weekend or not remains to be seen.

"They scored six goals and that's not something you ever want to see,'' Petrovic said of the Lightning. "There's no excuse whether you were just called up or not.''


The Panthers had a mixed bag of special teams play on Monday. Florida's lone goal came on the power play yet Tampa Bay broke things open in the second on a power play of its own.

It's tough to blame the penalty kill for the goal allowed Monday as the Panthers were playing two skaters down for an extended time. Florida's sloppy play during one shift led to a hooking penalty on Tom Gilbert while there were also too many skaters on the ice.

Tampa Bay's Val Filppula scored 8:01 into the second to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.

“Too many men on the ice plus a hooking call; We’ve got to be better at that on the bench,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said. "It shouldn’t happen. Being down two men for that length of time, it’s never good. If you kill it, you get that momentum, but we didn’t kill it and they scored on us and it was a little bit of a downer."

Florida's lone goal of the night came near the end of a first period power play when Aleksander Barkov picked off a soft clearing attempt from Matthew Carle and deftly slipped the puck to Sean Bergenheim who rifled a shot past Ben Bishop.

-- The Panthers return to the ice Friday at noon. The workout at the Coral Springs Iceplex is free and open to the public.