As we speculated this summer, it appears Nathan Horton will be moving to center at least on a tryout basis on Saturday.
That means those Sunrise Express (should have been Sawgrass Express IMHO) T-shirts you all bought last season will be collector's items.
Peter DeBoer floated the idea of moving Horton back to his natural position this summer when I met up with him in Kitchener, and at media day on Friday, said he was willing to try a number of different things. Horton moving from right wing to the pivot is one of them.
"We're going to look at all kinds of different options to try and get the best out of our team,'' DeBoer said. "I'm not married to any combinations or guys set at any positions.
"I wanted to come into this training camp with a clean slate for all the players. I don't want anyone to be dragging any baggage from the past into this camp. I don't want to be tainted by 'this guy only plays here.' We want to make sure we're a tough team to play against every night. To me, that means four lines playing with energy and competing and chipping in points every night. If that means moving some guys around, well, we're going to do that.''
Said Horton: "I haven't played [center] since junior, but it's a lot more fun when you can move around and go anywhere on the ice. You can help out more, have more responsibility. I think it'll be fun, but who knows what will happen. We'll see tomorrow, I guess.''
When asked if he welcomed the move, Horton sounded like he was cool with it. "Anyone would be,'' he said. "It's more responsibility and it gets you into the game a little more. You can go different places than you can at the wing.''
Added DeBoer: "I've had conversations with Nathan about it. He was a dominant centerman in junior, went head-to-head with [Eric] Staal night in and night out in junior. He usually came out on top. I've had that conversation with him. All the guys have the attitude that they're going to do what they have to do to find some success here as a team.''
Said JM: "You need a big center, and he fits the bill.''
Added Stephen Weiss: "He's such a good player, he can play anywhere you need him to. He's played center before, so it might take him a few games to get used to it, but he'll be fine.''
Said David Booth: "He's a great player and can play anywhere. Just a great athlete. Things change during the course of a year and you never know what's going to happen. We have a lot of good players, players who can play anywhere.''
Other notes from Friday's meet and greet:
-- On playing well from the start : "The starts here the past couple of years have been a concern. We all know how important it is to get off to a good start and get headed in the right direction.''
-- On his vision: "My concern is making us the hardest working team in the league. We want to play the right way, be a tough team to play against. If we play that way, success is going to come.''
-- On meeting his new players: "I think I have a feel for all the guys. I haven't had a chance to sit down and meet with everyone, but we're going on the road for quite a while here so I can sit with everyone through that span. The feedback is excitement. These guys are excited to be back. Anytime you miss the playoffs it's a long summer. As much as hockey players enjoy their summer, four or five months is too long. I think everyone would be happy with just two or three.
"They're excited about our direction, excited about the new players in the room. And so are we.''
-- Bringing in his style: "Players want honest and they want straightforwardness. They'll see early what I expect, what we want. They're going to get to buy into that early. There won't be an issue.''
-- Expectations: "We have a captive audience here. There isn't one guy who has been here in this organization who has played in the playoffs in seven years. .-.-. These guys want to be playing playoff hockey, want the direction that's going to take them to success at that time of year. We have to lay that foundation in training camp.''
-- On the new captain: "It's a topic of conversation, although it hasn't been that big a topic with the coaching staff that people out there may believe. We have so many other things to focus on right now. I now there is leadership in that room, I know there's depth of leadership in that room. If anything, there's going to be a group of guys not wearing a letter that probably could be.
"As far as the 'C' and 'As' go, we haven't had that conversation in any detail. I really wanted to come into camp with an open mind and let the chips sort themselves out. Usually those things become pretty clear pretty quickly. If they don't, well, I'm not in any rush. This is important decision for this franchise and we want to make sure we get the right guy.''
-- Younger players fitting in: "That's up to them. I've never been a coach who cut or kept players because of their age or experience. We want to win every night and if I feel Frolik or Matthias or any of the young guys can step in and help us win on night one of the season, they'll be in the lineup night one. If I don't think they can, they won't be.
"I'm not going to make those decisions based on age or experience. It's because I've found in the past that there are young guys who are ahead of the curve and can step right in. Some guys you think could, really couldn't. We'll see how it shakes out.''
-- On setting the right tempo: "It all starts tomorrow. Everyone is going come in and work hard. I think that's the main thing, getting it right from the start. Whatever happens in practice carries over into the games. We've talked about [digging a hole] a lot. We definitely need a good start. It's not easy when you fall behind from the beginning. It's a long season, but those wins count just as much as the ones at the end of the season.''
-- On not having Olli around: "Obviously he was my friend. He was a team leader and it'll be different. But the guys we brought in have leadership, guys like Stillman and McCabe and the list goes on. It''s exciting for me, I think it'll be exciting for everyone.''
-- Doing more: "I need to do more. The big thing is not taking nights off, and that comes from working. Practice means a lot and I'm going to do my best there. That should carry over. The nights we take off are the points we need at the end.''
-- Did leadership need to change?: "I think something needed to change. We have great guys here who are older guys and leaders. We have a good mix. We're all getting along, have been skating together for a month. It's been fun, and tomorrow is where it all starts.''
-- Fresh start with Pete: "I'm excited to play for him, and I think if you talk to a lot of guys, they are too. He knows a lot about the game and he'll be good for the Panthers and for everyone's career. He knows a lot and has a lot to teach.''
-- On cleaning house: "No matter where you're at, you're going to have ups and downs. I think we improved the character of our club so we can deal with situations, deal with times of frustrations and adversity better than we have in the past.''
-- On goals: "We have a nucleus of players who can take us to the playoffs. .-.-. Our goaltending is strong enough to make us a playoff team. Our defense now, I really believe it's good enough to make us a playoff team. Up front, we're still very young, but I think we have people who will produce. When I look at our roster, I see seven guys who could be 20 goal scorers if they stay healthy. We could get more production from the backend. It's going to take a lot of work, but we have better depth than we've had before and we still may need to add some dimension.''
-- Training camp: "We're going to have some great battles between the young kids. Matthias, Frolik, Repik for instance. Then you have another wave of guys like Stewart, Sprukts, Meyer, Glass. those could be players who earn a spot on our team. We have more compition within the team.''
-- On lines: "The good thing is, that's not my decision anymore.''
-- Expectations: "Don't single out Nathan. We're expecting more from a lot of people. People like Stephen Weiss, Rostislav Olesz, David Booth, Brett McLean. We signed Cory Stillman, Richard Zednik. There's probably seven individuals who could score 20 goals or more. I think it's time for those players to take a step forward.
-- Zednik moving forward: "Richard handled it very well. He had a lot of time to recover, and I think he's anxious to come back and start competing. When he got hurt, he was at the best -- with us, anyway. Hopefully he can regain that form quickly and help us win hockey games.''
-- How tough to make Panthers: "As a player, there's injuries and there are trades. If someone steps up and shows he deserves to play at this level, I'm sure we'll find the room.''
-- Jassen Cullimore coming back: "If you remember last year, we had eight defensemen at training camp, and by November, we had to reach out and sign Jassen. Sometime you don't have enough defensemen. We like Jassen, felt he performed well for us last year. Who knows what can happen in training camp. He's going to get a chance to prove to the new coach where he fits in. Hopefully after camp we have a contract for him.''
-- On returning from injury: "It's tough when you can't shoot the puck, that's one of your bread-and-butter things. There are other aspects you can work on, and I hope to contribute offensively. That's why they brought me out here. I'm going to put the puck in the net this year.''
-- Getting started: "I'm really excited, I get a fresh start here. New coach, lot of new teammates. I'm looking forward to helping out this club.''
-- On skating with his new teammates the past few weeks: "It's good to get guys in here early, that way you can feel comfortable together before camp starts. I think it's important to start building some chemistry. Look at Cory Stillman. We've been together a few weeks already. I haven't played in a game with him, but I feel like I know him a little bit. There's a comfort level there.
"When we're all sucking wind and bent over in the first practice, it'll help to know one another. It helps you learn one another.''
-- On the new Panthers: "I think we do need a fresh start around here. We haven't made the playoffs in eight years, and that's something we need to do down here. If we do it, we can get the fan base going. And we can do it. We can make a charge for the Stanley Cup. We have to keep talking about the Stanley Cup. That has to be a goal. That's why you play the game, to win. We have to talk about that every day.''
-- Quick start: "Come March and April, you find yourself looking back at games lost saying 'we had a two-goal lead.' We have to do that starting Oct. 10. We have to get going right now. We've seen how hard the guys have worked in the offseason, we just have to be ready to go from the start. We have to finish off teams, and when we're down, we have to fight to the finish.''
-- More on the new look: "I think we have a good team. The changes we made were good. There's definitely going to be a good vibe in the locker room, and everyone is on the same page right now. No one is better than anyone else. You have to prove yourself in training camp.''
-- Chemistry on the Sunrise Express: "It takes time to develop. That was fun. But those guys are great players and they're going to find success with whomever they play. They make the other players better. If we can get two or three lines going every night, producing -- even four lines -- that will help our team.''