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Panthers Notebook: Mike Santorelli to Start Season as Florida's Second Center?

Santorelli2 The message from the beginning of Panthers training camp was that players who have a strong showing in workouts and in exhibition games will be rewarded.

Mike Santorelli may be proof of that.

It appears Santorelli is Florida's new second line center. The 25-year-old who was traded to Florida from Nashville during the summer was working on a line with Cory Stillman and Rostislav Olesz on Wednesday at BankAtlantic Center.

Steven Reinprecht was moved to left wing where he played alongside center Shawn Matthias and right winger Michael Grabner.

Florida isn't expected to make cuts until Sunday – following Saturday night's preseason finale in Tampa – but it looks like Santorelli is on the team.

“The key here is the desperation to play, and guys are going to have to be prepared to play different roles and in different spots,'' said coach Pete DeBoer. “[Santorelli] is definitely challenging for a job and has had a real good preseason so far. He deserves a continued look based on his play.''

Santorelli made the Predators opening night roster last season as a winger and only lasted in Nashville until January. Santorelli, playing mostly right wing, scored two goals with an assist in 25 games with the Predators and was returned to the minors where he finished the season.

“There's a lot of work to be done,'' said Santorelli, who has 74 goals and 171 points in three minor league seasons. “Last year was a great learning experience. I went home this summer to work on the things I thought I needed to. I'm putting those things to the test right now.''

Mike Santos, Florida's new assistant general manager, worked in Nashville the past few years and knew Santorelli didn't fit with the Predators plans. He helped broker the deal. Florida sent a conditional fifth round pick to the Preds.

“This is a guy we drafted in Nashville and was a top scorer in juniors, led the nation in goals at Northern Michigan and is a big-time scorer in the AHL,'' Santos said. “I've spent five years watching him so I know how talented he is. He fills a need for us. We need youth, speed and guys who can play center. He answers all three of those. .-.-. This is the type of guy who, given the right opportunity, could flourish with us.''

With Santorelli not starting with Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., the Panthers swung a deal with Washington on Wednesday and acquired veteran center Michael Nylander. The Capitals are loaning the soon-to-be 38-year-old to the Panthers and covering his $3 million salary.

Nylander remains Washington's property and will play for Rochester. Washington can recall Nylander whenever it pleases; Florida cannot.

“I recognized he might be loaned and it never hurts to ask. They said sure,'' said Santos.

Reinprecht said he has played wing in the past and added that he wasn't disappointed with the demotion. Reinprecht was traded to the Panthers last summer from Phoenix and signed a three-year contract extension with the team. He scored 16 goals with 22 assists as he played in all 82 games last season.

“It's no big deal, I've played wing in my career before and I'm comfortable there,'' said Reinprecht. “Wherever the team needs me, I'm willing to help out.''

Added Santos: “The message to Reinprecht is the same as it is to everyone else: No one is guaranteed a spot here. There's certainly a youth movement afoot. We're going with the best guys. There are some contractual issues, sure, but we're going with the best guys we can.''

-- Wingers Byron Bitz and Chris Higgins both missed Wednesday's practice with what DeBoer called minor injuries. Both could return for today's 10 a.m. practice and 11 a.m. scrimmage at the Coral Springs Iceplex.

-- The Panthers made seven cuts to their roster on Monday night and are currently at 29 players. Florida is expected to carry the full allotment of 23 players to start the season. Players who are waived would have to clear before the Panthers submit their opening night roster to the league on Wednesday.

Florida opens the season Oct. 10 in Edmonton and the Panthers expect to have their opening night team on the ice at Monday's morning practice.

At Coral Springs Iceplex (admission free)

Full squad practice, 10-11 a.m.; scrimmage 11-noon

Tampa Bay Lightning at Panthers (BankAtlantic Center), 7:30 p.m.