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Panthers will have their eyes on goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom during rookie camp

Sep 10, 2011, 5:56 PM EDT

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Jacob Markstrom AP

The Florida Panthers made a lot of questionable moves during their summer of radical change. Yet if you ask me, the worst alteration happened in net. The Panthers’ best option in net was the guy who was already there.

The Panthers would probably agree with that last statement, the only thing is that they might not see eye-to-eye with me about who that person is. My feeling is that Florida should have brought Tomas Vokoun back into the mix since they had a ton of money to spend and the Czech-born goalie accepted a one-year contract with Washington. The Panthers brass were likely hoping that a different holdover would be their starter (or at least in their goalie rotation) next season: top prospect Jacob Markstrom.

Unfortunately their plans were put on hold when Markstrom underwent knee surgery in February, which will probably put his full-time NHL plans on hold until 2012-13. (Of course, these situations are always fluid; one injury to Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen could open the door for Markstrom to become this year’s Sergei Bobrovsky or Michal Neuvirth.)

The Panthers’ suddenly deep pool of prospects began their rookie camp on Saturday, with top picks such as big defenseman Erik Gudbranson (third overall in 2010) and rising center Jonathan Huberdau (third overall in 2011) among those on display. While George Richards nods to Gudbranson as the most likely guy to make the jump to the NHL next season, he reports that GM Dale Tallon & Co. will keep a watchful eye on Markstrom.

One person the Panthers will be keeping their eyes on is goalie Jacob Markstrom. The 21-year-old made his NHL debut with the Panthers in New Jersey last January, but sustained a season-ending knee injury a few weeks later while playing for Florida’s then-AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.

With Scott Clemmensen and Jose Theodore under contract, Markstrom is expected to start the season with Florida’s new farm club in San Antonio.

“This is what you’ve worked for all summer. I’m definitely excited,” Markstrom said. “I can’t wait for the games to start. I’ve been 100 percent with the knee for about a month. It hasn’t felt this good in a long time. I don’t think about it at all when I practice. You don’t want that in the back of your head.”

Theodore’s numbers have been pretty solid during the last two seasons, so he should have a solid hold on the starting job for at least the first campaign of his two-year deal with Florida. Clemmensen is quietly putting up respectable backup numbers, as well, but neither goalie seems like the type you would want to depend on too heavily. Barring some outstanding play, they could probably be seen as stopgap solutions while Markstrom (hopefully) comes into his own.

Markstrom is still young at 21, but the Panthers probably want to see him make the big time in the near future. This weekend could mark another step in that process.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

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