Report from Helsinki: Groin issue keeps Weiss out of Panthers practice

September, 30, 2009

HELSINKI -- The Florida Panthers hope to have their No. 1 center in the lineup Friday to open their regular season.

Stephen Weiss developed a minor groin problem during Monday's preseason game in Tampere, Finland, and was also held out of practice today at Hartwall Arena.

"He also has a bit of the flu, which is going around," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said after his team's pregame skate Wednesday. "It started with the coaching staff and now is making itself through the players. But I'm still confident about Friday. It's day to day."

Forward Gregory Campbell (hip flexor) got the green light to play in tonight's preseason finale with Jokerit, but defensemen Keith Ballard (groin) and Bryan Allen (knee) will be held out along with Weiss.

"I think if the regular season started tonight, Weiss, Campbell, Ballard and Allen would all play," said DeBoer. "The priority is to get them ready for Friday."

The Chicago Blackhawks arrived to Helsinki from Switzerland today, but did not practice. The players were given the day off to relax, which is another way of saying they were unavailable to the media. We'll get a chance to catch up with the popular Western Conference team tomorrow.

Keeping the kid
As posted yesterday, 18-year-old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is sticking with the big club after signing an entry-level deal. He's made a fan out of Panthers coach Peter DeBoer.

"You know what, he's been real impressive," said DeBoer. "I saw him in the Memorial Cup last year on TV, he jumped out at you at that point. When we were fortunate enough to get him, I was told by people around hockey that he was one of the most ready guys in the draft to step in. And you can see why.

"He's mature beyond his years. He's got a real confidence to him, which is critical for a young defenseman. It's unwavering. He'll make a mistake and he has no fear of going back out there the next shift and trying things again. That type of confidence, you have to have that if you're going to try and step into this league at 18, 19 years old, especially as a defenseman."

Kulikov was the 14th overall pick three months ago in Montreal. He's made the team, but now it remains to be seen whether he'll pass the magical nine-game hurdle or be sent back to junior in Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"Now he's got nine games to prove he can handle the next test, and the next test is NHL regular-season hockey," said DeBoer. "Exhibition games are a version of American League hockey. There's another level that it goes to on Friday night and I'm excited to see what he can do."

My personal take on 18-year-old NHL rookies? You better be darn sure he can make that much of a difference in your lineup, like Drew Doughty did last season in Los Angeles. Otherwise, you're wasting a year on the CBA clock. A player is eligible for unrestricted free agency after seven years' service, meaning you could have a 25-year-old UFA on your hands if you start a guy at 18 (see: Jay Bouwmeester). But if Kulikov really makes that much of an impact, I've got no issues with it.

Preseason trek
The Panthers can finally put a busy preseason behind them. Tonight is their ninth and final preseason game -- all played in nine different cities in three countries. It started Sept. 15 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, followed by games in Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Dallas, Sunrise, Fla., Tampere and tonight in Helsinki. Give this team a breather!

"We planned our full preseason before we knew we were coming here," said Panthers GM Randy Sexton. "All seven games were locked in. Then this opportunity came up, we polled three or four of our players, and they were really excited about it. So we said, 'OK, let's do it.' Then we went back to a couple of teams we had preseason games with to see if we can alter a few things, but it was a no-go. And that's OK; we made a commitment to them. So our schedule is a little busier than you'd normally like."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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