Henrik Borgstrom wants to be part of the group that gets the Florida Panthers back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing them the previous two seasons, but the 21-year-old forward said he understands a roster spot in 2018-19 will not be handed to him.
“It’s nice to have to battle for it and see how I’m going to do, but I think the team looks really good,” Borgstrom said at the NHL Players’ Association Rookie Showcase on Sunday. “We’re going to have a good team, that’s for sure.”
Borgstrom, selected by the Panthers with the No. 23 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, scored one goal in four NHL games after he signed a three-year, entry-level contract March 26 following his sophomore season at the University of Denver.
“I think it helped a lot,” he said of his late-season games. “I knew my weak spots, and I still know them, but it really helped show me what I needed to get better at. It helped me to see the level I need to get to playing against tough guys. It kind of taught me how to get prepared for the new season.”
Borgstrom hopes to join a Panthers core that includes centers Aleksander Barkov, whose 78 points (27 goals, 51 assists) last season were the most on Florida, and Vincent Trocheck, whose 31 goals led the Panthers. Barkov and Trocheck, along with defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Jonathan Huberdeauand Nick Bjugstad, helped the Panthers to 25 wins after the All-Star break, the most in the NHL. Florida finished with 96 points, one behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
“All of those guys, Barkov, Trocheck, Ekblad, they’re all top players in the League,” said Borgstrom, who is from Finland. “It was nice to see them play in the span of those four games, just to learn and see how real professionals are handling their stuff. I was trying to look up to Barkov because he’s Finnish and he’s a big centerman, maybe not as lanky as me. It’s good to kind of study how he plays the game, how he uses his size. There’s lots of stuff I need to get better at, and in Florida there are good players to look up to for sure.”
Borgstrom said his confidence is higher heading into training camp this season because of the NHL experience he gained.
“It will be easier just go through all the training camp stuff and get to know the guys and the systems,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy … but a little more comfortable for me.”
Two of the four games Borgstrom played came when the Panthers still were in contention for a playoff berth, which he said added to his nerves.
“My mindset was just try not to make any mistakes and I didn’t want to be the guy who ruins the chances,” Borgstrom said. “It was tough to play those four games. I didn’t know the system very well. But at the same time it was so cool and an unreal feeling. It was a pretty hard spot to hop into because we were still battling for a playoff spot.”
With their young core bolstered by the addition of forward Mike Hoffman, a four-time 20-goal scorer with the Ottawa Senators who was acquired in a trade from the San Jose Sharks on June 19, Borgstrom sees no reason why the playoffs would be out of the question.
“For sure (we can make the playoffs), last year was so close,” Borgstrom said. “We had 96 points, which was the most points by a team who didn’t make the playoffs. Seeing all the guys coming back, the whole core is still the same, it should be very exciting this season.”