After sitting out the last three games to nurse his ailing wrist, Panthers’ rookie forward Drew Shore is reportedly set to return to the lineup on Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets. However, much like Odysseus returning to Ithaca after the Trojan War, Shore’s surroundings in Florida will be very different than he remembers.
Having already lost his top-line spot to the inspired play of fellow center Shawn Matthias, Shore had been trying to find a new fit in the Panthers’ lineup prior to suffering his injury. While Shore has shown that the talent to anchor one the team’s top 2 lines for the remainder of the season, the landscape of the Panthers’ has undergone some crucial change since his departure.
Since Shore’s injury, the Panthers’ have seen an offensive resurgence through the play of of their top two scoring lines. While Shore had already lost his top-line spot to Shawn Matthias, the chemistry and offensive play of the team’s second line (Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, and Tomas Fleischmann) may very well keep him out of a top-six forward spot for the remainder of the season. Although Shore is a gifted center, the team will be hesitant to derail the recent success they have seen with their current scoring lines.
Also during Shore’s time out of the lineup, the Panthers’ signed top-center prospect Nick Bjugstad to an entry-level deal, thus adding another quality center to the roster. Sadly for Shore, the much heralded arrival of Bjugstad could also have some effect on where he is slated in the lineup for the remaining 9 games this season. While Bjugstad hardly has as much NHL experience as Shore, the team will most likely want to give him some time as the team’s 3rd line center in order to better evaluate him heading into the upcoming offseason. In order for Bjugstad’s play to be properly dissected, the team must put him in a position to succeed. Although a rookie skater like Shore also deserves to be given the same opportunities, the skill and talent he showed earlier in the season should already be enough for the team to know what they have in the promising young center.
So now the question is what can we accept Shore to accomplish given his new surroundings?
Given that Shore will most likely be centering players like Jack Skille, George Parros and Scottie Upshall for most of the home stretch , he will hardly get the same offensive opportunities that he had while playing alongside playmaker Jonathan Huberdeau. However, that doesn’t mean that Shore won’t be valuable and effective in his new role. With the loss of Jerred Smithson at the trade deadline, Shore’s ability to win face-offs as well as his contributions to the team’s penalty killing unit will now be an invaluable assets to the club.
In an interview with Shore prior to his injury, he was very adamant about breaking out of the scoring slump that he found himself in prior to being injured.
“I just want to offensively get going, it’s been pretty frustrating offensively,” Shore said of his offensive struggles. “I started off the year in the American League really good offensively and (then) came here and haven’t really hit full stride yet. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on and hopefully it’s something I can focus on over the last month.”
Although Shore will not have the same offensively gifted line mates that he is accustomed to, fans should still expect to see Shore have a return to form over the next few weeks. While he may no longer be in the center of the action, Shore’s numerous talents and willingness to shoot the puck should pay dividends during the final weeks of the season.
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