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Late Bloomer No More

Thursday, 09.10.2009 / 3:57 PM ET / News
Florida Panthers
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Late Bloomer No More
Jason Garrison (Getty Images)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
CORAL SPRINGS – The term ‘late bloomer’ was used at one time to describe Panthers rookie defenseman Jason Garrison. But the term being used more and more these days to describe the 24-year-old is ‘prospect.’

Garrison, signed as an undrafted free agent in April of 2008, was impressive during the Panthers rookie training camp here at incredible ICE which concluded Thursday. Now, the native of White Rock, British Columbia, is hoping his strong performance here at rookie camp will spill over to the Panthers official training camp, which kicks off Saturday with physicals and Sunday on the ice in Nova Scotia.

“I think I’m ready, absolutely,” said the 6-1, 220-pound Garrison when asked if he was ready to play regularly in the NHL. “I just have to come out here and prove myself. I want to keep learning to get to the NHL level.”

Born in a small seaside community approximately 30 miles from Vancouver, Garrison earned a spot on the University of Minnesota-Duluth squad after posting 62 points in 57 games in 2004-05 playing for the Nanaimo Clippers of the British Columbia Hockey League. But it took some time for Garrison’s career to take flight.

“I was a late bloomer,” he admitted earlier this week after practice. “I didn’t play juniors until my 19-year-old year. I just tried working hard and developing my game. I was able to make the jump when I had the opportunity to go to college, but my second year I had a couple injuries and surgeries and that didn’t go over too well.”

After undergoing hernia surgery some 20 games into his second season in Duluth – and after having missed most of training camp after having his tonsils removed – Garrison was having a breakout year his junior season at Duluth before injuring his right leg Feb. 1 against Wisconsin. Prior to the injury, Garrison was tied for first on the team in scoring and was leading the team in assists. He also shared the WCHA goal-scoring lead among defensemen. Despite the late-season injury, Garrison was still recipient of the team’s Fan Favorite Award for 2007-08 and closed out the year with 14 points and a plus-seven rating.

No wonder Garrison gained the attention of scouts, including those of the Panthers.

“When we started to watch him play it was clear this guy had a real shot of playing in the NHL,” said Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton. “He’s a hard worker, has a great attitude, clearly skates well and shoots the puck like a pro. We’d like to see him be more aggressive physically, and we think that will come as he gets more comfortable and builds his confidence.

“Off the ice he’s very smart, articulate. He’s one of those guys who, sometimes you don’t know, if he fully understands how good he can be." 

Although Garrison played one game with the Panthers last season – he played 11:57 Oct. 25 in St. Louis – he spent his first season in professional hockey at the Panthers American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., where he finished fourth in scoring with 35 points (eight goals) in 75 games. Garrison said the season was “learning what professional hockey is all about.”

“There’s highs and lows and they come and go either real quick or slow, and as a player the game is definitely different at each level,” he said. “You just try and get your game where it needs to be at each level and keep developing so you can get to the next level.

“I know it’s been said about me that I have to get more aggressive, and that’s what I need to do. I have to take that part of the game and mold it into the other things I do well and just become more of a complete player.”

And Garrison appears to be on the cusp of making that happen.
Rookie camp ended Thursday and coach Peter DeBoer and assistant GM Randy Sexton were happy with the organization’s depth of quality and quantity. DeBoer reiterated Thursday there’ll be plenty of competition when training camp opens, especially on the blue line.
The Panthers will go to camp with more than a dozen defensemen, including Bryan Allen, Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard, Jordan Leopold, Ville Koistinen, Clay Wilson, rookies Dmitry Kulikov, Garrison, Keaton Ellerby, and training camp invitees Martin Skoula and Christian Backman.
DeBoer said of the rookies: “(Ellerby) looks bigger and stronger than he did a year ago, and Jason actually looks leaner. He came in at least 10 pounds lighter than he finished the season last year. Both those guys look more confident.”
“I think when you come in here as a first, second year player there’s always a learning curve and you tend to sit and watch instead of being proactive,” he added. “You can see those guys now, along with (forwards) Shawn Matthias and (Michal) Repik, feel more comfortable. I think they’re going to come in and push for jobs.”
DeBoer said he liked what he saw from Kulikov, the Panthers first-round pick (14th overall) this summer, but wouldn’t say if he was ready to make the NHL roster.
“You can see he’s a confident player,” he said. “He has a little bit of a swagger to his game. He’s strong, makes good decisions with the puck, shoots the puck hard. There’s a lot to like, but it’s too premature. We have to get him on the ice with the NHL players and through some games before we make those decisions.”
The rookies get a day off before the team leaves Saturday for Nova Scotia and training camp. Some of the team’s veterans plan to skate Friday at incredible ICE one more time before hitting the road…DeBoer reiterated he expects to name a captain sometime after training camp…




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

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