Sam Bennett is back in the Florida Panthers’ lineup.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice said Bennett, the team’s primary second-line center, will draw into Florida’s lineup for its 1 p.m. Sunday game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amerant Bank Arena.
Bennett will return to his normal spot with Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk on the wings. That moves Anton Lundell to third-line center, Kevin Stenlund to fourth-line center and Steven Lorentz to fourth-line right wing. William Lockwood will be a healthy scratch. Florida loaned forward Rasmus Asplund to the Charlotte Checkers to open a roster spot for Bennett.
“You get a big man in the middle and there’s an identity there,” Maurice said pregame Sunday. “He’s heavy and hearty. He can get to their D, so there’s the physicality he brings, but he’s just such a complement to whoever we play him with. He’ll play with Verhaeghe and that’s all speed so he can match that speed. And what Matthew does so incredibly well is find the holes in and around [the net] because he controls the puck so well. He kind of allows both wingers to bring out what they’re great at.”
Bennett made his season debut on Oct. 30 against the Boston Bruins after dealing with a lower-body injury he sustained at the end of the preseason but left the game in the second period after Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindolhm landed awkwardly on Bennett’s left leg near Boston’s net. Bennett had to be helped off the ice.
Bennett was on the ice during the Panthers’ morning skate on Friday before Florida’s 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes — his first time on the ice in a team setting since that Boston game — and also was a full participant in practice Saturday. Maurice said after practice Saturday that Bennett was “close” to a return but needed to be cleared by the medical staff before drawing into the lineup.
One day later, Bennett is ready to go.
Florida Panthers projected lineup
Evan Rodrigues - Aleksander Barkov - Sam Reinhart
Carter Verhaeghe - Sam Bennett - Matthew Tkachuk
Eetu Luostarinen - Anton Lundell - Nick Cousins
Ryan Lomberg - Kevin Stenlund - Steven Lorentz
Gustav Forsling - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Niko Mikkola - Dmitry Kulikov
Josh Mahura - Uvis Balinskis