He rarely plays, but here’s how one Florida Panthers player still leaves his mark

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Almost every Florida Panthers practice starts out the same way.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky skates onto the ice, raises his arms as he glides from one side to the other and starts warming up before settling into his crease.

A few moments later, forward Steven Lorentz is the first skater to join Bobrovsky, and the initial conversation sets the tone.

“Bob-o!” Lorentz shouts.

“Steve-o!” Bobrovsky answers.

And then, for the next few minutes, the two prepare together as the rest of the team trickles onto the ice. Lorentz takes shot after shot on Bobrovsky, getting the three-time All-Star and two-time Vezina Award-winning goaltender loose for the hour or so of practice that is about to ensue.

“I don’t like being that fanboy, but I remember watching him as a young guy obviously doing so well,” Lorentz said. “And now that I get a chance to play with him, he’s such a great guy, a good human being, very down to earth and humble. He treats every guy like he’s a good old friend. He’s got a soft spot for me, and it means the world to me that we have that little relationship and that we go out there and joke around. He always gives me compliments about how I’m making him better. I know it’s just warmups and stuff like that, but it makes me feel like a million bucks.”

Lorentz, upbeat and almost always with a smile on his face, is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Panthers succeed.

Despite the fact that he is rarely getting playing time on game days, which is likely to be the case again Wednesday when the Panthers visit Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. (TNT, TruTV) to begin a three-game road trip.

After playing in 25 of the Panthers’ first 32 games as a fourth-line forward, Lorentz has drawn into the lineup in just three of the team’s past 20 games — a run in which Florida has gone 15-3-2 and cemented itself as the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference — as players including Jonah Gadjovich and Will Lockwood jumped ahead of him on the depth chart. Those three games Lorentz played came when Florida had multiple forwards injured.

So for nearly two months, Lorentz’s impact has been almost exclusively behind the scenes.

It hasn’t been the easiest transition for Lorentz, especially coming off a season in which he played in a career-high 80 games for the San Jose Sharks before being traded to Florida in the offseason, but the fourth-year pro is doing what he can to find the positives in his new role.

“I’m not gonna lie. It’s frustrating,” Lorentz said. “You want to play. It’s just the competitive nature, but when you have such a deep team like we do, there’s inner competition in the lineup. You play your butt off; otherwise, you might be taken out of the lineup and another guy might go in. Looking at our whole lineup right now, we’re playing so well. Why would you want to change anything? I’m so happy for the guys that are out there and grinding and playing the way that [coach Paul Maurice] wants us to play. It just motivates me to get better and put the reps in at practice so that when my number’s called, I’m ready to go.”

That means staying ready and being available for any and all situations that might arise. That means being one of the first on the ice and the last off it during practice and morning skate. That means using his boisterous personality to keep the dressing room loose. That means putting any priority of points, goals and hits to the side in favor of supporting his teammates as they keep the Panthers in good position in the standings.

Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done.

“It’s more of a mental grind than anything,” Lorentz said, “because some days it feels like you’re not winning and losing with the team. You’re kind of just that outsider that’s watching.”

But then Lorentz gets on the ice for practice and finds ways to keep things fresh with his teammates and keep the mood cheery and bright.

“You don’t want a guy that’s going to be bringing down the mood or a guy who’s just putting in his time and then leaving,” Lorentz said. “That just shows that he might be on his own page and might be a little selfish. I’ve never really been that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be someone who guys can look to and maybe even joke around with and keep the mood light. I know it’s obviously very serious these NHL hockey games, but when they see me out here joking around, they can maybe take it a little lighter and understand that these guys aren’t in the lineup but they’re still doing a good job keeping positive.”

Bobrovsky has certainly appreciated Lorentz’s efforts.

The two have bonded over their one-on-one sessions ahead of practice, and Bobrovsky said Lorentz is “a big part of my development.”

“I rely on him a lot,” Bobrovsky said. “He gets my warmup. He gets my training. I really appreciate what he’s doing for me. It’s not easy — all the time, every day coming in earlier and shooting. It might get boring for him, but I appreciate that he’s willing to do that.”