College game is behind him, but Samoskevich is still learning

Allie Lawhon Photography

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Last spring provided the crash course for Mackie Samoskevich. Now it’s time to put that education to work.

Samoskevich, who turns 21 on Nov. 15, opted to leave the University of Michigan in April after two seasons. He walked right into the end of the AHL regular season, seven games of Calder Cup Playoff hockey, and then an extended run with the Florida Panthers as a “black ace” as they went to the Stanley Cup Final.

The forward, who went to the Panthers as the 24th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, had an abbreviated offseason and then made the NHL cut coming out of training camp. In the first period of his NHL debut Oct. 12 at Minnesota, he clocked a speed of 23.35 miles per hour that is still the NHL’s seventh-fastest pace this season, according to the new NHL EDGE statistical monitoring system.

So Samoskevich can fly, and he has the time to prove it.

But the Panthers want him playing, and playing a lot. So he is developing his game with the Charlotte Checkers.

“The time in Florida was nice being around those guys, learning how they live, how they play,” Samoskevich said of his early-season stint. “It was really cool.”

Now it’s about finishing off the rest of his game and becoming the full-time NHL’er that the Panthers envision. Samoskevich found the scoresheet this past weekend with three assists in two games against San Diego. As the Checkers prepare for a four-game West Coast trip that opens Friday at San Jose, they will bring a four-game winning streak with them.

Samoskevich was in action for all seven playoff games last spring as the Checkers eliminated Lehigh Valley in the first round before falling to Hershey in the Atlantic Division semifinals. He ended up collecting four assists.

“I think looking back at it the biggest thing was learning the pro game,” Samoskevich said of jumping into the Charlotte lineup. “At school I had a little bit bigger leash to do some things. Now you really have to use your strengths inside a system now.

“(Checkers head coach) Geordie Kinnear has been really good to me. He’s really good at getting young guys going.”

Then came that late-spring stay down in Florida. The Panthers brought in a sizable contingent of youngsters from Charlotte for the postseason run, and Samoskevich used the time well on and off the ice.

“It was a great time to get to know these guys,” Samoskevich said. “It made coming into this year, the transition, a lot easier. It was a really important and really fun time for me. It was definitely a whirlwind, (but) I enjoyed every second of it. Being down in Florida and going to the games, it was really cool just being there and seeing the atmosphere.”

It was a strong finish to a hectic season in which Samoskevich posted 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games as Michigan won the Big Ten regular-season title for the second consecutive season and advanced to the Frozen Four.

Samoskevich can and does use his speed, combining it with good vision to see the ice and create space for himself and his linemates. He made it an offseason priority to make puck protection down low a stronger part of his game, and Kinnear has stationed Samoskevich on the left side of a line centered by veteran Alexander True. The two combined on Saturday to set up Brendan Perlini’s third-period tying goal on the power play to eventually set up Charlotte’s 5-4 overtime victory.

He took last spring’s lessons and put in a good summer of work, and the early results are showing.

“You really have to stay dialed in every single day and really take care of your body,” Samoskevich said of being a pro.

And being around the Panthers has been motivation also.

“It really made you want to work even harder, because it was just so cool being there.

“It gave you goose bumps.”