By: Alain Poupart, NHL.com Correspondent
Jacob Markstrom showed in October why he's considered perhaps the best goalie prospect in the NHL, but the Florida Panthers still don't want to rush his development.
The Panthers' goalie of the future was sent to San Antonio of the AHL on Monday, with veteran Scott Clemmensen being returned to Florida following a conditioning assignment with the Rampage.
"He's got a great future, and that's what we're all about," said Panthers GM Dale Tallon. "That's a position where you could lose your confidence in a hurry. We're being cautious here, being conservative in his development and doing what's best for the future. We know he can come up and play games for us if needed."
Tallon said Markstrom understood the decision to send him down.
"If Clem doesn't get hurt, he would have been in San Antonio six weeks ago," the GM said. "He understands the three-goalie system is not going to work and he's got to play. These guys are proven veterans, they've played well for us. He understands that he's got to get better and this is a learning curve for him. Obviously, he'd like to stay here, but who wouldn't? He knows what's best for his future. We're doing what's best for him and that's what's most important.
"He was actually pretty positive."
With Clemmensen on the shelf after undergoing knee surgery in late September, Markstrom appeared in five games for the Panthers while backing up Jose Theodore.
In those five games, the 21-year-old Swede was 2-2-1 with a 2.05 GAA and a .944 save percentage.
Markstrom made his first career NHL start on Oct. 18 at Washington, stopping 29 of 31 shots in a 3-0 loss to the Capitals. Four nights later, he earned his first career NHL victory against the Islanders when he came in for an injured Theodore after the second period and stopped all 18 shots he faced.
Markstrom's other victory came at Montreal on Oct. 24 when he stopped 40 of 41 shots to help the Panthers win 2-1.
"It's based on long term," Tallon said. "It's based on where we're headed and based on numbers. It's a good thing for his development. We can't have him sitting around playing once every two weeks. He's only started three games of the 13. We want him playing 10 of 13. We want him playing a lot. We know he can play. We know where we're
headed with him. We're deep in goal. That's a good thing."
The 6-foot-6 Markstrom was the Panthers' first choice (31st overall) in the 2008 Entry Draft but remained in Sweden until the 2010-11 season. He had a somewhat disappointing year in Rochester, going 16-20-1 with a 2.98 GAA.
But he showed this year what all the hoopla was about.
"Last year he was injured and played hurt and it was his first year there, had a tough time in Rochester," Tallon said. "Now, he showed his true worth in training camp, he showed his true worth in the games he played and we have a bright prospect there."
Tallon said it's certainly possibly that Markstrom could be back with the Panthers this season, although they're set at the moment with Theodore and Clemmensen.
In his one conditioning start with the Rampage, Clemmensen stopped 31 of 32 shots Saturday in a 6-1 victory against the Toronto Marlies.
"He needed the work," Tallon said. "We wanted to test his knee out and he came through with flying colors. He had a really good performance, so we're confident that he can come in and play games for us now. He's a real pro and he knows what his role and he knows how to do it as well as anybody. There's a different mentality being No. 1 and being a backup and we want Jacob to be a No. 1, so he's got to play No. 1 minutes."
Tallon emphasized that the approach with Markstrom is the same as it is with other bright Florida prospects such as defenseman Erik Gudbranson and center Jonathan Huberdeau.
"This is not a popularity contest, this is about producing players for the long term," Tallon said. "We're in a marathon here. We want this guy to be our goalie of the future. We want to make sure he's handled right and that he's right to take the load when it's time. With him and Gudbranson and Huberdeau, we're going to be cautious
with them all. We want to make sure that they're ready and that we don't ruin them.
"When Jacob comes back he'll probably be back forever, knowing that he has the ability to play."