The Florida Panthers rookie has gone from simply filling a need on an injury-riddled roster to being a catalyst on the team’s second line. Shore leads the Panthers in face-off win percentage and has drawn positive feedback from teammates and coaches.
Yet eight games into his young pro career, he’s still thirsting for his first NHL goal.
“I think I’m playing really well. I’m just not putting the puck in the net yet,” Shore said. “I can’t wait to put that first one in.”
It is not for lack of trying. In three of Florida’s past six games, Shore has led or shared the team lead in shots.
Shore’s lack of output hasn’t bothered the Panthers, though. The 22-year-old’s impact in the face-off circle — winning 57.8 percent of his draws — and in creating scoring chances has filtered through to his teammates. Shore has picked up two assists in his past three games.
“He’s doing a great job,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “Drew’s probably got a little frustration with some quality opportunities that he’s had in front the last couple games. We’re happy with all the little things he’s doing, like face-offs. When you really get worried is when those opportunities aren’t coming.”
Being patient is a quality Shore has had to incorporate into his game to find success.
As a teenager, he aspired to play juniors in the Western Hockey League. The Colorado native spent his last two years of high school with the U.S. National Team Development Program in pursuit of that goal.
When it came time to decide on junior hockey or college, he opted for the latter. Shore signed with the University of Denver, his parents’ alma mater and team he grew up watching.
“Physically, I was a pretty late developer, so I thought the extra year would give me time to grow into my body,” Shore said. “I think that, accompanied with some of the coaching at Denver, really helped make the decision for me.”
In addition to pursuing a communications degree, Shore starred offensively for the Pioneers with 118 points in 123 games. During his sophomore and junior seasons, Shore had the opportunity to play alongside his younger brother, Nick.
Denver is also where Shore honed his face-off prowess. The center said he spent a lot of time during his time in college breaking down opponents in the circle to the point where he “almost over-thought it.” But the extended study also cemented Shore’s mentality on the draw: Treat every one as if it’s the last in a must-win situation.
“Especially after turning pro last year, you learn how big of an impact little things like that have in a game,” Shore said. “Maybe it’s something early on in my career that I didn’t think of — 10 more puck possessions for your team, it’s obviously an important thing.”
That kind of thinking has helped the Panthers pick up points in each of their past four games. Shore’s execution of that plan also makes it difficult for the Panthers to send him back to the minors, giving him more time to net that elusive goal.
“I keep telling him, ‘It’s going to come. Don’t keep thinking about it too much. You’d start to worry if you weren’t getting chances,'” center Peter Mueller said. “He’s getting solid chances each and every game. He’s going to get one and more are going to come for him.”
Mueller, Jonathan Huberdeau and goaltender Jose Theodore teamed up to accomplish a franchise first Thursday night: Sweeping a shootout.
Before its 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida never won a shootout by scoring on its first two attempts while also stopping its opponents in their first two.
Huberdeau put his skill on display with a backhand-forehand deke to get Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov out of position before getting his first career shootout goal.
“I was really nervous,” Huberdeau told Fox Sports Florida. “When I got out there, I was shaking a little bit, but when you’re into it, you just think to just score. I wasn’t nervous after I got the puck.”
Mueller followed with a snap shot over Bryzgalov’s glove. Theodore, meanwhile, preserved the victory with stops on Matt Read and Claude Giroux.
Florida improved to 31-55 all time in the shootout.
Ellerby to L.A.
With the Panthers blue line healthy again, Florida traded defenseman Keaton Ellerby to the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round draft pick in 2013.
Ellerby, who is due to become a restricted free agent this summer, struggled to stick among the Panthers’ top six blue liners during his tenure in Florida. His role became further complicated with the emergence of Tyson Strachan and injured rookie Mike Caruso.
Florida’s top pick in 2007, Ellerby averaged just more than 15 minutes per game. He went without a point and recorded 36 penalty minutes in nine games.
Florida concludes its four-game road trip Saturday against the Washington Capitals with the first game of a home-and-home series. The Panthers open a four-game homestand Tuesday when they face the Capitals. Florida will also face the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs during the seven-day stretch.