CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Mackie Samoskevich fit right in as a freshman on the star-studded University of Michigan team last season, but the Florida Panthers forward prospect is looking at a bigger role on his way to the NHL.
Samoskevich was the eighth-leading scorer with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games for Michigan, which advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four before losing 3-2 in overtime to the eventual champion, the University of Denver.
The No. 24 selection by Florida in the 2021 NHL Draft, Samoskevich was one of five Michigan players selected in the first round that year, with the other four being defenseman Owen Power (No. 1, Buffalo Sabres), forward Matty Beniers (No. 2, Seattle Kraken), defenseman Luke Hughes (No. 4, New Jersey Devils) and forward Kent Johnson (No. 5, Columbus Blue Jackets).
Samoskevich and Hughes are the only two of the five who have yet to sign an NHL entry-level contract, putting them in position to become leaders and key players for Michigan this season.
“I am super excited,” Samoskevich said. “I got to [take on a bigger role] a little bit with the guys leaving for the (2022 Beijing) Olympics last year (Power and Johnson played for Canada; Beniers and forward Brendan Brisson played for the United States), so definitely got a little bit of a taste of that for sure. And then I think it’ll be a really good team too. I think it’ll be really fun for sure.”
How long Samoskevich will remain at Michigan before he turns pro remains to be seen, but the Panthers like his trajectory.
“He’s going to be a special player, in my opinion,” said Gregory Campbell, the Panthers vice president of player personnel and development. “And I’m not alone in that thought. He was sheltered a little bit this year because they had such a strong team in Michigan, so I think this year, he’ll even excel more.
“We’re happy that he went through that and now he’s going to have an opportunity to be a leader for his team coming up this season. I think he’s a guy that’s not too far away from playing in the NHL.”
Although Campbell stressed that it was important for the Panthers not to rush Samoskevich, he praised his skating and said his shot is already at an NHL level.
Samoskevich (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) said he feels his skating is the best part of his game.
“I think when I’m moving my feet and playing with speed on, [I’m] hard to play against,” he said. “I think it’s definitely ready for sure (for the NHL). And one thing that I could get better [at] is probably playing under contact. The NHL has a lot of big guys, so being able to play through that and get comfortable with that, I think that’ll be a huge thing to kind of adapt to and get better at for sure.”
Samoskevich, who will turn 20 on Nov. 15, arrived at Michigan after playing three seasons with Chicago of the United States Hockey League.
He said he wasn’t able to watch the Panthers live last season when they played against the Red Wings in Detroit, although he did catch some of their games on television. The Panthers had the best regular season in their history (58-18-6, 122 points), winning the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record in the NHL.
“It’s such a fun team to watch,” Samoskevich said. “So it just makes you kind of want to be out there with them even more. And hopefully one day it’ll happen.”
As to when that day will come, Samoskevich wasn’t ready to predict that.
“Yeah, hopefully, whenever I’m ready,” he said. “When I get to the League, I want to be an impact [player] right away. So whenever I’m ready to do that, I think that’s what I’ll do. If that’s next year, whatever it is, that’s it, I’ll do it.”