MacKenzie Weegar, merely put, was by no means alleged to turn into a star. The defenseman was a seventh-round choose within the 2013 NHL Entry Draft after which spent three years within the minors, together with a 21-game stint within the lowest-level ECHL, earlier than the Florida Panthers lastly gave him a shot.
Although Jonathan Huberdeau was the larger identify to go away Florida within the deal, the Panthers can basically make a one-for-one swap of Huberdeau for Tkachuk of their lineup. Those 23-plus minutes Weegar performed each evening gained’t be as simple to switch.
“It’s up to everyone to step up a little bit,” Gustav Forsling mentioned, “so it’s open.”
In the primary few days of coaching camp on the Florida Panthers IceDen, Florida has appeared to Forsling. The 26-year-old defenseman has taken a equally unlikely path to Broward County — he was a fifth-round choose by the Vancouver Canucks within the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is already along with his fourth NHL group, becoming a member of the Panthers proper earlier than the beginning of the 2020-21 NHL season once they claimed him off waivers — and spent the primary two preseason practices in Coral Springs on Thursday and Friday paired with star defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
It’s early, however Forsling was Florida’s third finest defenseman final 12 months and its finest hope at discovering one other late-blooming star to play on its prime defensive pairing.
“Forsy’s a fantastic player,” Ekblad mentioned Wednesday, on the eve of camp. “I hope I get a chance to play with him.”
Like Weegar blossomed when given an expanded alternative following Ekblad’s seson-ending damage in 2021, Forsling did, too. He wound up paired with Weegar for the top of the 2020-21 season and so they fashioned among the best tandems within the league throughout their temporary time collectively. They reunited once more final 12 months, when Ekblad missed the top of the common season with one other damage, and did extra of the identical.
After recording simply 27 factors in his carer earlier than becoming a member of the Panthers, Forsling posted 17 two years in the past and exploded for 37 — 10 targets and 27 assists — final 12 months, whereas Florida outshot opponents by 77 when he was on the ice for 5-on-5 motion, placing him in the top 10 in shots for percentage amongst defensemen to log at the very least 1,000 minutes of time on ice.
As importantly, it’s simple to know why he’s productive. His “speed is top tier in the league,” Ekblad mentioned, and the game is shifting to a spot the place a ability like this, even for a defenseman, is most necessary.
“He’s as good as any other skater out there. He knows his game, but the National Hockey League has moved more to those kind of games — if you can skate and you’re smart, and he is both,” new coach Paul Maurice mentioned. “He’s a guy who’s figured out what he’s great at and employs it every time he goes on the ice.”
Former coach Joel Quenneville — and former interim coach Andrew Brunette — each empowered him to play to his strengths within the high-flying, high-scoring system he applied for the Panthers. For the final two years, Florida positioned a primacy on getting out in transition after which flooding the offensive zone, with defensemen aggressively becoming a member of the assault, to take care of lengthy possessions. It performed to Forsling’s strengths and excused any weaknesses he had enjoying a tighter recreation within the defensive zone.
Maurice will change issues—he has mentioned as a lot because the day the Panthers employed him in June. He additionally, nonetheless, insists he’ll maintain doing a lot of what Florida did finest when Quenneville and Brunette have been in cost, and Forsling has the traits to excel in a particular function and remains to be younger sufficient to maintain ironing out a few of his flaws.
Ever since they employed Bill Zito as basic supervisor again in 2020, the Panthers have constructed an id round reclamation tasks — forwards Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe have all had profession years since coming to South Florida, too — and Forsling is among the most stunning ones.
“It’s a cool experience, to be honest,” he admitted, reflecting on the unlikely bounce from unknown to top-pairing contender for among the best groups within the league. “I’m humble. I’m working hard every day to be here.”
David Wilson, a Maryland native, is the Miami Herald’s utility man for sports activities protection.