During the 2020-21 season, MacKenzie Weegar proved exactly why he was worth a lot more than the three-year, $3.25 million average annual value (AAV) contract he signed in November. The 27-year-old blueliner had a breakout season, ranking 13th in points out of all defensemen in the NHL with 36.
When the Florida Panthers lost Aaron Ekblad for the season following his leg fracture on March 28, Weegar was able to step up and fill the void that the Panthers’ franchise defenseman left. With his 2020-21 performance, He proved that he too is a capable top-flight defenseman in the NHL.
What Weegar Brought to the Table
Weegar’s skillset has brought the best in every single player he is partnered with offensively and defensively, as he proved himself as one of the premier two-way defensemen in the NHL. With him being on such a team-friendly deal, the negotiation of his contract has to be one of the biggest wins of the season for general manager Bill Zito.
Weegar led all defensemen in plus/minus this season with a plus-29, which is a testament to how good he really is. Since Ekblad’s injury, who served as Weegar’s top partner and was one of the most dominant defensemen in the league this past season, Weegar led all defensemen in plus/minus with a plus-17 and ranked fifth in points as a defenseman with 17.
According to Dobber Hockey, Weegar spent most of his time after the Ekblad injury alongside Gustav Forsling, with 355 minutes spent with the Swedish defenseman. In the 21 games since Ekblad’s injury, Forsling’s point production nearly tripled, as he increased his point total from five to 17. His plus/minus also rose from a plus-1 to a plus-17 since being paired with Weegar.
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Forsling also had his best Corsi For percentage (CF%) and Shots For percentage (SF%) while being paired with Weegar, with the former being 50.1% and the latter being a 52.5%. When paired with any other Panthers defender, both of those numbers dip below 50%, with the exception of a 51.2% SF% when paired with Anton Stralman.
Simply put, Weegar was one of the biggest reasons for the Panthers’ success this season, and he will continue to be a staple on the Florida blue line for years to come. At a $3.25 million cap hit, he will continue to be one of the most underrated and valuable defensemen in the league, and a crucial part of a possible championship team in Sunrise.
What to Look for Next Season
With Ekblad back in the fold next season, look for him and Weegar to continue to gel into one of the best defense pairings in the entire league. Ekblad had arguably the best season of his career while paired with Weegar, scoring 11 goals and 22 points in 35 games.
Weegar may take yet another step up in a full 82-game season and entrench himself in the Norris Trophy voting conversation, especially if his point totals keep rising the way they were in 2020-21. He doubled his previous career-high in points from 18 to 36 despite the shortened season, so if the production continues at that rate and he plays as well defensively, he may take that next step.
Look for Weegar to become one of the league’s household names for seasons to come, especially if the 27-year-old continues to improve.
Regular Season: 6 goals, 30 assists, 36 points in 54 games played
Playoffs: 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points in 6 games played
Fun Fact: Weegar led all NHL defensemen in even-strength points with 31, with no other defenseman in the league having more than 30.
Final Grade: A+
With the exponential amount of improvement Weegar made to his game in 2020-21, he blew every expectation he had out of the water with his performance. There is absolutely no reason to give Weegar anything other than an A+.