3 Panthers Defensemen Who Need to Step Up

The Florida Panthers had one of the wackiest off-seasons in franchise history, trading away their top-pairing defenseman, MacKenzie Weegar, along with their top-scoring forward Jonathan Huberdeau, to land former Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. Granted, they were held back by a tough cap situation. However, unlike their forward situation, the team did not try to make another trade or a big free-agency splash to replace Weegar. But, general manager Bill Zito did bring in some veterans while also extending his defensive prospects, showing he is behind them one hundred percent.

Three players will step up and make a massive difference this season, including one that is already on the roster: Gustav Forsling, Mark Staal, and Lucas Carlsson. Here’s a look.

Gustav Forsling

Since being acquired off waivers in the shortened 2021 season, Forsling has been arguably the team’s number three defenseman. Now, he’s likely going to get a shot at the top defensive pairing with Aaron Ekblad.

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Last season, despite playing 71 games, he led the team with a plus-41 rating. He was also third among the team’s defensemen in scoring with 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists). In the playoffs, he tied Carter Verhaeghe for the best plus-minus rating at plus-7.

Gustav Forsling Florida Panthers
Defenseman Gustav Forsling was a fantastic find on the waiver wire for the Florida Panthers (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

If he is slotted into the number two position, it would not be the first time he’s received top pairing time; he was thrown into the same situation due to injuries to Ekblad that would ultimately end his season in 2021 and keep him out for a few months in 2022. Forsling is perfect for this job.

Marc Staal

Zito signed Staal to a one-year deal worth $750,000 for his veteran experience. He has over 1000 NHL games under his belt between the New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings, including over 100 postseason appearances. He is also a two-time All-Star, both with the Rangers.

While he is far from the same player he was at 35 years of age, he can still be relied on heavily as he averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game last season and over 18 minutes the season before. Also, he’s seen all of the ups and downs the NHL has to offer, so he can settle the game down for the younger players who are still trying to make their mark.

Lucas Carlsson

Carlsson is the youngest player on this list at 25 years old and has played the least with only 58 NHL games of experience. He was acquired through a trade that sent him and former Panther Lucas Wallmark to Florida in exchange for forward Brent Conolly, defenseman Riley Stillman and a former first-round pick in Henrik Borgstrom back in 2021.

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Last season, he played 40 games with the Panthers, tallying nine points (three goals, six assists) and finishing with a plus-3. In a game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Feb. 2022, he a save-of-the-year candidate play that would ultimately help the Cats to a 3-2 victory. He was sent down to the AHL recently, but he will more than likely take the next step in his development this season and could be leaned on as soon as this season.

Can the Panthers Fill the Hole Left by Weegar?

Weegar’s departure left a massive hole on the Panthers’ defense. But they have a ton of options to fix the gap. This may be seen as a weird year due to all the moves Florida has made this entire offseason and could even be viewed as a potential rebuild.

However, the team plans to stay competitive despite their cap crunch and their retooling, and with these three on their side, the sky is the limit for the Cats this season.

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