On Jan. 9, 2020, the Florida Panthers claimed Gustav Forsling off of waivers after the then-24-year-old defenseman was unable to make the Carolina Hurricanes’ opening night roster. Six months and 43 games played later, Forsling became a fixture on the Panthers’ blue line, even filling in on the club’s ttop pair when Aaron Ekblad went down with a leg fracture in March.
In his 43 games with the Panthers, Forsling put up 5 goals and 17 points. Of those 17 points, 12 of them came after his promotion to the Panthers’ top pairing with MacKenzie Weegar, which was good for 21st out of all defensemen in the league in that span.
What Forsling Brought to the Table
After being utilized sparingly following his arrival to Sunrise, Forsling saw a monumental shift in playing time following Ekblad’s injury, and he made the most of it. After averaging just 18:37 per game in his first 21 games of the season Forsling’s minutes shot up to 21:12 in his last 22. His production doubled in that second half of the season, as he was striving in the moments the Panthers needed him the most.
In the 41.5% of the season that Forsling spent on Weegar’s pairing, the duo combined for a 56.9 Corsi For percentage (CF%) and a 58.3 shots for percentage (SF%). This was a slight improvement from his prior pairing with Radko Gudas, which saw the pairing combine for a 50.4 CF% and a 52.2 SF%.
After being buried in the AHL by the Hurricanes last season, Forsling proved last season that he has what it takes to be a contributor at the NHL level and a very good one at that. The 6-foot, 186-pound defenseman is a solid puck-mover that fits well in Florida’s system that favors puck-moving defensemen.
If Forsling continues to be valuable on both the offensive and defensive side of the ice, as he proved last season, general manager Bill Zito is going to look like a genius for picking him up off of waivers for free.
Panthers Need to Find a Way to Protect Forsling
With the Seattle Expansion Draft coming up soon, Zito needs to find a way to protect the now-25-year-old defenseman. With Weegar and Ekblad figuring to be shoo-ins for the top two protected slots on the back end, and Keith Yandle on a no-movement clause that would have to be waived to leave him unprotected, Florida needs to get creative in order to protect him.
With the eight skaters/one goalie model likely out of the question due to the amount of valuable forwards Florida has to protect, the Panthers have one of two options. They either have to convince Yandle to waive his no-movement clause or make a trade with Seattle to guarantee they don’t select Forsling.
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With Zito already in agreement with Kraken general manager Ron Francis to share the Charlotte Checkers next season, Florida may have leeway in trade negotiations.
If the Panthers are able to retain Forsling after the expansion draft, he would continue to be a solid second-pairing defenseman who can get the job done on both sides of the ice. An absolute steal from Waivers by Zito.
Regular Season: 43 games played, 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points, plus-17
Playoffs: 6 games played, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, plus-1
Fun Fact: Following Ekblad’s injury on Mar. 28, Forsling ranks first out of all NHL defensemen who played at least 15 games in that span in on-ice goals for percentage with a 74.1%.
Final Grade: A-
Forsling exceeded all expectations following his arrival via a waiver claim and has been one of the more reliable defensemen on the team. The 25-year-old showed growth on the defensive end throughout the season, stepping up when Florida needed him the most following Ekblad’s injury.