The Florida Panthers made a big move a few days before the NHL Trade Deadline comes on Monday by acquiring Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot.
Florida is sending prospect Ty Smilanic — a third-round selection in 2020 — as well as its 2023 first round pick and a fourth-round selection in 2022 as part of the deal.
The Panthers did not have their 2022 first-round pick to offer as it went to Buffalo in the Sam Reinhart deal last summer.
Chiarot, a 30-year-old pending free agent, is a left-handed shot which the Panthers are in need of.
With Chiarot needing a U.S. work visa, he is not expected to play in either of Florida’s next two games at Vegas or Anaheim.
Chiarot’s Florida debut likely comes in the Panthers’ following game — March 24 in Montreal against the Canadiens.
”When we looked at areas we thought we could help our team in, we thought this particular player checked a lot of boxes for us,” GM Bill Zito told Florida Hockey Now on Wednesday.
“This is a guy who is a size-strength defenseman, is a left shot, in good shape. He has leadership qualities, has a physical element to his game. He is a guy who had that experience of going deep with Montreal. It wasn’t as simple as looking for a ‘type’ of player; it is who is the person.
“We did extensive research on his character, who he is as a person. His competitiveness, how he will fit with our team. It’s as much the indivual as it is what our team needs.”
Chiarot is in the last year of a three-year contract with the Canadiens with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million although the Canadiens are retaining half of that to give the Panthers some cap relief.
Last summer, Chiarot helped the Canadiens make a surprise run at the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“You can’t just go to the grocery store like you’re buying ketchup,’’ Zito said. “This is a unique individual, a unique player. We thought it was a unique need for our club. Hopefully it meshes pretty well.”
Florida cleared out some salary cap space earlier on Wednesday by sending Frank Vatrano to the New York Rangers for a fourth-round draft pick.
That draft pick was part of Montreal’s return.
“We didn’t want to part with Frankie Vatrano,” Zito said. “He is a class act, a class individual and a huge part of our room. We wish him nothing but the best. It was very difficult to part ways with Frankie. Sometimes you have to do difficult things and that was difficult.
”But, we move forward. It was a stiff price to pay but it’s a big boy game and sometimes you have to be a big boy.”
Chiarot is a ruggled-style defenseman whose 110 hits this season would rank third on the team behind Radko Gudas and MacKenzie Weegar.
The Panthers had been looking for additional defensive help and Chiarot was considered one of the top available rearguards on the market.
With Chiarot on the left side, the Panthers could now split Weegar (who is right-handed and plays on the left side) and Aaron Ekblad; Chiarot could go with Ekblad with Weegar going on the right side of Gus Forsling on Florida’s second pairing.
”It gives the coaches some options, for sure,’’ Zito said. “He can make some plays as well. He is a smart player and I think he helps in a lot of areas. He’ll help in the room. We tend to look for the right fit and we paid a steep price. It’s important. Our guys — our players, our staff, everyone — has worked their tails off and we want to support them.”