When it comes to which member of the Florida Panthers could join Matthew Tkachuk at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game here in South Florida, there are a couple of notable candidates.
Captain Sasha Barkov is an obvious choice, Carter Verhaeghe is having a career season and Aaron Ekblad may be having a down season by his standards but is still a very big name and would be a popular pick among fans.
But if we are going off merit, Brandon Montour is having the best season of them all.
Montour, 28, has evolved into a top defenseman on the both ends of the ice — and is lighting it up offensively this season.
In only 44 games this season, Montour has already matched last year’s career-high of 37 points.
Montour is also three goals off the 11 he scored last season.
Among defensemen in the NHL, Montour is ranked eighth in points and tied for 11th in goals.
When it comes to his peers in the Atlantic Division, Montour is second only to Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin in goals (13) and points (48).
Montour rides a three-game point streak (1-2, 3) going into tonight’s game against the Canadiens — a team he notched three assists against on Dec. 29.
“Brandon Montour still has lots of upside left,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“As he gets more experience in a shutdown role or a bigger minute role, I think he is going to thrive. And he has earned it. He has worked hard and has pushed himself to be in great shape and can operate at a high level.’’
Montour has been another nice find by the Panthers, coming to the team from Buffalo at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.
Florida gave the Sabres a third-round pick for Montour — who was a second-round pick by Anaheim in 2014.
Montour signed a three-year deal with the Panthers just prior to the start of free agency in 2021.
In parts of three seasons with the Panthers, Montour has 21 of his 50 career NHL goals with 78 of 183 points.
With Ekblad missing 10 games earlier in the season, Montour was pressed into a bigger role with the Panthers and really took to the increased workload.
Last season, he averaged 17:53 in icetime; this year, he leads the Panthers at 24:24 and his stats have been enhanced with his spot running the top power play unit.
After getting a goal and eight points playing mostly on the second power play last season, Montour has three goals and 15 points in this one.
Montour also have three game-winning goals — two off the career-high of five he got for Anaheim back in his first full NHL season in 2017-18.
“You get more engaged which is something I like and this is what you train all summer for,” said Montour, who is tied with Barkov for the team lead in game-winning goals.
“I am prepared for it, I want to get out there as much as I can and want to keep it going. I am enjoying the moment. I take each game one at a time and whether I score or make a play, it’s one shift and move to the next.
“People see me as an offensive guy, but I take pride playing in the defensive end and I think I have focused on that over the years and that has become a strength of mine as well.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT MONTREAL CANADIENS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Bell Center, Montreal
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- This season (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 7, Canadiens 2 (Dec. 29)
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 52-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Minnesota, 6 p.m.