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Carter Verhaeghe Becoming a Legend with the Florida Panthers



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A Carter Verhaeghe banner decorates the facade of FLA Live Arena in Sunrise for the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

Just three years removed from inking a two-year, $2 million “prove-it” deal, Carter Verhaeghe is already one of the most important players in Florida Panthers history.

He certainly has the goals on his resume.

A third-round pick in 2013 who fought his way up to the NHL from the ECHL, Verhaeghe ended Florida’s 26-year playoff series drought in 2022.

Verhaeghe not only scored the overtime winner in Game 6 against Washington but had six goals and 12 points in that opening-round series.

That was only the start.

Last season was Verhaeghe’s best in the NHL — thus far — as he scored 42 goals in the regular season before becoming a postseason hero once more for the Panthers.

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He scored the all-important overtime winner in an upset Game 7 victory against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins to kickstart Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“Over the course of his career, he’s got the puck off his stick faster than anyone could react to,” coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s overtime and nobody is beefing him for the best play. There’s no ‘I’m wide open, why didn’t you hit me?’

“They’re telling him to shoot the damn puck.”

Verhaeghe added three more game-wining goals including another overtime winner in Game 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

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“If I knew how he does it, I would do it too” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov joked after the win against the Bruins.

“We’ve seen what he did last year and he did it again this year. He had the assist on [Matthew Tkachuk’s Game 5 overtime winner] and in Game 7 he scored the winning goal.

“Go ask him.

“And, if you find out, tell me.”

Each of those overtime goals — the drought-ender, the upset-sealer and the lone Stanley Cup Final win in franchise history — has an argument for being the most important goal in franchise history.

He also ranks first all-time in Panthers history in playoff goals (15), is behind Barkov in playoff points (32) and is 17th all-time in regular season goals (84) after just three seasons.

Verhaeghe has done all this as one of the biggest bargains in the league even after the near-minimum contract he signed to come to South Florida expired after 2021-22.

Before that $1-million per season contract expired, Verhaeghe signed a three-year extension with a $4.167 million annual cap hit following his 18-goal, 36-point showing in the shortened 2021 campaign.

After hitting career marks in each of the next two seasons —nearly doubling his career-high goal total in 2022-23 while putting up 73 points — the 28-year-old looks like one of the most underpaid players in the league.

“I think Carter is just coming into the true confidence of a shooter,” Maurice said after he hit 30 goals. “He understands, and it has taken some time, that he is the shooter on the ice and he should not be deferring. If it is on his stick, we want that shot first. He is going to score a whole lot of goals.

“There are guys who score 20 or 30 and you think ‘oh, they got lucky. That’s not happening again.’ I think the opposite for him is true. He has missed a whole lot of chances that I think are going to start going when that true confidence comes in.”

And the Panthers still have two more years of him under contract.

That is the good news. The bad news is Florida has a lot of other key players needing new contracts.

With Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour, Anton Lundell and Gus Forsling all needing new deals in the next two years, it will be a tight squeeze to return all of those players in the long run.

But Verhaeghe has quickly proven himself to be one of the most essential players in franchise history. They have two more seasons to worry about his next big contract.

His ability to create space for himself with his speed to release his quick wrist shot has gotten Florida out of a lot of sticky situations and has gotten them key goals 5-on-5.

“I think he just has the nose for the net and he has an unbelievable shot,” Tkachuk said.

“He finds the soft areas like not many guys can. He has his skating and it allows him to be one of the top players in the league but if you can’t do anything with that, you can’t be as successful. He’s got that full offensive package that you rarely see.’’

Despite his absence from Florida’s top power play unit for the majority of the season, his 42 goals last year were tied for ninth in the a league while his 35 even-strength goals were good for fourth.

While Barkov and Tkachuk will continue to be the faces of the Panthers for the foreseeable future, Verhaeghe has continued to prove himself as a necessary secondary star who can act as a spark-plug when the team needs it most.

And his gallery of iconic moments have already granted him a solid shot at franchise legend status.


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