The Florida Panthers found themselves in a tough spot going into free agency this past summer.
After going all in at the 2022 trade deadline — and getting swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning — the Panthers found themselves with just $4 million to work with knowing they would lose Claude Giroux, Noel Acciari, Mason Marchment and Ben Chiarot to free agency.
With multiple slots to fill and little money to work with, the first player Florida general manager Bill Zito signed was Colin White.
Days before, the Senators bought out the final three years of White’s contract.
The 2015 first-round draft pick struggled to find his footing early on in his career, topping out at 14 goals and 41 points in his first full NHL season in 2018-19.
Ever since then, his career was seemingly marred by injuries.
The 25-year-old forward came within four goals of breaking his career-high of 14 during the Covid-shortened 2021 season while playing through a slew of injuries. He then missed most of the 2021-22 campaign after dislocating his shoulder before the season even began.
The injury took months of rehab to come back from, but by the time he returned to the lineup in February, the Senators were well out of the playoff race.
He did what he could, putting up three goals and 10 points in 24 games, but was ultimately a victim of a seismic overhaul of the Senators’ roster this past offseason.
“I think that was something that really upset me and I went through a lot of adversity through the year just trying to come back” he said. “That was tough for me but I did get to play around 20 games, get some confidence back but it was tough to miss 60 games and jump in for the last 20 when other teams are pushing in the playoff race.
“I thought I was able to handle it pretty well. I am excited for a fresh start, hoping for a year with no injuries. And I am working my butt off to try and do that.”
Zito hit on players in similar situations as White — watching Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair become 20-plus goal-scorers as $1 million free-agent pickups — and he saw something specific in White that would make it work.
While he dealt with a minor injury during training camp and missed Thursday’s shootout win with an upper-body injury, White has been taking advantage of a much cleaner bill of health to start his first season with the Panthers.
White matched his goal total from last year and is two points shy of tying his point total from 2021-22 in just half as many games.
He currently is tied for fifth on the team in scoring ranked as high as second going into the team’s four-game road trip out west.
“A big part of it was just staying healthy and putting in the work this past summer,” White said.
”Being able to stay healthy is the biggest thing and so far, so good.”
White arrived in South Florida four weeks early to get in some extra training with his new teammates.
That decision paid off with a clean bill of health and near instant line chemistry with Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen to start the season.
At the end of October, White, Lundell and Luostarinen were the Panthers’ most productive line, combining for 17 points in the team’s first nine games.
“He is very chameleon-like in the way that he has picked up what those two guys are good at and changed his game to be like that,” Paul Maurice said.
”Colin is a very smart player. He has a really good set of hands and he has figured out where those guys generate loose pucks and what holes to get into.”
With minor injuries popping up throughout the Panthers’ forward core — including White’s minor injury — Maurice opted to make some changes and that third line has since been broken up.
Those changes, heavily prompted by a two-game suspension to star winger Matthew Tkachuk, have offered a big opportunity for White — albeit one which may be short lived.
White was placed on the top line with Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe during the Panthers’ 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
While he did not get on the scoresheet, he has proved throughout the season that he can quickly develop chemistry with whichever line he gets placed on — and that ability was something Florida needed after losing quality talent up front in free agency.
”When you come into the league, you have to define yourself a little bit with what you’re good at,” Maurice said.
”He is an all-around player. He is smart and he moves the puck well. He doesn’t have blazing speed, he doesn’t have physicality, and those guys take a little bit longer to find their game and what they’re good at.“
PANTHERS ON DECK
CAROLINA HURRICANES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Carolina leads 69-45-10, 11 ties