With injuries creating multiple holes on the Florida Panthers blueline, Gus Forsling has a chance to make a name for himself as one of a top defensemen in the entire NHL.
Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad are likely to miss at least the first few weeks of the season, leaving Forsling as the No. 1 guy in Sunrise.
He has proven he can handle it — whether folks around the NHL know it or not.
The 27-year-old averaged the 26th-most minutes out of any player in the NHL last season, playing 23:26 in his first full season on Florida’s top pairing.
Forsling picked up 13 goals and 41 points in 82 games, manning the second power play unit while shining as one of the Panthers’ best defensive defensemen.
He added another two goals and eight points in 21 playoff games while playing a critical defensive role during the Panthers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Ekblad and Montour’s absence leaves a spot wide open on the top unit while leaving him as the team’s clear No. 1 defenseman until they get back.
And it is an opportunity that is coming at the perfect time for Forsling, who is entering the final year of a three-year contract worth $2.6 million he signed in 2021.
That contract paid dividends for the Panthers from the moment he signed it, as Forsling proved his worth time and time again when Ekblad went down with injuries in the last three seasons.
Now, it could be his turn to cash in.
With the NHL’s free agency market set to surge with the league’s salary cap expected to go up, Forsling has the chance to position himself as one of the best blueliners on the market.
Forsling has already proven that he can step up and take on a bigger role in the face of injuries multiple times.
He scored eight of his 10 goals in 2021-22 after Ekblad went down with a leg injury on March 28, leading all NHL defensemen in that span.
In 2022-23, he averaged 24:32 with two goals, seven points and a plus/minus of plus-eight when Ekblad missed 12 of the season’s first 14 games.
But the opportunity 2023-24 presents Forsling pins him in a unique spot.
With Montour joining Ekblad on IR to start the year and Radko Gudas signing with the Anaheim Ducks in the offseason, Forsling has to be the guy on a relatively thin defensive core.
It could be a chance for Forsling to fully showcase his offensive potential with the top power play spot seemingly wide open.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson was brought in to compete for that role but the 13-year veteran will not have an easy time winning it.
Forsling fancies himself as a stay-at-home defenseman, using his unique combination of agility and speed to cover as much ground as possible in the defensive zone, but he has shown time and time again that he can use those tools in the offensive zone as well.
His speed allows him to jump up in the rush while being able to get back quickly and mark his man while his shot has continued to get better as his Panthers tenure has gone on.
Florida is going to need him to carry the load — at least for a couple months — but he has what it takes to continue his path from waiver pickup to star.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency period is open
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs