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Florida Panthers Pregame: Matt Kiersted making most of latest opportunity

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Florida Panthers rookie defenseman Matt Kiersted has a word with teammate Sam Bennett earlier this season. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

When the Florida Panthers need reinforcements on the blueline, Matt Kiersted has usually been the first player they have called upon.

He has yet to let them down.

“Whenever they tell me down in Charlotte that I’m going to get called up, I kind of start mentally preparing myself,” Kiersted said.

“A lot of it is mental, like flying and playing the same day and little things like that, so the more I can mentally get myself in the right head frame and ready to go, the better.”

Previously, Kiersted was one of four players to be called up from the Charlotte Checkers on Dec. 16 after playing on back-to-back nights already when seven Panthers players tested positive for Covid-19.

The result of that game for Kiersted was his first NHL goal and 21:11 of ice time in a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

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Fast forward to Jan. 20 and the Panthers needed to make yet another last-minute call-up.

Gus Forsling was placed on the Covid-19 protocol list earlier in the week and Olli Juolevi was placed on Injured Reserve that day to make room for another defenseman.

Kiersted was that defenseman.

On Wednesday, Kiersted took a flight from Charlotte to Toronto as a precaution to stay ready to be a potential call-up, as Juolevi suffered a lower-body injury in Tuesday’s loss to the Calgary Flames.

When that lower-body injury flared up enough to where Juolevi needed to be placed on IR on Thursday, Kiersted boarded a flight to Edmonton and got ready to play against the Oilers that night.

“It was different having that long of a flight the day of the game,” Kiersted said. “Whenever you get called up, you gotta be ready for whatever is thrown at you.

“It was a long travel day, but I was able to get to the hotel for a couple of hours and settle down and rest a little bit before the game.”

What was thrown at him was a four-hour flight prior to a matchup with one of the league’s best duos — Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

That duo has a combined 113 points and ranks first and third on the points leaderboard respectively.

Despite the strenuous travel, Kiersted played 13:29 in a 6-0 win over the Oilers.

“He flew this morning and we threw him in,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said after the game.

“Really good for him. That’s a great experience and really shows his maturity level to be able to play a game like that after flying in from Toronto today. Really happy for him.”

Kiersted played a big role in Florida’s 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks the following night as well, logging just over 10 minutes of ice time and blocking three shots in a shootout win the Panthers had to grind it out for.

With Forsling still on Covid-19 protocol and Juolevi unable to be activated from IR until Jan. 27, Kiersted has more time to make the most of this opportunity when the Panthers take on the Seattle Kraken on Sunday.

“He’s taken the opportunity well and I think it’s not an easy thing to just jump right in there and play right away,” Panthers rookie Anton Lundell said.

“He’s been very good, he’s a good player, he’s hard to play against, he moves the puck well, and I’m very happy for him.”

Morning Skate Updates

  • Sergei Bobrovsky will be the Panthers’ starting goaltender on Sunday against the Kraken.
  • Sam Bennett is a game-time decision after suffering a lower-body injury, Joe Thornton would likely play if Bennett cannot go.
  • Patric Hornqvist skated this morning, but is still day-to-day, he will not play.
  • Frank Vatrano will slide into the lineup tonight for one of Maxim Mamin, Mason Marchment or Owen Tippett.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT SEATTLE KRAKEN

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