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Rocky Top: Florida Panthers sign top junior goalie Mack Guzda to ELC

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The Florida Panthers signed top goalie prospect Mack Guzda to an entry level contract on Monday after he was reportedly sought after by more than a dozen NHL teams. // Photo courtesy @OHLBarrieColts

The Florida Panthers goaltending department headed by future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo landed another top prospect Monday as the team signed highly-sought after goalie Mack Guzda to a three-year entry-level contract.

Guzda, an undrafted 21-year-old from Tennessee who has been named the Ontario Hockey League’s goalie of the month in both December and January, will continue to play for the Barrie Colts of the OHL but could join the Panthers or AHL Charlotte Checkers at the end of that season.

He is expected to be part of development and training camp come September.

”It has been my goal my whole life to be in the NHL,’’ said Guzda, who attended Florida development camp with Spencer Knight at Coral Springs in 2019.

“They do a great job with their goalies and the end goal is to play in the NHL and do it for a long time. But right now, I’m taking it day-by-day. I’m with the Barrie Colts and looking forward to a long season here, a long playoff run. But when I get there, they have a great staff and I can’t wait to work with those guys. I am really excited.”

Guzda credited the culture he felt around the Florida organization as well as the team’s goalie department — which includes Luongo, Francois Allare, Robb Tallas and Leo Luongo — for being reasons why he chose the Panthers.

Guzda said speaking with Roberto Luongo was a thrill as that was a player he “grew up watching.”

“I had some really good conversations with their staff and I have been to development camp in Florida and have a good feel for their culture,” he said.

“I worked with their goalie coaches and everything in my time there made me feel like I was at home. I had a really good feel when I was there and had some really good conversations over the past week. I am really excited about the opporunity.”

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In speaking with TSN last week, Guzda said he left talks with NHL teams up to his agent while he concentrated on his season with the Colts.

Since joining the Barrie Colts in November, Guzda has been a dominating force and has his team in the OHL playoffs.

The Colts currently sit fifth in the OHL Eastern Conference standings.

A native of Knoxville, Mack was born when his father Brad — now goalie coach of the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds — played for the UHL Knoxville Speed.

The Guzdas now make their home in Nashville.

“The whole opportunity, I couldn’t be more excited to get started,’’ Guzda said. “I got to speak on the phone with all of the (goalie development department) and it has been so positive just to have that many resources to have when it comes to development. That’s all you can ask for.”

For the Panthers, signing the 6-foot-5 goalie is a bit of a coup.

Or so it would seem.

According to Jeff Marek of Hockey Night in Canada, over a dozen teams were interesting in Guzda including the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Panthers were not listed as one of the many in the mix for the talented 6-foot-5 netminder although Garza said discussions were ongoing with Florida.

Per Marek: “There is a young goaltender named Mack Guzda. He plays for the Barrie Colts of the OHL and is someone that the Maple Leafs are very much trying to sign. Their pursuit, I am told, is very aggressive. … The Penguins, the Rangers, the Predators are all considered front runners. Also, the Islanders, Ducks, and Hurricanes are said to be interested.”

Guzda said that the way the Panthers treated him in 2019 — an undrafted goalie who was not part of their organization — also played into him signing with Florida.

“I was down there for a week,’’ he said. “I wasn’t drafted or anything but they made me feel like I was part of it. I had a really close feel, everyone in the organization is real close. It just felt like a Florida Panthers family if that makes any sense. They have a great winning culture there, they’re developing players and winning games. It’s exciting and I look forward to contributing in any way possible.”

Guzda spent parts of four seasons with the Owen Sound Attack but was traded to Barrie in November.

In 10 games for Owen Sound, Guzda was 5-4-1 with a .915 save percentage.

With Barrie, Guzda is 11-2-1 with a 2.04/.931 and two shutouts in 14 games.

The Panthers have the 20-year-old Knight as their future starter but adding Guzda definitely adds to the team’s organizational depth.

Florida traded away Devon Levi — a seventh-round pick in 2020 who is with Team Canada in Beijing — to Buffalo as part of the Sam Reinhart deal in July.

Guzda said he and Knight not only spent time with the Panthers in 2019 but on another youth team as well. The two will become even more close as the years go on with the organization.

“We’re the same age and I was on the same team with him when I think I was 12 or something,” Guzda said. “We have a great relationship, he’s a great guy. It’s pretty cool.”

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