SUNRISE — When the Carolina Hurricanes placed Gus Forsling on waivers in January 2021, he was not sure if he would ever play in the NHL again. The Florida Panthers called the next day.
“It was kind of a relief that someone picked me up, to be honest,” Forsling said.
“I really needed an opportunity somewhere and I was really excited when it was Florida because Joel Quenneville was there and he had me in Chicago so I knew how he wanted to play.
”I felt very excited about the opportunity.”
After spending the 2019-20 pandemic-shortened season with Carolina’s AHL affiliate (at the time) in Charlotte, the Hurricanes cut Forsling just before training camp in 2021 ended.
Three years later, Forsling was the unsung hero — making one big defensive play after another — as the Panthers stymied Carolina’s offense en route to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1996.
And he did so — both against his former team and the star-studded offenses of Boston and Toronto — while playing against the other team’s top players.
”He and Aaron Ekblad run against the other team’s best and I think in all of those series, there’s some high-end elite world class producers. Big number guys,” coach Paul Maurice said.
”That is the hard match most nights. If your best doesn’t shut down their best, you lose.”
Forsling played the abbreviated 2021 season under Quenneville, who then resigned that October due to his inaction in the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 sexual assault scandal coming to light.
While it was a rough change to go through, Forsling’s skillset shined under three different head coaches over three seasons as he worked his way to the top of the lineup.
“It’s a little different but I took it as a positive, to be honest,” Forsling said. “I love our new coach here, love the system. It’s a little different than what we had with the old system, but it’s working..”
Forsling’s combination of speed and defensive IQ have helped him develop into a top-flight defenseman that Florida can trust against the other team’s top line. And it is arguably the climb up from Carolina’s minor league system which instilled that attention to detail into him.
“That is the driver that got him into the league,” Maurice said.
”He gets into the league and he knows that he can’t get on the ice yet. He can shoot a puck and he can get up the ice but he’s not getting on the ice for that. He’s got to get on the ice for the stick and the ability to close those defensive reads. So that’s what’s made him who he is.”
Forsling has carried that with him ever since, slowly but surely letting the speed and offensive ability he possesses shine while putting a lot of his focus on the defensive end of the ice.
When he picks his spots, he is dangerous, but he is smart about when he does so.
”If you see a spot, you can go because the other team is thinking about offense so hen you se a chance when they are sleeping a bit, you gotta take it. But at the same time, you gotta be careful because you don’t want to get caught with a D up on the penalty kill,” Forsling said.
“I try to play defense first. That’s what I want to be good at and it gives me confidence and then my offensive game usually comes with it.”
He has provided that spark for the Panthers at times — scoring 2 goals and 6 points throughout the playoffs — using his speed and knack for finding the holes in the defense to create opportunities the other way.
“Forsling is an elite defenseman in this league right now,” captain Sasha Barkov said. “He is elite for us, and he is doing everything right for us. He plays in pretty much every situation so everyone who we have on our team can do anything.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
THE 2023 STANLEY CUP FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
- When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 96.5 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Saturday at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 2: Monday June 5 at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Thursday June 8 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Saturday June 10 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Tuesday June 13 at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Friday June 16 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Monday June 19 at Vegas, 8 (TNT). * – If Necessary
- 2022-23 Regular Season Series Vs. Vegas (Even 1-1): @Vegas 4, Florida 2 (Jan. 12); @Florida 2, Vegas 1 (March 7)
- All-time Regular Season Series: vs. Vegas Golden Knights lead 6-3-1
- Postseason History: First meeting
- How They Got Here — Vegas: d. Winnipeg in 5, Edmonton in 6, Dallas in 6; Florida: d. Boston in 7, Toronto in 5, Carolina in 4.