SUNRISE — Jonah Gadjovich showed the Florida Panthers exactly why they took a chance on him in just his second game with the team.
Tempers flared in Monday’s 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers and the big, physical 6-foot-2 forward naturally got involved in the hullabaloo.
Only it was the 6-foot-7 Vincent Desharnais who happened to be in his way.
“It’s fine. You kind of don’t think about it at the time,” Gadjovich said. “I just tried to chip away and do what I can to help the team. That was my only goal.”
The undersized Gadjovich held his own in the fight, delivering a few big blows to the towering defenseman.
It was one of many turning points that energized the Panthers en route to their seventh win in eight games.
And, based on his play, it probably won’t be the last time he will be a spark plug for Florida.
“He hasn’t shown the fear of that in his career. That hasn’t deterred him,” coach Paul Maurice said of the height discrepancy.
”I’ve seen all the video that’s there on him and I know he’s willing to do that, but what I like about him is his game around that. Sometimes, you gotta hide those guys. His game is good, he’s smart with the puck, he can shoot the puck for sure. But I mean, I like that option in the lineup.”
Gadjovich came to the Panthers without any guarantees.
The 25-year-old signed an AHL contract with the organization while he was recovering from an upper-body injury this summer.
He earned the NHL contract and made his Panthers debut on Friday in Anaheim.
“Obviously, I had my goal in mind and I showed up every day, tried to do my best and put in the work so I’d have this,” Gadjovich said.
“I wanted to give myself the best chance to be a part of this, and at the end of the day, it worked out.”
Gadjovich had been recovering from his injury since Feb. 14.
During his lengthy recovery he had to spend a lot of time away from the main practice group rehabbing in a separate skate — which is never good for someone trying to get acclimated to a new team.
“It’s tough,” he said.
“Obviously, not being around the guys and coming in with an injury is not the way you want to start with an organization but there’s not much I could do about it.
“I just tried to come in and work hard every day and the staff and all the guys who have been here have been great to me. That’s goes a long way with transitioning with a new team.”
But Gadjovich did have company, as Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad were recovering from injuries of their own at the same time.
The three of them rehabbed together and each made their season debuts on the same day.
“Obviously, those are two elite players and it was good being able to skate with them every day, push it and see their habits,” Gadjovich said.
“I wanted to try to replicate that. Obviously, they are two big parts of the team and they were really good to me during that whole situation as well.”
During the months the trio got skated together, they got to know each other pretty well.
For Ekblad and Montour, having each other as a familiar presence in their recovery was one thing, but getting to know Gadjovich while getting acclimated with his physical play style really helped push them.
“He is a big, strong, hardworking guy who loves to auto-shed the mitts and get into it with anybody,” Ekblad said.
“He can score and make plays. I mean, we saw his ability to puck handle and make passes while we were out together and that kind of work ethic that he brought every day was great.”
Despite his reputation as an enforcer, Gadjovich has shown he can put up numbers in the past.
He scored 46 goals and 74 points for the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack in 2016-17.
Gadjovich also had multiple 10-plus goal seasons in the AHL as he was trying to chip away chances at the NHL.
But so far, he has not had much of a runway in the big show yet, scoring four goals and 10 points in 82 career games over four seasons while averaging just 8:47 of time-on-ice in his career.
The Panthers believe he can provide more than that.
“He is an interesting player because he’s scored 46 goals in major junior hockey in Canada. That’s a real number. So there’s some hands and a shot there for sure,” Maurice said.
“He is heavy, but he is a very, very smart player. A clean player, too. For a guy who plays a physical, enforcer role at times and he doesn’t take a lot of penalties and he hits down, so he is not driving up into hits.”
After having to scratch and claw his way into the league, Gadjovich feels comfortable with a team that believes in him.
“I just want to contribute to the team with whatever I can do,” he said.
“Obviously, I know I can be physical, I know I can fight and do a lot of those things. If I can add some more elements to my game and help the team like that, obviously that’s what you want to do as a player.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
BOSTON BRUINS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: TNT, HBO Max
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932; NHL App
- Last Season — Regular Season: Tied 2-2; Playoffs: Florida won 4-3 (first-round)
- This season — Bruins Lead 1-0: @Boston 3, Florida 2 OT (Oct.30), April 6; @Florida Wednesday, March 26
- All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 61-37-7, 6 ties
- All-time Postseason Series: Florida leads 2-0 (1996, 2023)
- Up Next for the Panthers: Friday vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m.