In a matter of days, Josh Mahura went from being unsure of his NHL future to becoming one of the most relied-upon defensemen on the Florida Panthers.
The 24-year-old defenseman was waived by the Anaheim Ducks days before the NHL season with the though of another stint in the AHL in the back of his mind.
But the Panthers and their scouts saw something they liked in Mahura and decided to put a claim in three days before the Panthers were set to fly to New York to open their season against the Islanders.
Mahura has proven them right.
“Young defenders sometimes have a different path,” coach Paul Maurice said.
”If you are a real high pick you get put in the lineup and you live through your mistakes and the team lets you do that. If you are a guy that grinded his way to the NHL, you are a product of your mistakes early and that is why you are in and out of the lineup and you don’t have the same role, so those guys have to find a way.”
Mahura has not only stuck around, but he has become one of Florida’s unsung heroes on the back end.
”I just try to bring what I do best here,” Mahura said. “When you are valued for what you bring to the table, it makes the transition a lot easier.”
The Panthers run a system that heavily favors quick offensive-minded defensemen who handle the puck and jump up into the rush — which is the style Mahura likes to play.
Maurice quickly found a home for him next to physical, stay-at-home defenseman Radko Gudas and the pair has quickly become one of the team’s most-reliable pairings.
“It’s funny for puck-movers because the first place they gain confidence isn’t with the puck; it’s without it,” Maurice said.
”Some of them aren’t built to crush guys into the wall or kill plays net front and that is how they are valued. Can he kill enough plays that we can leave him on the ice that we can see some of that puck movement?
“He has found a place here and I think he has the perfect partner. Radko is positionally very good, he is strong net front and he kills a lot of plays in the corner. I think he and Josh enjoy playing with each other.”
Maurice chose Gudas to be Mahura’s defense partner when he first arrived because of his leadership and knowledge of the Panthers’ system.
It was not Gudas’ first rodeo with a player of Mahura’s style of play coming off of waivers either.
Gudas played heavy minutes next to puck-mover Gus Forsling when he started making his rise from being a waiver pickup from Carolina in 2021 to one of the team’s top defensemen.
“There were considerably different systems here than in Anaheim, so he had a whole learning curve to go through, but I would credit Radko Gudas in helping this young man feel comfortable,” Maurice said. ”Coaches have this idea that we teach the game and that players teach each other the game.”
Said Gudas: “He is growing as a player and I like where he is trending. He is not afraid and he is doing the right things. I am really happy he is feeling comfortable with the group here and we are feeling his impact.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT SEATTLE KRAKEN
- When: Saturday, 10 p.m.
- Where: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle
- TV: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Seattle won 2-0