SUNRISE — There have been a handful of Florida Panthers who have exceeded expectations this season.
Carter Verhaeghe is one, Eetu Luostarinen is another.
Quietly, however, Josh Mahura has been one of the team’s nicest success stories in a season where they have not had many.
And he has been rewarded for it.
The preseason waiver claim signed a one-year contract extension after putting up four goals, 11 points and a plus-14 since arriving in Sunrise from the Anaheim Ducks.
“There definitely weren’t any real expectations coming in,” Mahura said.
”I went into the opportunity and just tried to fit in with the team, showcase my ability and improve every day.”
Mahura joined the team on Oct. 10 after missing the cut as Anaheim. He was determined to make a name for himself in Florida.
”I got that short period of time to do that,’’ Mahura said, “and I was able to have some success because I did what the coaches wanted me to do. I did what the guys in this room expected of me. That’s worked out pretty well.”
The 24-year-old defenseman had just 20 points in 79 NHL games as he spent much of his career making trips back and forth from Anaheim and the Ducks’ AHL team in San Diego.
Mahura’s waiver eligibility ran out after he spent the entire 2021-22 season on the NHL roster — playing less than half of their games — and the Panthers scouting staff pounced when he hit the waiver wire.
Both coach Paul Maurice and general manager Bill Zito have been quoted saying as much numerous times and their confidence in him reaped rewards in right away.
Mahura jumped into the lineup three days after his arrival and hit the ground running as one of Florida’s most reliable defensemen, fitting in nicely alongside Radko Gudas.
“From Game 1, we have just been learning off each other and building off each other,” Mahura said.
“I think we’re at a point now where we’re reading off each other without having to say anything and that makes all the difference. Especially in this league, things happen so fast and being able to get that familiarity with each other and learning each other’s game, it’s gone a long way.”
The pairing ranks near the top of the league in most metrics and a lot of it has to do with the way their game complements each other.
Gudas plays a very defensively-responsible game that allows the speedy Mahura to jump up into the rush at times.
But even since his early arrival, Mahura has not made as many mistakes in his own end as younger defensemen typically do as they are earning their footing in the league and the Panthers have rewarded him handsomely for it in ice time.
“I think I have a lot more confidence and a lot of recognition in the systems and what we’re doing,” Mahura said.
“We are playing as a unit of five out there. That’s when we are having success and playing our best hockey and we just need to continue to try to improve on that.”
Brandon Montour, who has had a breakout season in his own right, was Mahura’s first-ever defensive partner with the Ducks and has seen that growth in him since his arrival in Florida.
“He’s getting his games,” Montour said.
“Since I was in Anaheim for a brief moment with him and he was new to the league, trying to get familiar with and now as far as this year goes, he is playing in every game and I think he’s used to that.
“He is just getting the experience playing a great, solid game, skating, making offensive plays and taking care of his own end too.”
Mahura has stuck in the Florida lineup all season as one of only six players to skate in all 61 of the team’s games while playing 14:16 per game.
With his contract up at the end of the NHL season, Zito and his agent got to work and got an extension done in early February that will give him a nice $200,000 raise.
And more importantly, will remove any distraction heading toward the team’s playoff push moving forward.
“It’s definitely nice,” Mahura said.
“It wasn’t something I was really thinking about but when it came up, it was definitely exciting and something you kind of want to get done right away and just be able to focus on the rest of our season here.”
It also gives Mahura a worry-free offseason that he will use to grow his game even further.
“It definitely gives me a little bit less stress going into the summer,” Mahura said.
“Just being able to focus on coming into next year ready and strong. Nothing really changes too much, I just have to keep putting in the work and doing my thing but that’s not really something I’m focusing on right now.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tampa Bay leads 2-1): Lightning 3, @Panthers 2 OT (Oct. 22); Lightning 4, Panthers 1 (Dec. 10); Florida 7, Lightning 1 (Feb. 6)
- Last season: Split four regular season games; Tampa won second-round playoff series 4-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 74-50-19, 10 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Nashville, 7 p.m.