Lucas Carlsson was dealt a tough hand as the Florida Panthers prepared to start the 2022-23 season.
He became a dad just before the regular season started and had settled his family into Fort Lauderdale after spending the majority of last season on their NHL roster last year.
Through training camp, it seemed like his roster spot would be safe but the Panthers called an audible when Josh Mahura became available on waivers.
When Florida completed the claim, they sent Carlsson down to the Charlotte Checkers to fit under the salary cap.
There were obviously some problems.
“It was a tough couple of weeks, both for me and my family,” Carlsson said.
”But I feel we were able to make the best of it. At the end of the day, I just want to play good hockey and keep developing, so I think I’ve done that here in Charlotte.”
Carlsson had to spend some time away from his family as he started his season in the AHL, missing some moments which a first-time father would be pained to miss.
Despite all that, Carlsson put his head down and he went to work.
”We tried to accommodate for him because you want to have that experience with your first child,” coach Geordie Kinnear said.
”But honestly, he’s the hardest working guy every single day. In every drill, he pushes the compete, and the work ethic. He just loves the game. He loves to play hockey, he loves the competition and he thrives in these situations.”
And what resulted was a 20-goal, 54-point offensive onslaught that led the Checkers to the AHL Playoffs.
Carlsson was put on Charlotte’s top pair and top power play unit and the bump in playtime gave him the confidence and space he needed to grow.
“I don’t know what happened, to be honest,” Carlsson said.
”I’ve been playing on the first unit, obviously that helps. And then we’ve been scoring a lot of goals as a team. I’ve been given the freedom to make plays offensively. We’ve been playing a lot of minutes with the first line up front and [John] Ludvig takes care of the defense. We’ve been playing great as a team, especially offensively.”
He brought defensive stability of his own to that pairing and consistently made big plays to snuff out scoring chances.
And he landed on the AHL’s 2nd All-Star Team because of it.
“He has been a factor every single shift,” Zac Dalpe said.
”I have played with a lot of guys around the league and I know a lot of guys on other teams and he is the first name they bring up. He has 20 goals and that speaks for itself but it has been his defensive play, too.
”He breaks plays up and then he is up in the rush. It’s almost like he is a left-handed Brandon Montour.”
The Panthers organization has been watching and has seen a lot of improvement since his stint with the team last year.
Carlsson had nine points in 40 NHL games last season and found himself sitting in the press box down the stretch after the team made upgrades at the trade deadline.
With more playing time, he has had more room to grow.
“He has been able to play to his strengths in an environment where he is actually getting the opportunity. Here, he was behind other players. He was not getting the offensive opportunities and the big minutes,” Florida general manager Bill Zito said.
“John Davidson used to say, and I was not sure about it, but that it took 300 games for a defenseman. He is right. Look at Forsling, look at Montour. There is a huge learning curve and an experience curve. Look at Gudas. He was a healthy scratch the season before he came here.”
CHARLOTTE CHECKERS PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
ROUND 1 VS LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS
All Games at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte
- Game 1: Tuesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. (AHL.tv)
- Game 2: Thursday, April 20 at 7 p.m. (AHL.tv)
- Game 3: Friday, April 21 at 7 p.m. *if necessary* (AHL.tv)
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
- When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: T.D. Garden
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN/ESPN+
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM/WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Regular Season Series (Tied 2-2): @Boston 5, Florida 3 (Oct. 17); @Florida 5, Boston 2 (Nov. 23); @Boston 7, Florida 3 (Dec. 19); @Florida 4, Boston 3 OT (Jan. 28)
- Last Season: Boston won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 60-38-6, 6 ties
- Playoff History (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4-1, 1996 (first round)
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Boston 3, Florida 1; Game 2: at Boston, Wednesday, ame 3: at Florida, Friday, 7:30 (TNT); Game 4: at Florida, Sunday, April 23, 3:30 (TNT); Game 5*: at Boston, Wednesday, April 26; Game 6*: at Florida, Friday, April 28; Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday, April 30.