With MacKenzie Weegar headed to Calgary, the Florida Panthers are in need of a new top-pair defenseman.
Florida sent Weegar along with franchise star Jonathan Huberdeau, Cole Schwindt and a 2025 first-round pick to the Flames for 24-year-old star power-forward Matthew Tkachuk.
While it was a move that made the Panthers stronger and younger up front, they are left with a big hole on defense.
It was Weegar who spent much of the past three seasons on the top pairing with Aaron Ekblad and stepped up to be Florida’s No. 1 defenseman when he missed time with injury.
And now, with the Panthers sitting over the salary cap, they do not have room to find his replacement.
Insert Gus Forsling.
Originally claimed off waivers in January 2021, Forsling blossomed into a bonafide top-four defenseman in his time in Sunrise.
“He is such an undervalued player throughout the league,” former Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said in April.
“He is probably one of the best-kept secrets with how good he is,”
The 26-year-old has shown steady improvement over the course of his two-year stint in Florida.
After posting 17 points in 43 games during the Covid-shortened 2021 season, he came back with a career-high 10 goals and 37 points in Year 2.
Eight of his goals from the 2021-22 season happened after Ekblad’s regular season-ending injury on March 28 — a total which led all NHL defensemen in that span.
Even when he hit an early-season goal drought (he did not score his first goal of the season until Jan. 14) Forsling was still generating chances with his shot.
Some would get tipped, some just took an unlucky bounce off the post.
“He should probably have 10 more goals,” Brunette said. “He has a unique ability to get himself in great areas.”
As smart of a player Forsling is in the offensive zone, that is not where his true value comes into play.
The magnum opus of his game comes from his unique skating ability that rivals some of the best in the league.
Forsling possesses special speed and fluidity in his skating motion that allows him to both start rushes quickly on offense and slide back into position on defense with ease.
His reliability on both ends of the ice would allow Ekblad to take advantage of his own physical skillsets — firing off slapshots on offense and laying the body on defense.
It was a combination that allowed Radko Gudas to comfortably play his physical style of game last year when he led the NHL in hits with 355.
It will only further amplify Ekblad’s.
Forsling’s skating and gap control allows him to shut down opposing team’s rush chances while creating opportunities in transition.
Those transition chances were what helped the Panthers play with as much speed as they did during their Presidents’ Trophy-winning season last year.
In 2022-23, he will now become a fixture.
Forsling has some pretty large shoes to fill with Weegar, but after Ekblad’s depatrue, he has grown used to the role.
Now, it’s time for him to take it on full-time.