The Florida Panthers were one of the more active teams this offseason, trading away fan favorite Erik Gudbranson as well as Dmitry Kulikov while signing high-end free agent Keith Yandle and locking up youngsters to long-term deals.
Heading into the All-Star break, many of the moves the Panthers made have worked out in their favor.
Especially the under-the-radar ones.
Winger Jonathan Marchessault didn’t get many headlines when he signed with the Panthers on the opening day of free agency in July.
No, those went to new goalie James Reimer (who has been terrific) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s new eight-year contract extension — the largest deal in the history of the franchise.
Marchessault scored his 14th goal of the season Thursday night in overtime to lift the Panthers to a 2-1 win over his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Marchessault’s two-year deal for $1.5 million is considered one of the best bargains in the entire league.
Not only has Marchessault doubled his previous high in goals (seven with the Lightning last year), but he is second on the Panthers behind only Vincent Trocheck.
“I thought I would play on the fourth line when I got here,” he said when the season started, “show what I can do there. ,” Marchessault said.
“Obviously, I’m getting more time than expected. We have a good hockey team. It’s nice to be able to help out.”
Florida also made a minor trade in November, sending fourth-liner Logan Shaw to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Michael Sgarbossa.
Although Shaw was productive and was held in high regard by former coach Gerard Gallant, the Panthers felt Sgarbossa gave them a little more scoring upside.
After spending over a month in the minors, Sgarbossa was recalled in late December and has now played in 14 games.
On Jan. 18 in Edmonton, Sgarbossa scored his first NHL goal.
“It was a relief,” he said. “It was exciting, but a relief. Our line had a lot of chances so we were all due.”
A few days later in Arizona, he got his second.
“The more I play, the more I handle the puck, the more confidence I get out there,” Sgarbossa, 24, said after Thursday’s win.
“With the injuries our team has, you have to step up. It seems like I’m getting more and more opportunities and that means there’s confidence in me coming from the coach. That’s something that every young player strives for. I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities.”
Center Derek MacKenzie has played with a number of linemates this season who have come and gone. He thinks Sgarbossa, who played in 19 NHL games before making his Florida debut against the Canadiens on Dec. 29, has a chance to stick around with the Panthers.
“I like the simplicity that he brings — and that’s a compliment — because there’s a lack of panic in the style of game he plays,” MacKenzie said.
“He’s comfortable with the puck, likes having it. He’s obviously come in and has quietly played a real solid game for us. It seems like his personality, the way he plays, shows he’s comfortable being the player he is. I know you need to get a break, hit in the right situation. He’s getting an opportunity here and he’s doing a real good job with it.”
▪ The Panthers will take the next few days off as All-Star weekend commences in Los Angeles.
Trocheck will participate in the on-ice festivities such as Saturday’s skills competition and Sunday’s divisional tournament games.
Jaromir Jagr wasn’t selected to play in the game but took off on Friday morning to take part in the NHL’s celebration of its top 100 players. The ‘NHL 100’ event is scheduled to take place at 9 p.m. Friday night on NBC Sports Network.
Some players are taking off for the weekend yet most seem content to stick around sunny South Florida. The All-Star break isn’t long; the team has three days off before returning to practice Monday.
“We’re lucky that most us live pretty close to the beach,” Minnesota native Nick Bjugstad said.