SUNRISE — With Aaron Ekblad out of the Florida Panthers lineup for the past few weeks, there have been opportunities for several defensemen to step up and help fill those skates.
While the Panthers can’t replace a player like Ekblad until he returns — which is expected in a few weeks once he’s medically cleared and eligible to be placed on LTIR — they’ve been able to survive.
One player who is getting more playing time than anyone would expect is Josh Mahura.
Florida released him from Anaheim before the season started. With the Panthers only able to have six defensemen on the roster due to salary cap issues, Mahura was given a real chance to show his worth.
So far so good.
Matt Kiersted, on the other hand, was likely headed to Florida’s AHL team in Charlotte.
He was with the team working through the injury when Ekblad got hurt and was able to jump in and start playing.
For daily Florida Panthers coverage all year round, get your Florida Hockey subscription now!
Kiersted may not be getting the big minutes of other Florida defensemen, but he is getting his most consistent NHL appearance since signing with the Panthers at the end of the 2021 season as a college free agent out of North Dakota.
“It was good to get into the rhythm of things, to be a part of it every day from games and practices and traveling with the team,” said Kiersted, who played seven games for the Panthers in 2021 and 10 last season. most of the time with Charlotte.
“I definitely feel a little comfortable. We’re getting there. I take each shift as it comes, I don’t count my minutes or compare shifts to other guys. I try to control what I can control, and when I get there, I try to be the best version of myself.”
As for Mahura, Florida was hoping to pick up another wire gem — so they acquired Gus Forsling in 2021 — and so far, so good.
Mahura has two goals in nine games, one off his career high in 38 games with the Ducks last season.
Playing alongside veteran Radek Gudas, he says, helped him get off to a fast start with the new team after spending his entire professional career in the Anaheim organization.
“It’s been a very comfortable room from the beginning and every day, every week I feel more comfortable here,” said Mahura, who is averaging nearly 14 minutes per game, fourth most among defensemen currently playing.
“I think it’s a credit to the guys in the hall, the leadership of the group we have here. It could be a tough situation coming into the room after training camp with all these guys working it out together. But they welcomed me with open arms and were ready to go. …
“You want to get as many hits as possible, especially early in the season. I want to keep improving and continue to grow my game.”
As for Ekblad, he aims to return from his groin injury when the Panthers host the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 12.
Ekblad skated and is expected to travel with the team on the West Coast road trip on Monday.
Even though he can’t return before November 12, because he has to miss 10 games and 24 days of action, it doesn’t mean he will return on that day.
The Panthers absolutely need to make sure he is able to stay in the lineup every night upon his return.
As Florida’s cap issues return, when Ekblad’s salary is added to the mix, the Panthers will likely go back to 20 players. At normal times, you could bring an injured player back and ease him into the lineup a little.
That doesn’t seem to be the case in this situation.
“If you’ve spent 25 days getting a guy right, you’re not going to put him on (Day) 26 when 31 is going to fix it, and that’s true of any player,” coach Paul Maurice said. “When you’re talking about big minutes, you have to make sure they’re 100 percent ready. If he’s going in, he’s got to be ready to play against himself.”
PANTHERS ON BOARD
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT ARIZONA COYOTES
- When: Tuesday, 10 p.m
- Where: Arizona State Mullett Arena, Tempe
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Stream Panthers Radio: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- Regular Season All-Time Series: Arizona is 19-16-2, 3 ties