He may not be a household name, but MacKenzie Weegar has quickly become a great asset for the Florida Panthers and now the franchise has the defenseman under contract for another three seasons. Weegar's new pact carries a very manageable cap hit of $3.2 million and at 24, the Panthers blueliner still has some room to grow his game.
As it is, Weegar is an incredibly underrated defenseman who excels in his own end. His 18 points in 45 games this past season represented a career high for the third-year NHLer, but it was his ability to get the puck out of his end and into the offensive zone that made him quite valuable in Florida. Weegar was one of the Panthers' best possession players and did so despite starting more shifts in his own end than in the offensive zone.
There is room for more offense in Weegar's game, though he hasn't gotten much of an opportunity just yet: the blueliner only saw nine minutes total on the power play all season, ceding that fun responsibility to the more offensively-inclined Keith Yandle, with Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson behind the veteran in power play duty.
Still, Florida knows what it has in Weegar and they were happy to avoid an arbitration hearing with the pending restricted free agent.
"MacKenzie is a solid two-way competitor who brings tenacity and skill to our lineup," said GM Bill Zito. "He has developed into a key member of the Panthers both on and off the ice and we look forward to him taking the next step in his career."
And what helps Weegar also helps the Panthers. Florida's blueline got deeper over the off-season thanks to the addition of Radko Gudas and Markus Nutivaara, even with the loss of Michael Matheson. With Weegar's continuing growth and (hopefully) a better showing by big-ticket goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, perhaps the Panthers can put together something cohesive in the Atlantic Division, something that has eluded them.
At the least, the Weegar deal gives Florida good value during a period where that is needed thanks to Bobrovsky's massive $10 million cap hit. As for Weegar himself, this new deal takes him straight to unrestricted free agency and if he continues to grow his game as a tenacious, defensively-staunch analytics fave, he'll get an even better payday in the summer of 2023. Not bad for a kid who was passed over in one draft, then taken in the seventh round of the next one. Sometimes those are the finds you need when you're building a team up and the Panthers have done so with Weegar.