In the summer of 2011, Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon knew he needed to bring in some more guys capable of scoring goals if this team had a chance to be respectable. In came the likes of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, among others to help make this version of the Panthers a stronger team from the first line to the fourth. And while Versteeg and Fleischmann have paid immediate dividends, it’s been the play of someone who was already with the team that’s been the biggest surprise goal scorer so far this season.
Defenseman Jason Garrison and his booming power play point shot have put five past opposing goalies in the first eleven games. That number of goals is the same number put in all of last season with 73 games played. It’s also good enough to make him the leading goal-scorer among defensemen at the moment. Garrison has always been a more than capable defender. Last season, he and Mike Weaver combined to be Florida’s best defensive pairing, as well as key factors in the Panthers penalty kill unit that ranked as 6th best last season. But this season, Garrison has logged more power play time, where he has scored three of his five goals, which with the encouragement of his coaches, had led to the scoring boom:
“The coaches have me a lot of opportunity to shoot the puck and that’s pretty much what it is. They’ve told me to shoot pretty much every chance I get. I’m just trying to put myself in the position to shoot.”
One big factor in Garrison’s offensive emergence is this season’s defensive partner, Brian Campbell. Campbell, who is off to his own hot start, was brought in for his passing ability and Garrison has been a chief recipient. Campbell has assisted on all of Garrison‘s goals, with four of those being the primary assist.
And while this level of production from a defensive pairing in so few games is rare, it has been needed. While the second through fourth lines have struggled to get a on a consistent scoring run, it’s that production that led the Panthers to close the month of October with their best record in over a decade (6-4-1, 13 pts, t-2nd in Southeast division).
How Garrison ended up in Sunrise makes his current success that much more impressive. He went three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth without getting drafted. He was signed as and undrafted free agent in April of 2008 by then Panthers GM Jacques Martin. An late October call-up from Rochester of the AHL was the only action he would see that season. The following season, he earned himself a new contract with a solid performance in several call-ups. Armed with that new contract, it’s then that he began to establish himself as a more than competent (an understatement to be sure) NHL defenseman. And with his contract up at the end of this season, he’s picking a great time to push his game to the current All-Star level that he’s playing with now. And the good news for Panther fans is that Tallon has already begun discussing an extension. He’ll turn 27 in about two week’s time so there is still plenty of tread on the tire for him to be a big part of the team’s present as well as the future.
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