Florida Panthers: MacKenzie Weegar’s 2017-18 Season Recap

OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 29: Florida Panthers Defenceman Mackenzie Weegar (52) waits for a face-off during third period National Hockey League action between the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators on March 29, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 29: Florida Panthers Defenceman Mackenzie Weegar (52) waits for a face-off during third period National Hockey League action between the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators on March 29, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

For a well-oiled machine to work, every piece must do its job. Every piece has its own unique role to cover for all the other pieces, so that they can work in harmony.

MacKenzie Weegar’s role for the Florida Panthers isn’t one that brings fame and accolades, but is just as important as any other role. Weegar’s defensive prowess for the Panthers goes unnoticed in a lot of games, and it’s hard to make a name behind star-caliber defensemen like Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, and Mike Matheson. A fringe roster player to begin this season, Weegar earned his spot on the third line through grit, speed, and determination.

Determination is a keyword in those traits, as Weegar had all the odds stacked against him to make it to the big stage. He went undrafted in the OHL Entry Draft not once, but twice, only for him to enter the OHL through the Waiver Draft. He was then traded for a 9th round pick.

Weegar was well worth the 9th rounder, as he was part of an unbelievable Halifax Mooseheads team that saw Weegar have the highest plus-minus out of anybody in the QMJHL with a +55, winning All-Rookie accolades, and was part of the 2012-13 QMJHL championship winners. All that said, Weegar was taken in the final few selections of the 7th round after teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin were selected in the top three, and Zachary Fucale was selected early in the second round.

After all that, this season was his first full season as a Panther, after playing just three games in the 2016-17 season, against the St. Louis Blues, Buffalo Sabres, and Washington Capitals. He failed to put up any points, stayed at 0 on his +/- rating, and took two penalties. While those stats may not have appealed, the defenseman covered a lot of the ice and made a point to his fellow teammates and General Manager Dale Tallon that he was there to stay.

MacKenzie was a Panthers’ healthy scratch to open the season, waiting for six games before getting into the lineup for a home matchup with the

Pittsburgh Penguins

. In this game, he scored his first ever NHL goal halfway through the third period to tie the game:

Weegar snuck onto the ice on a line change and was left wide open from the point. Taking his time, he shows composure on the shot fake to fool Patric Hornqvist, moving into a higher percentage area, and snapping it through Sidney Crosby and goaltender Matt Murray.

MacKenzie was always a presence amongst goals back in the AHL, scoring 14 times with the Springfield Thunderbirds during the 2016-17 season. Weegar knows how to find the net, and shows it with this goal.

Sadly for him, he wasn’t able to consistently score for the Panthers this season. In fact, he would have to wait for over 50 games for his next goal, coming in April against the Carolina Hurricanes in a 3-2 win. He finished the year with 2 goals on 58 shots on goal and a 3.4 shooting percentage (ranking the lowest on the team).

Weegar did earn a lot of confidence from Bob Boughner across November, including his play in a 3-2 road win over the New Jersey Devils. He earned a spot on the second line for that game, playing alongside Michael Matheson, totaling 20 minutes of ice time, the most he’d have all season.

He kept the Devils’ speed in check, shutting down forwards like Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, and even earning a +1 on the night. Boughner had this to say about Weegar’s performance on the night:

"“It’s another young guy that’s just developing, gaining confidence every game. I think by putting him on the second unit… we’re showing him a little more responsibility. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s a puck mover. He’s a skater. Obviously, he put points up in the American League… As he gets more comfortable here, I think he’ll start seeing his role increase.”"

His speed is his best factor for the Panthers, as he’s able to keep up with a lot of modern-era forwards. His game on January 19th against the Vegas Golden Knights really impressed me, playing just 14 minutes of ice time, he really kept up with Vegas’ sharp wingers, keeping former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith pointless on their homecoming.

Weegar has an edge to his game that nobody else on the team has in the speed department, and it was very helpful for Boughner to be able to turn to him in situations. He also really impressed in his two games versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, keeping the Bolts off the scoreboard when on the ice.

He improved his Fenwick scores over this past season, with a 53.1%, meaning the Panthers controlled the puck a lot more with Weegar on the ice than not. Even with the lack of goals in his rookie season, he still was a popular influence going forward.

Weegar also started 54% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and though it didn’t come to him this season, he will improve overall with the experience. He’s also shown a pattern of improving his scoring tallies with a team over the course of time, as he went from 44 points in 2012-13 to 59 points in 2013-14 with Halifax, and he went from 24 points in 2015-16 to 36 points in 2016-17 in the AHL.

With all this said, his future with the Florida Panthers is still in question. The Panthers re-signed Alexander Petrovic to a one-year deal on Friday, which means either he or Ian McCoshen will share healthy scratch time throughout the year. Weegar also filed for arbitration this week, and a decision will not be made on his contract until July 20th in Toronto.

Next: Recapping the First Day of Free Agency for the Florida Panthers

Whether it’s the front office or the coaching staff unsure about his future, Weegar consistently brings his speed and hustle night in and night out. He’s consistently been doubted for his size and ability since the CHL, and hasn’t been stopped one bit.