Florida Panthers: Carter Verhaeghe has become the biggest steal in free agency

Carter Verhaeghe #23 of the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Carter Verhaeghe #23 of the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

Carter Verhaeghe has been an absolute steal for the Florida Panthers.

There have been a few surprising stories in the NHL so far this season, and the Florida Panthers fit into that category. Through the first eight games of the shortened 56-game season, Florida has gone 6-0-2 and have yet to lose in regulation. A lot of the credit to the fast start can be given out to many, but forward Carter Verhaeghe has to take a lot of plaudits.

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General Manager Bill Zito was busy during the offseason and picked up several pieces. Most of them have helped the rest of the team gel together. Aleksander Barkov has been paired with new line-mates, of which both were cheap Free Agent acquisitions. Playing to Barkov’s right has been Anthony Duclair. Duclair, coming off an All-Star season in Ottawa with the Senators, is still looking for his first goal in the red, blue, and gold. However, he has been productive, tallying six assists. The 25-year-old was expected to step up and provide some offense after Evgenii Dadonov left for the aforementioned Senators.

The man playing to Barkov’s left was a relatively unknown commodity in Carter Verhaeghe, who has taken the NHL by storm. Verhaeghe ripped up the OHL in his major junior days. Playing for the Niagara Icedogs, Carter accumulated 288 points in 262 OHL games.

Carter Verhaeghe (23)
Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe (23). Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Carter Verhaeghe has been an absolute steal for the Florida Panthers

Verhaeghe was drafted in the Third Round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he was dealt to the New York Islanders in 2015 and played in their farm system. He was dealt again on July 1, 2017 to the Tampa Bay Lightning where he was finally given a chance in the NHL. During last season, Verhaeghe was a pivotal depth piece for the Bolts as they won a Stanley Cup. He played in 54 games, scoring 9 goals and had a total of 13 points.

Shortly after winning the Stanley Cup, the 25 year-old-winger hit the open market as a Restricted Free Agent. The reason as to why this became the case is simply because of cap hell. The Lightning simply had too much money wrapped up in their roster and needed to make some difficult decisions. Because of the situation in Tampa, their in-state rivals decided to reap the potential rewards. The aforementioned Bill Zito and the Panthers decided to sign Carter Verhaeghe to a low-risk deal. The contract was for 2 years with an AAV of $1 million per year.

The Panthers, as they have done in the past, found a gem that was overlooked by the rest of the league. The native of Ontario has fit in well with Barkov on the top-line. Carter has proved to be a good scoring option as he has tallied six goals through the first eight games. Head Coach Joel Quenneville has been impressed so much that he decided to give Verhaeghe some action on the second power play unit. However, the impact that he has brought to the team has been much more than being another lethal scoring option. Not only has he become a great contributor on the offensive side of the puck, but he is great on the other side as well. Verhaeghe also brings a strong defensive presence. He can turn defense into offense as quickly as anybody in the league.

Verhaeghe’s arrival has given more balance to a team that has relied on Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau for scoring. With Verhaeghe being on the top line, Quenneville has brought Huberdeau back down to the second-line with Alexander Wennberg and Patric Hornqvist. Rather than having one line that contributes to 90% of the scoring, the team now has two lines that are capable of matching that production. The third-line also looks to have scoring ability as Frank Vatrano has been paired with Owen Tippett, who has a lethal shot. Eetu Luostarinen has also looked decent, getting his first NHL goal against the Chicago Blackhawks.

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It is evident that the pressure has been taken off the team’s two biggest stars. All of the players meshed together and became one unit. For the first time in years the Panthers seem to have put a team together that can do damage in its own division. Carter Verhaeghe has become a big factor as to why the Florida Panthers have had the second best start to a season in franchise history. Finally, after years of struggling, the organization has given help to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and the team has the chance to excel.