It didn't take long for the conversation around Carter Verhaeghe to turn from "Who?" to "Wow!"
After playing a bottom-six role during his rookie season with the Lightning, the 25-year-old was given the opportunity to be a top-line forward with the Panthers right out of the gate this season.
Rewarding the coaching staff for their trust in him, Verhaeghe went on to register 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) and an outstanding +24 rating over 43 games during his sophomore season in the NHL while primarily lining up alongside Selke Trophy-winning center Aleksander Barkov.
After averaging 9:22 minutes per game last season, he nearly doubled that number to 17:44.
"Coming in here was a really easy transition," said Verhaeghe, who inked a two-year deal with Florida after helping Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup. "It starts with the leadership. All the guys that have been here for a while have been great. They made me feel comfortable right away."
Widely considered one of the top free-agent steals of the offseason, Verhaeghe started to turn heads right from the get-go. After notching an assist in his Panthers debut, he then scored goals in each of his next three games, including a two-goal performance against Chicago on Jan. 19.
Flourishing in his expanded role, he never went more than three games without a point.
"I have definitely gotten a ton of opportunity here," Verhaeghe said. "It seems like they trust me."
Doing most of his damage at 5-on-5, 16 of his 18 goals came at even-strength. That number put him in a tie with Frank Vatrano for second-most on the team, with both trailing only Barkov's 18.
A relentless forechecker with a nose for the puck, Verhaeghe's contributions were also key to the Panthers becoming one of the top possession teams in the NHL. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, Florida led opposing teams in shots attempts (717-504) and scoring chances (290-204).
Overall Verhaeghe's 58.72 CF% trailed on Barkov's mark of 58.90%.
"I didn't think we'd be getting that type of production, to be totally honest," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said in February. "At the same time, we liked the ingredients that he did bring to our team with quickness and perseverance. It's almost like he's got a relentless attitude around the puck."
Held out of the lineup for 13 games toward the end of the season due to an upper-body injury, Verhaeghe looked no worse for wear in his return to action while scoring a goal during a 4-0 win over the Lightning in the final tune-up before the two rivals were slated to meet in the playoffs.
Cracking the scoresheet in three of six games against his former club in the postseason, he finished tied for second on the Panthers with two goals during the hard-fought, in-state series.
No longer a secret, Verhaeghe will head into next season as a known commodity in the NHL.
"He's been unbelievable, scoring those big goals for us," Panthers forward Noel Acciari said of Verhaeghe in April. "He's flying up and down the ice. When he gets the puck on his stick, you just know something good is going to happen."
There are some numbers that really shine a light on just how good Verhaeghe's season was.
Taking a look specifically at goals for and against, his 62.65% expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5 placed him behind only Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon (63.70%) and Mikko Rantanen (63.53%) among forwards that played at least 200 minutes, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Additionally, with the Panthers outscoring the opposition 37-15 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 this season, his actual goals for percentage of 71.15% trailed only Boston's David Krejci (72.50%) and Dallas' Jamie Benn (71.43%).
"He had a heck of a year," Quenneville said in May. "You look at stats, and I think he might [be near] the top of the league in expected goals. He's got pace and creativity with the puck."
Quenneville described Verhaeghe as "outstanding from the first shift" in this game.
After opening the scoring just 24 seconds after the puck dropped in the first period, Verhaeghe went on to add two more goals (one on the power play and one shorthanded) to complete his second-career hat trick and help lead Florida to a 4-3 win over Dallas in overtime on March 27.
Video: FLA@DAL: Verhaeghe scores three goals in OT win
"Everyone had to step up tonight," said Verhaeghe, who also assisted on Aaron Ekblad's game-winning goal to finish with a career-high four points. "I'm lucky a couple went in for me tonight."
Over his 24:08 of ice time, he also chipped in one hit and two takeaways during the win.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
Verhaeghe's first goal was also one of his prettiest.
Lighting the lamp for the first time with the Panthers in just the second game on the season, he collected a pass from Barkov, flew up the right side of the ice, shrugged off a defender and then lifted a backhand shot past Kevin Lankinen to break the ice against the Blackhawks on Jan. 19.
Video: CHI@FLA: Verhaeghe puts home backhander past Lankinen
"It's good for the confidence," said Verhaeghe, who scored twice during the 5-4 victory. "But, obviously, the biggest thing is that we won two games. We want to put ourselves in a good spot right off the start, and I think we did that. We just want to keep the momentum going here."
Overall, this goal was the first of a team-high four backhanders he'd score during the season.
STAY IN TOUCH
What's Verhaeghe getting into during the offseason?
Give him a follow on Twitter (@CVerhaeghe21) and Instagram (@CarterVerhaeghe) to find out!