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2020-21 Season Rewind: MacKenzie Weegar

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2020-21 Season Rewind: Weegar

2020-21 Season Rewind: MacKenzie Weegar

2020-21 season highlights from Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar

  • 01:21 •

There's no question that MacKenzie Weegar made a name for himself this season.

Stepping up in the absence of Aaron Ekblad, the former seventh-round pick paced all Panthers defensemen in scoring with a career-high 36 points (six goals, 30 assists) while also helping to shut down opposing team's top lines more often than not during a breakout 2020-21 campaign.

Of his points, 31 of them came at even-strength, which placed him first among NHL blueliners.

"He had a heck of a year in all aspects of his game," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "His defending, his joining the attack, his patience and play recognition with the puck was all high-end."

When looking back at Weegar's season, there are two distinct halves.

For the first 35 games of the season, the 27-year-old teamed up with Ekblad to form one of the top-defensive pairings in the entire NHL. Playing a strong possession game, Weegar posted a solid 53.52 CF% at 5-on-5 in that span, while also registering 19 points (two goals, 17 assists).

When an injury ended Ekblad's season prematurely, however, Weegar did more than just fill in.

Spending most of his time sharing the ice with Gustav Forsling, Weegar took it upon himself to take on all of the duties that come with being a No. 1 defensemen. Averaging 21:57 per game - including 2:44 on the penalty kill - he also managed to increase his numbers across the board.

With his Corsi For rating rising to just under 60% at 5-on-5, he notched 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in the 19 games he suited up in after Ekblad was sidelined, including tallying 11 points (three goals, eight assists) over his final eight games to cap off an outstanding regular season.

Adding to his points, he also finished second on the team in hits (118) and first in blocks (83).

"I started off great with [Ekblad], and he was having a great year as well," said Weegar, who missed only two games during the season. "That obviously helped. When he went down, I kind of just wanted to take it upon myself to step up. … Everybody around me has been stepping up their game, and it's allowed me to step up my game. I've just got to thank my teammates."

Tasked with containing one of the top offenses in the NHL, Weegar followed up his stalwart showing in the regular season by leading the Panthers in average ice time (23:20) during the team's first-round matchup against the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Appearing in all six games of the hard-fought series, he registered three points (one goal, two assists), 12 shots on goal, 18 hits, 15 blocks and a 55.35 CF% against Tampa Bay.

"His consistency went up to a new level," Quenneville said of Weegar's season. "His playmaking, his patience, you know name it, he had an outstanding year. He went to a different level as far as when you look at him as a defenseman and what he contributed to our team."

No longer flying under the radar, Weegar, who inked a three-year contract extension with the Panthers in November, will now head into next season looking to cement his new reputation.

"Time will tell, but it's certainly a big step," Quenneville said. "You could see real progress."

COOL STAT

When Weegar was on the ice, good things usually happened.

After setting a new career-high with a +6 rating in 2019-20, he finished tied for first among NHL defensemen with a +29 rating this season. Historically, that also stands as the second-highest plus/minus rating in a single season by a Panther behind only Brian Campbell's +31 in 2015-16.

A big reason behind that drastic swing toward positivity was his play at even strength.

Taking into account shot quality and volume, Weegar finished first among Florida's defensemen with 1.81 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Couple that with his 2.42 expected goals per 60 minutes, and he had an impressive 57.20 GF%.

"When [Ekblad] went down, you can't replace that type of player," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "All you can do is step up your own game and everyone did. All the defensemen did, all the forwards did, and especially Weegs."

BEST GAME

Weegar literally did it all this game.

In addition to posting a career-high four points (one goal, three assists), he also racked up seven hits, seven blocked shots, four shots on goal and a pair of takeaways to help lead the Panthers to a crucial 4-3 overtime victory against the Hurricanes at BB&T Center on April 24.

When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, Florida also led Carolina 11-4 in shots on goal.

Video: Barkov's OT winner propels Panthers past Hurricanes

"I thought Weegs was special tonight," Quenneville said after the game. "He did a lot of good things, whether he was up in the play, making the right plays, scoring goals, at the net, defending well, going into the puck areas. I think he's had a very strong year."

Earning a place alongside some good company in the history books, Weegar also joined Jay Bouwmeester, Brian Campbell, Bret Hedican, Bryan McCabe, Keith Yandle and Ekblad as the only defensemen in franchise history to record four points during a single regular-season game.

"That's a top team in our league," Weegar said of the Hurricanes after the game. "They've had our number all year and I just didn't want to lose. I didn't want to lose to that team. I wanted to make a statement. If we see them in the playoffs, I want them to know that we can beat you."

GOAL OF THE YEAR

The cheers from the crowd at BB&T Center were deafening after this goal.

Netting the first playoff goal of his career, Weegar took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and snapped a shot from just beyond the right circle that flew past Andrei Vasilevskiy and into the twine to make it 1-1 at 6:19 of the second period in Game 5 against the Lightning on May 24.

Video: TBL@FLA, Gm5: Weegar buries a wrist shot in the slot

"We won it back to the middle, Huby made a quick pass to me, and I just wanted to get it off as fast as I could," Weegar said of the scoring sequence. "I think there might have been a little deflection there. Faceoffs are key in the playoffs, and it was nice to get that one for the boys."

Later adding an assist, he went on to finish the game with two points and a +3 rating as the Panthers won 4-1.

STAY IN TOUCH

Want to keep tabs on Weegar during the offseason?

Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter (@weega52) and Instagram (@weegss)!

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