|Forward Shawn Matthias celebrates one of his goals against New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (Getty Images)
Shawn Matthias played in 25 different months for the Florida Panthers and scored 28 goals.
Then, this March, he scored 11.
If he can come closer to that stretch more often than he hasn't, the center will be an incredibly helpful player for a Panthers team that has craved goals for years.
"I don't want to be a passenger, I want to be a leader," Matthias said in July, after re-signing for two years. "I'm working my butt off this summer and looking forward to having a big season."
Matthias did not even have a big April, going without a goal in 12 games, but said he was playing through an injury.
"The thing a lot of people don't know is I was pretty banged up near the end of the year there," he said. "I think the key is to stay healthy, and I'm going to come to camp ready to go. … I want to be the best player on the team."
That title in the past was held by close friend and former housemate Stephen Weiss. The forward signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent, leaving Matthias, at 25 years old and with 253 games, as the longest-tenured Florida player.
"He's a special guy. He's been with the team for so long and he really cared about the Panthers. … I learned a lot from him," Matthias said of Weiss. "Saying that, I want to be the guy now. He's a good guy, he's my buddy, but at the same time, I'm not too sad to see him go. I want to take on that bigger role now."
The Panthers need him to. His 14 goals last season were tied for second on the team with rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, one behind the 15 scored by Tomas Kopecky.
Florida has had one 30-goal scorer in the past five seasons (David Booth, 31, 2008-09), and newcomer Scott Gomez is the only player on the Panthers roster to have one in the NHL (33 for the New Jersey Devils in 2005-06).
Matthias' hot streak of 11 goals in 16 games equates to 56 over 82.
The 47th pick of the 2006 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Matthias was acquired by Florida for Todd Bertuzzi in February 2007.
Matthias scored 70 goals in 117 games during his final two Ontario Hockey League seasons, but since making his NHL debut in January 2008, he had scored in back-to-back NHL games once before leaving March like a lion, with five goals in the last three games.
"He had flashes of brilliance last year, now he just has to get more consistent," general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's still young, he's big (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), he can skate, and he's going to fit into what we've got coming as far as size and speed. He fits into what the plan is."
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Author: Mike Battaglino | NHL.com Staff Writer