SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers know what they have in Mike Matheson.
On Monday, the team locked up the 23-year-old defenseman to an eight-year contract extension, ensuring that the former first-round pick will be lacing up his skates in South Florida through the 2025-26 season.
"My first reaction was a little surprised," Matheson said via conference call. "I'm still pretty young and new to the NHL and the league, so to be able to receive that sort of trust from the Florida Panthers is a huge honor. It's definitely pretty special for myself and my family."
Matheson has long been considered an integral piece of the Panthers' future by general manager Dale Tallon, who selected the Pointe-Claire, Quebec native with the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
"It's exciting for our franchise," Tallon said. "We want to take care of our own. We started at two years, went to four, went to six, and he said, 'Well, what about eight? I want to be a Panther.' That was impressive, not only from our point of view, but he's a great young man. His dedication is second to none."
For Matheson, the goal now is to continue rewarding Tallon's confidence.
"He was the one that took a chance on me in 2012 and drafted me," said Matheson, who played three seasons at Boston College before turning pro in 2015. "He was the one that called me up for my first [NHL] game and then gave me a chance to show what I can do in the league and obviously continues to do so up until this day. I really owe a lot to him and I hope he realizes how appreciative of how much he's done for me."
As a rookie, Matheson proved himself as a certifiable workhorse, logging the most even-strength ice time of all Panthers defensemen (1453:51). In the early goings of this season, he hasn't showed any signs of regression in his stamina, clocking a team-high 17:22 at even strength through Florida's first two games.
In 81 games during the 2016-17 season, Matheson finished tied for second among all rookie defenseman in goals (7), while also ranking second in shots (179) and fifth in average ice time (21:03).
"He can skate all night long," Tallon said. "He's going to be invaluable. He's going to play in every situation. He can skate the puck out of trouble. He's one of those natural, beautiful skaters. He's just an important cog to us, playing the style of play we want to incorporate, which is up-tempo with a lot of offense from the back end. He's going to carry the puck and log lots of minutes for us for a long time."
Matheson is just the latest Panthers skater to ink a long-term deal, joining the likes of Aaron Ekblad (signed through 2024-25), Jonathan Huberdeau (signed through 2022-23), Vincent Trocheck (signed through 2021-22) and Aleksander Barkov (signed through 2021-22), just to name a few.
"To be able to play with those guys for a long period of time is incredible," said Matheson, who has also helped Team Canada to back-to-back medals at the IIHF World Championships. "That's how you build championship teams. You build a core that is able to play together for a few years straight and really get to know each other. It's really, truly amazing to be able to play with the players I get to paly with on a nightly basis. I'm really excited to continue the work and get to the level they're already at."
In signing an eight-year deal, Matheson also knows that he's trading potential future gains for stability, which is something he says you can't put a price on in professional sports. And as for any dollars that might be left on the table down the line, the exceedingly humble blueliner believes they'll be put to better use if that time does ever come.
"I really hope my career gets to the point where maybe I am worth a bit more," Matheson said. "But if I'm starting to turn around and think, 'Oh, I should be getting paid more money to do something I love every single day,' then shame on me. Because at the end of the day that means that I'm helping my team my team as much as I can and it leaves room for them to go after better players to surround everyone else with."
With Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad already highlighting Florida's burgeoning blue line, Matheson says that he'll have no shortage of teachers as he works to become an even better player for the Panthers. For although he's seen quite the boost in his bank account, there is only number the smooth skating, cerebral d-man is interested in: wins.
"As much as is it an honor to sign a long extension like this, once the puck drops it doesn't make me any better of a hockey player," Matheson said. "I know that I still have a lot of work to do to get to the level that they're already at. And, obviously, the better that I get and the more that I focus on getting to that level, the better it'll be for the team. When you can have the same guys pushing each other for years and years, that's when you can see teams have success."