Gustav Forsling could've never imagined how much his life would change in just six months.
Only a few days removed from putting pen to paper on a three-year contract extension with the Panthers, the 25-year-old defenseman couldn't help but flash a quick smile while reminiscing about his fortuitous drive to South Florida after being waived by the Hurricanes back in January.
"It's weird how quick it can turn out to be," Forsling said during a Zoom teleconference from his native Sweden on Tuesday. "You've just got to stay focused and stay ready. When you get the chance, you've got to be ready for it. Everything can happen very quick, especially in hockey."
As for getting to settle down in the Sunshine State, he couldn't be happier.
"It feels really good to have three more years, especially with the Panthers," said Forsling, who was originally selected by the Canucks in the fifth round (126th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft. "It's great to know where you're going to be for the next three years."
Although he initially arrived to the Panthers as somewhat of a reclamation project following a few up-and-down seasons in the NHL, Forsling, who'd spent the majority of his career with the Blackhawks up until that point, wasted no time in taking full advantage of his new opportunity.
Despite spending only a little more than a week with the Panthers before the season began, he did enough in that short period of time to earn a spot on the team's opening night roster. Never taking his foot off the gas, he then went on to accumulate a career-high 17 points in 43 games.
Counted on in key situations throughout the season, he also set new career-bests in goals (5), assists (12), points (17), plus-minus (+17) and shots (94) while ranking second among Florida's defensemen in plus-minus, even-strength points (13) and shorthanded time on ice (107:02).
"After joining the Panthers in January, Gustav had a career season setting personal records and establishing his defensive game to bolster our blueline," Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. "We are looking forward to watching him continue to develop his game with our club."
While he spent most of his time during the first half of the season sharing the blue line with either Radko Gudas or Anton Stralman, Forsling really got a chance to show what he can do after an injury to Aaron Ekblad in March bumped him up to the top-pairing for the Panthers.
Stepping up alongside MacKenzie Weegar up to fill that sizeable void, Forsling tallied 12 of his 17 points over the next 21 games to close out the regular-season. Taking a look at some of the numbers at NaturalStatTrick.com, he also registered an impressive 56.19 CF% during those 21 games with Weegar, with the Panthers leading 22-8 in goals when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
"I just loved it," Forsling said. "To know that you're going to play against the best players in the world every night on the top, top, top pairing, that was really exciting. I just really enjoyed it."
Continuing his top-pairing role in the postseason, Forsling made a positive impact against the eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning. In six games against Tampa Bay's vaunted offense, the Panthers led 7-5 in goals scored when Forsling was deployed at 5-on-5.
In Florida's 6-5 win in Game 3, it was Forsling's clutch third-period goal that forced overtime.
Video: FLA@TBL, Gm3: Forsling goes five-hole for tying goal
Of course, it's not all about offense. Despite his knack for putting the puck in good places, Forsling also showed plenty of growth on the defensive side of the game during the season, especially when it came to using his skating to shut down rush attempts from the opposition.
Over 103:06 of ice time at 5-on-5 in the playoffs, he helped limit the Lightning to just 37 scoring chances.
"We have something really good going on," Forsling said of the Panthers. "I think a lot of guys are going to stay. I feel like we're almost the same group of guys. It looks very bright for us. Everyone feels we almost had Tampa this playoffs. Everyone wants the season to start."
With his career rejuvenated and a new contract in hand, Forsling doesn't plan to reinvent the wheel this summer when it comes to his offseason training, saying that he plans to "just do what I did last year" before heading back overseas to join the Panthers for training camp in Sunrise.
Eager to pick up where he left off, he's counting down the days until puck drop.
"I felt like I ended on a great note," Forsling said. "You just want to get back to playing."