SUNRISE, Fla. --
|Defenseman Jason Garrison celebrates one of his 10 goals on the season. (Getty Images0
When the Florida Panthers overhauled their roster in the offseason by bringing in a slew of free agents, the hope was that one or more of the newcomers would blossom offensively.
Little did they know that the player who would enjoy the biggest breakout would be someone already on the roster.
Really, no one had any reason to predict that third-year player Jason Garrison
would be leading all NHL defensemen with 10 goals at this stage of the season.
And you can put Garrison right at the top of that list.
"Definitely, unexpected is a good word," Garrison said. "I've been given the opportunity to get a little more time on the power play and I'm just trying to make it count, doing what I need to do, and that's shoot the puck and get the pucks to the net. The forwards do such a good job of screening and tipping shots and getting in the way of other guys that they're able to find their way through."
To put Garrison's start in perspective, consider that he came into this season with 7 goals in 113 career games.
It took him all of 17 games to match that total, and now he's well on his way to shattering the Panthers' single-season record for defensemen of 15 goals, reached twice by Jay Bouwmeester and once by Bryan McCabe.
Garrison already has shattered the Panthers' franchise record for fewest games needed for a defenseman to reach 10 goals. He accomplished the feat in 33 games, 11 fewer than Bouwmeester in 2008-09.
Asked about the team record, Garrison laughed and said, "I'm not aware of it at all and I probably don't want to know."
There's been a simple formula for Garrison's offensive success this season: fire the puck. All 10 of his goals have come on slap shots. Pretty much all of them have come from the point, six have come on the power play, and most have been one-timers.
"It's not only how hard he shoots the puck, but how accurate," coach Kevin Dineen said. "Rarely does he miss the net. He's been a big part of our special teams and our production from the point."
That the Panthers sit atop the Southeast Division standings -- the latest they've been in first place since March of 2000 -- can be attributed in large part to the production of the top line of returning center Stephen Weiss
and newcomers Tomas Fleischmann
and Kris Versteeg
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But while the other lines haven't contributed offensively on a consistent basis, the defensemen have more than done their part.Brian Campbell
, acquired from Chicago in the offseason, entered Tuesday night's game against Phoenix second in defenseman scoring with 25 points. Holdover Dmitry Kulikov
was tied for 12th with 20 points.
But Campbell has been an offensive threat for years and Kulikov is a former first-round pick, so their offensive performance hasn't been nearly as eye-opening as that of Garrison.
A free agent who never got drafted, Garrison was solid in his own end for the Panthers last season, but he had only 5 goals and 13 assists.
He still had a big shot, though. And this year he's had more opportunities to unleash it.
"Perfect speed and perfect height," is how Versteeg described Garrison's shot. "He doesn't usually hit too high. A lot of those guys with the hard shot, they hit it over the net all the time. But he hits a perfect height almost always. It's hard for a D-man to block it and forwards to block it, and it's hard for a goalie to react to it."
Fellow defenseman Ed Jovanovski
, who returned to Florida this season for a second stint, started calling Garrison "Boom Boom" early in the season.
"Not knowing much about Garri coming to the team, just seeing how he utilizes that shot, it's a heavy shot, he gets it off quick and it's tough to handle," Jovanovski said. "He uses it on the power play to his advantage and it's a boom of a shot."
Between his scoring and his work in the defensive zone, Garrison, a 27-year-old native of White Rock, B.C., has put together an All-Star-caliber season so far.
At the very least, he's making a name for himself while helping his team continue its surprising run.
"Nobody knows too much about him probably," said Campbell, who had an assist on each of Garrison's first eight goals. "He's a good player. I've enjoyed playing with him. I feel like we work well with each other. I'm happy he's putting them in. I'll keep passing if he wants to keep putting them in, that's for sure."
Author: Alain Poupart | NHL.com Correspondent