It took several years for the Panthers to acquire a legitimate enforcer. And now that they have one, they’re not going to let him go.
Wade Belak, who Monday signed a two-year contract with the Panthers, was a key to the team’s late-season surge after being acquired Feb. 26 from the Maple Leafs. With Belak in uniform, the Panthers were 10-5-2, including a seven-game winning streak that nearly propelled them into the playoffs.
“I thought when he joined our club he brought a presence on the ice and a good influence in the dressing room,” said Panther GM Jacques Martin, who said Belak would remain as a forward. “It took us a while to get that kind of player, but when we were able to acquire him from Toronto I wanted to resign him.
“Wade is comfortable he’s here. He liked it very much, and the feeling is reciprocal from our standpoint.”
The 31-year-old Belak, who weighs in at 6-5, 225-pounds, said he was happy a new contract was agreed to by both sides so quickly.
“One less thing to worry about,” Belak said.
Belak, who had 12 penalty minutes last season in Florida and 66 in 30 games with the Maple Leafs, is quite aware of what his role is in Florida.
“As far as the toughness factor, I think I filled that role,” he said. “I sold myself as far as a bonafide enforcer for the Panthers, and the players around me appreciate and respect what I do. If I can give room to the guys that are supposed to score the goals and not have to worry about the intimidation factor, it is huge, and then I know I have done my job.”
Since the season ended, Belak has been rehabilitating from shoulder surgery, a problem he admits has been bothering him the past year.
“It was a tear in my labrum,” he said. “You can play through it but it was just a pain issue. It got to the point where I couldn’t train like I wanted to train to get ready for the season like last year. I had to modify my training. It would flare up at times. I figured I might as well get it done. Everyone agreed I should get it done, I’ll be ready for training camp.”
Belak said rehabilitation is four-to-six months. “But I’m more set on four months,” he said. “I can start skating once the shoulder is stable. As far as contact, that will come around August.”
KREPS ON BOARD
Along with Belak, the Panthers also signed center Kamil Kreps to a two-year deal on Monday. Kreps had eight goals and 17 assists in 76 games with the Panthers after starting the season in Rochester in the American Hockey League (AHL).
“He has tremendous speed, a good level of skill, he showed he was dependable and was good on faceoffs and the penalty kill,” said Martin of the 23-year-old Kreps. “He showed us he could play at this level. Where he fits in, he’ll determine that in training camp.”
The Panthers also signed defenseman Luke Beaverson to an entry-level contract. A former ninth-round draft pick, Beaverson (6-4, 220 pounds) played four years at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where he served as captain his senior season.
“He’s a big kid, more of a stay at home defenseman, who’s a good prospect,” Martin said.