SUNRISE, Fla. – When you talk about the veteran leadership within the Florida Panthers locker room, it’s hard not to mention Derek MacKenzie.
The 34-year-old center served as one of four assistant captains on Florida’s roster this past season, rewarding the team’s decision to stich an “A” onto his jersey with hard-nosed play and on-ice leadership.
Whether it was engaging in a heated battle along the boards, dropping the gloves to defend a teammate or diving forward to break up a pass, MacKenzie’s selfless play throughout the season often inspired his teammates to give that little bit of extra effort that can sometimes prove to be the difference between winning and losing
MacKenzie, however, insists that his job is much easier than it looks.
“These guys really don’t need much leading,” a modest MacKenzie said of his younger teammates after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center in April. ‘They play the right way every night. I, personally, just loved watching where they’ve come from and where they’re going.
“I think the sky’s the limit with the core of young guys here. If they continue in that direction it’s going to be a pretty special team. I’ll take pride in the fact that the older guys and the young guys are all on the same page.”
As the Panthers’ fourth-line center, MacKenzie’s contributions to victory also extended well beyond his leadership and intangibles. He recorded six goals and 13 points in 63 games, but was focused far more on keeping the puck out of his own net rather than besting opposing goaltenders.
A key component of Florida’s penalty kill, MacKenzie’s average of 2:38 shorthanded minutes per game were the most by a Panthers forward since Marty Reasoner averaged 2:45 in 2010-11. His 157 hits were also tops among Panther forwards for the second consecutive season and his plus-7 rating was the second best of his career.
"For a so-called fourth-line player, he knows his role and plays it perfectly," Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said of MacKenzie. "He's one of your hardest workers every night. He practices hard and is just a true pro who's a great leader for our young players."
When the Panthers needed to win a key draw this past season, they seemingly always turned to MacKenzie, who posted a team-best 54.8 percent success rate in the faceoff circle. And, when it mattered most, MacKenzie’s 52.7 percent success rate when on the penalty kill was second to only teammate Aleksander Barkov’s 54.8.
MacKenzie scored a season-high two goals to lead the Panthers to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 2.
"I never know how they go in, they just went in today," MacKenzie said after the game. "I thought our line deserved it. I think that was just kind of carryover to the hard work those guys put in."
It was MacKenzie's first two-goal game since March 12, 2011.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
In typical MacKenzie fashion, this one is scored right in front of the net.
After clawing his way past Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith, MacKenzie crashes the net just in time to tap in a pass from Brandon Pirri past goaltender Jimmy Howard to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead in the second period.