Additionally, defenseman Josh Mahura left last night’s game against the Kings with a lower-body injury after six shifts and did not return. Now, the NHL’s media site shows that Mahura has been placed on IR and will be out of the lineup for at least seven days, as David Dwork of Local 10 Miami and The Hockey News relays.
Forward Jonah Gadjovich is also available to play for the Panthers after his conditioning loan with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers ended today, George Richards of Florida Hockey Now says. The moves result in the Panthers having a cap-compliant 23-man roster with less than $100K in cap space (CapFriendly later listed this figure as less than $500K).
Ekblad and Montour were unavailable for the beginning of the season after undergoing off-season shoulder surgeries to address injuries sustained in the Panthers’ run to the 2024 Stanley Cup Final. They are now eligible to play in tonight’s contest and are expected to make their season debuts in top-four roles. Ekblad is expected to suit up alongside Gustav Forsling, who’s logged a +11 rating and is averaging nearly 24 minutes per game. Montour, meanwhile, will comprise the second pairing with offseason addition Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who seems to have new life breathed into his game and leads Panthers defensemen with ten points in 16 games.
To make room for Ekblad and Montour in the lineup, Latvian defender Uvis Balinskis will be a healthy scratch, in addition to Mahura landing on IR. Balinskis, an undrafted free agent in his first NHL season, has appeared in 14 of 16 games for the Panthers this season, notching two points and a +2 rating while averaging 13:58 per game. The team now has eight defensemen on the active roster, with Mike Reilly still hanging around the team as an oft-scratch. Offseason signings Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola, who have both averaged over 19 minutes per game this season in the absence of Ekblad and Montour, will form a shutdown third pairing with the Panthers’ defense now at near total health.
The return of the Panthers’ top two defensemen provides a boon to a team that’s treaded well in their absence, sitting second in the Atlantic Division with a 10-5-1 record. Their success is largely due to the remarkable play of their first line, comprised of captain Aleksander Barkov with Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart on his flank. Reinhart leads all Panthers in scoring and sits near the top of the league leaderboard with 13 goals and 24 points, while Rodrigues has fit in nicely with three goals and 13 points in 16 games after signing a four-year, $12MM deal in free agency last summer.
Montour is entering the final season of a three-year contract carrying a $3.5MM cap hit, one that proved to be an immense bargain last season. The 29-year-old right-shot D had one of the most notable breakout campaigns of any player in the league, recording a career-high 16 goals, 57 assists and 73 points in 80 games and finished 12th in Norris Trophy voting. Ekblad remains under contract through 2024-25 and logged over 23 minutes per night for a third consecutive season in 2022-23.
It’s a tough break for Mahura, who has seen limited ice time this season and now faces an uphill battle for a roster spot when he returns from injury. The 25-year-old had five assists and a -2 rating, playing in all 16 games, but had failed to see more than 15 minutes of ice in any single game this year. A 2016 third-round pick of the Ducks, Mahura is signed to a one-year, $925K deal and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of the season.