The Panthers have recalled defenseman Mackenzie Weegar from the team’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, according to multiple sources. Weegar, originally drafted by the Panthers with the 6th-to-last pick of the 2013 Draft, has received his first NHL call-up after spending the past 3 seasons in the AHL and ECHL.
After passing through the OHL Draft in both 2010 and 2011, Weegar was selected by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL first overall in the OHL Waiver Draft before being traded to the Halifax Mooseheads for a 9th-round pick.
It was with Halifax that he’d play out his major junior career and begin to develop into a standout offensive defenseman, posting 103 points in 123 games, including 59 points in 61 games during the 2012-13 season as he helped guide the Mooseheads to a Memorial Cup victory. Weegar was passed over in the 2012 NHL Draft before the Panthers selected him a year later.
The 23-year old is expected to step into the Panthers’ lineup some time following Tuesday’s game after Aaron Ekblad suffered concussion in a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Ekblad was elbowed in the head as he was checked into the corner boards by Lightning forward Gabriel Dumont early in the 2nd period and was ruled out for the rest of the game with an upper-body injury.
Prior to being called up on Sunday, Weegar was in the midst of a career year with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds where he tallied 29 points in 51 games, leading the team’s blue-liners and ranking him second on the team. His 12 goals is good for second on the team – and is currently a career-high since recording 7 in 9 more games last season – while his 17 assists also leads Springfield’s defenders.
He recorded a career-high 9 shots in a game on March 3rd and has recorded a total of 25 shots over his last 6 games. Weegar leads the Thunderbirds with 157 shots on goal despite playing in 8 fewer games than the next highest shot-getter.
Although he spent most of last season in a 3rd-pairing role, he has blossomed into a top-pairing defender that has logged big minutes this season while also serving as an assistant captain.
A native of Nepean, a city just outside of Ottawa, Weegar was the lone player selected to represent the Thunderbirds at this year’s AHL All-Star Game where he went on to record a goal and 2 assists while also participating in the Skills Competition.
“He’s very creative, he’s really good with the puck, he sees the ice well, and has a lot of skill,” said Panthers’ President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon back in 2014.
Tallon has raved about Weegar every chance he has gotten since the selection was made in 2013.
“Overall, I’m really impressed with his ability to carry the puck, to dish it up and shoot it. This is a guy we saw a lot of potential in.”
Weegar, who is set to become a restricted free-agent at the end of the season – is expected to wear jersey number 52 for the Panthers when he makes his NHL debut.