Miami Herald (Sunday)

Forsling hoping to stay with Panthers

- BY JORDAN MCPHERSON jmcpherson@miamiheral­ Jordan McPherson: 305-376-2129, @J_McPherson1­126

Oliver Ekman-Larsson knew plenty about Gustav Forsling before the two Swedish defensemen became teammates on the Florida Panthers this season. Ekman-Larsson is a self-described “hockey nerd” and does his best to “keep an eye on all the Swedes in the league.”

But even Ekman-Larsson, five years Forsling’s senior, got a new appreciati­on for just what Forsling has to offer as a hockey player over the past four months.

“This guy is unbelievab­le,” Ekman-Larsson said. “His skating, his stick with the puck, ability on the PK and can play the power play — just every situation. You can use him anywhere, really. He’s just so good at everything he does.”

Forsling has come a long way since the Panthers picked him up as a waiver claim a week before the start of the 202021 season. In four seasons, he has gone from a thirdpair player who sometimes saw his partner change nightly to arguably one of the best defensemen in the NHL even if he still flies under the radar nationally.

He worked tirelessly to get to this point, and he is now reaping the benefits of that success.

“I think I’ve come a long way just being an NHL defenseman every night,” Forsling said. “I really have worked on coming ready to play every night and having a very high level of hockey every night. That was the biggest key, especially as the young guy that I was when I came here.”

Now, the goal is to see if Forsling can stay here.

The 27-year-old is slated to be an unrestrict­ed free agent after this season. The Panthers know just how valuable he is to the team, and they knew it when they gave him his

three-year contract even before he broke out into the budding star that he is becoming.

Forsling said contract talks have been minimal during the season. He doesn’t want them to distract from the team’s goal of winning a Stanley Cup.

But Forsling has made it clear that he wants to stay with the Panthers, the team that took a chance on him and helped him rise to his current status.

“That’s absolutely my hope,” Forsling said. “I think we’re going to figure something out. I would love to stay. That’s what I’ve been telling them all year long. I want to stay and my family loves it here.”

While Forsling’s rise has taken place over the past couple years, it hasn’t come as much of a surprise to Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers’ longest-tenured defenseman and Forsling’s main partner on the ice.

Ekblad points to three key elements that have been integral to Forsling’s


“He’s got the speed, strength and the mind. Those three things together are lethal in this league,” Ekblad said. “He can also throw around a guy that’s 250 pounds if he wanted to. I know he could. I’ve seen him with a shirt off. It’s why we keep our wives away from Gustav.”

Entering Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, Forsling has 22 points (seven goals and 15 assists). More importantl­y, he has a plus-minus rating of plus-31, meaning the Panthers are outscoring opponents by 31 goals when Forsling is on the ice at even strength or in shorthande­d situations.

Even more, Forsling is an almost unheard of plus-91 over the past three years, which is the third-best in the NHL in that span.

“Freaking outrageous,” Ekblad said.

Forsling has built his game and his confidence by learning from some of the Panthers’ top defensemen over the years, from

Ekblad to MacKenzie Weegar to Radko Gudas.

“Every night,” Forsling said, “I want to be my best me out there.”

His best effort is out there more often than not.

Through 50 games played this season, Forsling has been on the wrong end of the plus-minus game just six times.

 ?? ALIE SKOWRONSKI askowronsk­i@miamiheral­ ?? Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling, right, with Aaron Ekblad, could be an unrestrict­ed free agent after this season.
ALIE SKOWRONSKI askowronsk­i@miamiheral­ Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling, right, with Aaron Ekblad, could be an unrestrict­ed free agent after this season.

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