After spending the first few games of the season as a healthy scratch, Florida Panthers defenseman Matt Gilroy has been a one of the better players on a struggling Florida hockey club as of late. Gilroy, a former Hobey Baker Award winner from his college hockey days with Boston University, has bounced around the NHL and AHL since being signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Rangers back in 2009-10.
Florida signed Gilroy to a one-year, two-way contract in the offseason and was pegged to be in Florida’s top six for the start of the season, until Florida signed veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney to a one-year deal. Whitney, coming off a PTO with the St. Louis Blues, was looked at as a serviceable vet to help young D-men like Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, while taking the workload off of Brian Campbell and the rest of the back end. Since starting the season, Whitney has been more of a liability in his own zone finishing -5 in four games, with zero points and 4 PIMs.
While the headline for Florida facing the Nashville Predators was Aleksander Barkov taking on Seth Jones for the first time in regular season play since the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, it was Gilroy who stood out for Florida. Gilroy, who has taken the place of Whitney in the past three games, has played with purpose, as he is competing for a job now more than ever. With hungry prospects in the AHL looking to make the jump to the NHL, and Whitney waiting for his chance to get back into the lineup, Gilroy has no choice but to play with everything he’s got and prove that he is an NHL-caliber player, and maybe just a late bloomer.
Gilroy’s played well on both ends of the ice against Nashville. A mobile defenseman with good size and strength, Gilroy played relatively well within his own zone and translated that into success in the Nashville zone as well. In the third period, Gilroy sent a puck on net that deflected off of Nashville’s David Legwand and into the net for his first goal as a Panther and the first goal by a Florida blueliner this year. The goal put Florida within one and turned the momentum for the rest of the period and the game in Florida’s favor. Gilroy finished -1 with a goal in a 4-3 loss to Nashville.
Gilroy earned his ice time, finishing third on the team in the game in time on ice, recording 20:52, trailing only Campbell and Kulikov, a sign that head coach Kevin Dineen may begin putting his trust in the 29-year-old defenseman. He could play his fourth game as a Panther this Thursday against their new Atlantic Division rivals, the Boston Bruins.