During Aaron Ekblad’s absence due to a lower body injury suffered in late October, the Panthers defense core has had to step up in big ways. Younger guys like Gustav Forsling and Josh Mahura, as well as veterans Radko Gudas and Marc Staal have helped the Panthers stay afloat without their #1 defenseman, posting a 6-4-1 record in 11 games without Ekblad. Although their contributions have been marked, no one has seized the opportunity quite like Brandon Montour.
Montour, a 28 year old native of Brantford, Ontario, was a second round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks back in 2014. He started off his career in the NHL very nicely, joining the Ducks in their playoff push and playing in 17 playoff games in 2016-17 before the Ducks eventually lost to the Predators in the Western Conference Finals. He then built on his successful rookie campaign by attaining back to back 80+ games played seasons, totaling 17 goals and 50 assists over those two years. He began his career looking every bit like the offensive minded, puck-moving defenseman that he was projected to be when he was drafted.
However, things started to change after a mid-season trade to Buffalo in the 2018-19 season. The Buffalo Sabres swung a trade with Anaheim to acquire Montour in his age 24 season for a first round pick and AHL defenseman Brendan Guhle. Montour finished out the season strong, but things started to go wrong for him in the 2019-20 season when he suffered a hand injury in the preseason that carried over to the regular season and caused him to miss a chunk of games. Along with his injury, his production started to trend down as well.
In the 2020-21 season, the Sabres were already far out of the playoff picture by the trade deadline, and decided to trade Montour for a 2021 third round pick to the Panthers. He joined the team for their playoff run and didn’t make a huge impact in their first round loss, but was still serviceable. The next year is when things really started turning around for Montour. He played in 81 games for the Atlantic Division champion Panthers, while posting an impressive 11 goals and 37 points. His stats were remarkable considering his smaller role on the team that year, where he averaged 17:53 of ice time per game which was much less than that of fellow blue liners Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar. He has carried this momentum into the start of the 2022-23 season.
With the departure of MacKenzie Weegar to the Flames in the Matthew Tkachuk deal, and the early season injury to Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers’ defensive depth and team resilience has been tested. While they have received increased minutes and contributions from guys all over the lineup, it is arguable that no one has done more than Brandon Montour. In just the games that Ekblad was out, Montour saw his ice time increase to around 27 minutes per game, including a 30:41 TOI outing against the Sharks to begin their California road trip on November 3rd. He also scored 14 out of his 18 total points so far on the year in those 10 games. Additionally, his 18 points are good for 6th most points scored by defensemen so far in the 22-23 campaign.
By the looks of it, Florida’s investment of a third round pick for Montour has been well worth it so far. Montour’s sustained play will be a huge component of the success of the team for the remainder of the season. Any secondary scoring received from defensemen not named Aaron Ekblad will be largely beneficial for Florida, and will aid them in their push to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth straight season.