Matty Matters: Where's Shawn Matthias?

It's been a busy summer for the Panthers. Tons of free agent signings, some trades, and some qualifying offers for restricted free agents. Oh, and a new AHL affiliate, some trades for said affiliate's depth, and some signings for it as well. For the most part, the entire roster has been revamped, as well as the entire organization, and it's very clear things are changing. Aside from a handful of players from last year's roster, the opening day lineup is going to be completely foreign to Panther fans, and considering the results from last season, that's a good thing.

There are some mainstays from last year's lineup returning though: center Stephen Weiss and left wing David Booth are no-brainers, as well as defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Joining them are forwards Evgeni Dadonov and Scott Timmins, defensemen Mike Weaver and Jason Garrison, and goalie Scott Clemmensen. RFA Mike Santorelli and UFA Keaton Ellerby were brought back, as well as Jack Skille. But there's one name fans know that's missing from this list.

Where's Shawn Matthias?

Matthias, known as "Danger" to his teammates, is also an RFA and has yet to be officially signed, despite a qualifying offer being submitted in June. Matthias was having a pretty decent year on a pretty mediocre team last season, and would have posted career highs in points if not for a nasty ankle injury suffered in January of this year. The injury kept him out until almost the end of the season, and when he did return in April in time for the last couple weeks of games, he re-aggravated the injury and was forced to sit yet again.

He was moved around quite a bit last season when healthy, playing on the second, third and fourth lines all throughout his 51 games. Former Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer used him in a lot of situations but never really let him get settled with consistent linemates, and it would often show in his play. Even with some of the adversity he had to deal with last year, he posted an even plus/minus rating and finished with an on-ice Corsi rating higher than Santorelli or Marty Reasoner. Granted, Matthias played against lower level opposition most of the time (his Corsi QoC was lower than Santorelli, who often played on the top two lines), but considering how young Matthias is and how inconsistent his environment was, he turned in a relatively good season.

Clearly management thinks he's worth keeping or he wouldn't have been tendered a qualifying offer. But where does he fit in the lineup right now? Let's take a look at what is likely the team's current depth chart at center:

  1. Stephen Weiss
  2. Mike Santorelli
  3. Marcel Goc
  4. Ryan Carter
  5. Shawn Matthias
  6. Scott Timmins
That's six centers, and only four lines to play them on. Weiss is likely untouchable as the team's number one center, and you can make the argument that Goc could be above Santorelli, though Santorelli is a better playmaker at this point. Carter is a solid fourth line center, capable of putting a few in the net and being a serious physical presence, as we saw towards the end of last season once he was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes. Timmins is still young and may end up being another solid depth guy (and potential injury callup) for the San Antonio Rampage, though he did impress at development camp and will push for a spot on the team this fall.

From this depth chart, it looks like Matthias is out of the picture for the Cats, but perhaps not. We don't know the offer tendered from the Panthers, and it's possible it's a two-way deal, which is why Matthias hasn't signed it yet. Or it's possible that management has hesitations due to his ankle injury, and may have undercut the salary figures a bit. Regardless, it's hard to see where Matthias fits into the team's plans at the center position at this point. He would need to outplay the other names on the list, and although it's possible, it will take an impressive effort on his part in camp to rise up on that depth chart.

However, all is not lost for Matthias. DeBoer placed him on the wing a few games last season and he responded with some pretty good offensive efforts. He's a natural center with good hands but has also played left wing in his career, and the Cats just so happen to be a little shallow at left wing. Booth and Sean Bergenheim are the only natural left wings on the roster, and so it's possible Matthias is given a chance to see time at wing and refine his scoring touch while playing with less defensive responsibility than when he was at center. It's entirely possible to see Matthias on the left wing on the fourth line, centered by Carter and with Matt Bradley or Jack Skille on the right side. That's a lot of muscle and hitting power, with some scoring potential as well.

Matthias has all summer to sign his qualifying offer, so we'll have to wait and see what happens. Regardless, he has been slowly but surely maturing into a quality third or fourth line center, and if he does re-sign with the Panthers, it will be interesting to see how he is utilized on a team that looks nothing like what he was a part of last season.
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