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Jason Garrison: From Undrafted to All-Star? Florida Panthers D-Man Brings the Bomb ... Boston Leftovers

GarrisonnycSome players around the National Hockey League have already circled the last weekend in January, looking ahead to a few days off for a vacation with the family.

Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison isn't. He doesn't know what he'll be doing when the All-Star break comes around, but if he keeps playing like this, he may be working.

"I think I would be excited to go and would bang it out in Ottawa,'' Garrison said of the possibility of being selected to the All-Star team with a grin.

“I have not heard anything. Honestly, I haven't thought of it once. I don't even think it's an option. There are about 22 players on our team who deserve it more than I do.''

If Garrison is indeed selected to play at the All-Star Game, he will be a player in demand  by the gathered media. Garrison is definitely being noticed. His story of perseverance and proving the naysayers wrong a good one. 

Undrafted as a junior, Garrison went to the University of Minnesota-Duluth with the thought he just wanted to improve as a player. “I never even thought about being drafted,'' he has said. “It never even crossed my mind. That's how far away I was.'' 

GarrisonGarrison ended up blossoming as a collegiate player and left after three seasons once signing a free agent deal with the Panthers. Jacques Martin, Florida's general manager at the time, worked hard to get Garrison to sign and said then that Garrison had the potential to become a top-four defenseman in the league.

“It's a great success story and it shows you that there isn't just one road to the NHL,'' assistant coach Gord Murphy said. “Everyone thinks there is one golden path and he proves that just isn't true. He's a late bloomer, late developer. But he always had a strong work ethic and a desire to play hard. Those are the qualities you look for in a strong NHL defenseman. He has that.''

After a season in the minors, Garrison played 39 games with Florida in 2009-10 and showed enough promise that the Panthers offered him a two-year contract. With an increased role last season, Garrison scored a career-high five goals while becoming a much-counted on defensive player.

These days, however, Garrison has been singled out for his offensive contributions. Garrison went into the Christmas break with 10 goals – most among all NHL defensemen. And he's been leading that category for some time. 

“It seems like every time you are watching the ticker for scores, you see his name pop up,'' said Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, Garrison's teammate in Florida for a part of the 2009-10 season. “It's really nice to see him break out like that. He's having a lot of success, playing a lot of minutes. You didn't see that when I was there. He was very quiet, but man, so strong. He's like a beast.''

It's Garrison's booming slap shot that has brought him his goals, as all but one have come from 45 feet or more. Newcomer Brian Campbell has helped, for sure, and has assisted on all but the past two of Garrison's 10 goals. “A lot of ice was open to him early,'' Murphy said, “because everyone was keying on Campbell. Now they're keying on him.''

Garrison2In practice, Garrison says he doesn't wind up to full speed so to not potentially injure his goalie. Still, when he starts shooting, his teammates wisely get out of the way.

Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America

“I use my shot as much as I can, just trying to get the puck through,'' Garrison said. “Fortunately a few of them have found the back of the net. For the most part, I'm just shooting it for the forwards, for the tips, to create havoc. I try to play a simple game: Shoot it accurately and hard.''

As much as the Panthers like Garrison's increased offensive role, they stress they want him to continue focusing on his defense. That is, after all, what earned him a contract with the Panthers in the first place. When the Panthers brought in new management in 2010, they assessed what Florida had. Garrison was a player they wanted to keep.

Instead of a two-way contract – making it easier for the Panthers to send him to the minors – Garrison was offered a two-year, one-way contract for a little less guaranteed money. That contract is almost up and Garrison can be a free agent. Florida has had talks with his agent and Garrison has stressed he wants to remain with the Panthers. The feeling is mutual.

“We knew it was a long-term plan here and we wanted to give him confidence and that's been rewarded,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “We haven't sat down at the table yet, but I believe Jason wants to stay with the Panthers. We want him to continue on with us. He's been a big part of what we've done.''

HISTORIC LOSS

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told coach Kevin Dineen to “shake off” Friday's 8-0 loss in Boston moments before the two parted. Tallon flew home with the team to South Florida; Dineen stayed behind Bostonbearto celebrate Christmas with his family up north. The Panthers will be back on the ice Monday evening.

The Panthers have had some rough losses this season (5-1 in Tampa Bay, 6-1 to the Rangers) but nothing like the 'Beatdown in Beantown.' Boston jumped to a 4-0 lead by the end of the first period, led 6-0 at the end of the second and finished things off with a pair of third period goals from Brad Marchand as he earned his first career NHL hat trick.

The 8-0 loss was Florida's largest shutout loss in franchise history and second worst loss ever. Florida lost 12-2 to Washington in 2003. The Panthers play host to Toronto on Tuesday and hold a six-point lead on Winnipeg atop the Southeast Division.

“I think we had a little bit of revenge on the mind after what happened last time when they came here and shut us out in our own building,'' Marchand said, referring to Florida's 2-0 win on Dec. 8. “So, the guys were all very excited for this game and everyone did a great job of getting up for it.'' 

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