Carter Verhaeghe (pictured) was drafted into the NHL by his upcoming playoff opponent. Photo credit: NHL
It was midway through a recent sit-down interview with former Niagara IceDogs captain, now member of the National Hockey League (NHL) Anaheim Ducks, Ryan Strome that I asked a simple question:
Who is the most underrated player in the NHL?
Without hesitation Strome proclaimed “Carter Verhaeghe”, who just happens to be another former Niagara IceDogs captain, and former teammate of Strome’s in Niagara.
Some 36 hours later after that Strome interview Verhaeghe scored the game-winning goal for the Florida Panthers in what many people are calling the biggest upset in league history.
The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for points (135) and wins (65) in a regular season during the 2022-23 campaign, and led the Panthers three games to one, before the unthinkable happened and Florida stormed back to take the series in seven games with a 4-3 overtime victory – a game in which Verhaeghe scored the winning goal.
Verhaeghe is the only Panthers player to score a series-clinching goal since the franchise made the Stanley Cup Final back in 1996.
“It just feels good to get the win,” said the 27-year-old, who scored 42 goals during the regular season, and has added two more tallies and eight points in the playoffs thus far.
“The way we battled back through the series, and even this game, it’s been a ride for sure.”
Yes, 44 goals and counting for Verhaeghe, who by the way has already won a Stanley Cup with the Panthers interstate cousin the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Can you imagine if Verhaeghe was playing in a hockey crazed market like Toronto?
Oh, wait a minute, over 90 per cent of the population forgets Verhaeghe was actually drafted by the Maple Leafs out of Niagara, and guess who the Maple Leafs meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning Tuesday night.
You got it, the Florida Panthers.
Verhaeghe was drafted in the third round, 82nd overall, by the Leafs back in 2013 after putting up 18 goals and 44 points in 67 games as a member of the IceDogs.
He never played a single game with Toronto, however. In fact, he was passed over by the New York Islanders, the Lightning thought he was dispensable, but he’s now finally found a home with the Panthers.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Leafs won their first playoff series since 2004 with a six-game victory over aforementioned Tampa Bay.
Toronto was (3-0-1) against Florida this past regular season, but three of the four games went to overtime.
The Panthers are coached by former Maple Leafs bench boss Paul Maurice.
The two teams have never met in the NHL playoffs.
“They have some really elite players that can make plays, and they play the right way,” Verhaeghe said when asked about the Maple Leafs.
“They’re a different team than they have been in years past, and it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
And most likely a good challenge for the Maple Leafs.
Rod Mawhood is a lifelong Niagara native who has had the pleasure of working in all three mediums – Radio, Print and TV – for over 20 years. His first announcing gig was with the then St. Catharines Stompers. Since then he’s worked in radio and TV in Toronto, and currently is the announcer for the Niagara IceDogs and Niagara River Lions.
Rod also covers the Buffalo Bills for FOX Sports and the Buffalo Sabres for NBC Sports.