MacKenzie Weegar signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on May 29th. A star defenseman that played an important role in helping the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) to the 2013 Memorial Cup, Weegar has faced challenges throughout his young career. He went undrafted by the OHL for two years before making his way to waivers, where he was picked up by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the OHL waiver draft.
He was then traded to Halifax, but opted to return to Ontario to play Junior A in the CCHL where he tallied 13 goals and 39 assists in 58 games for the Nepean Raiders over the span of two seasons. He committed to the Mooseheads prior to the 2012-13 season and contributed eight goals and 36 assists in his first season with Halifax, helping the team to the championship. He followed it up by notching 59 points (12G, 47A) in the regular season and five goals and 17 assists in the playoffs the next year.
The Panthers, which didn’t originally have a pick in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft, traded back into the draft by swapping their 2014 seventh round pick with Montreal. And with that pick, they took Weegar with the 206th overall selection.
Weegar is in Coral Springs with the Panthers for development camp, but before he left, he took some time to talk about his career so far and what he’s looking forward to about playing pro hockey.
What are some of the things you have had to work on in developing your game throughout your career?
My conditioning is probably the biggest thing that I can always work on. Even to this day, I always have to be pretty keen on my conditioning. Also staying mentally tough – I’ve had some ups and downs the whole way.
You won a championship with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013 – what was that experience like and how did it help you grow as a player?
It was a great honor to win, but also as a rookie it was my first year. I knew I was coming onto a pretty good team with MacKinnon and Drouin and some big-name players. Just to be part of that team, I think I grew a lot from that and experienced a lot and I think I’m taking that with me wherever I go. I think winning helped a lot – it was a lot of fun and hopefully I can do it at the next level too.
You developed into more of an offensive defenseman during your time in Halifax – is that something that came naturally to you or something you needed to work on?
I think it kinda came naturally. When I was younger, I would always play forward and I didn’t want to play defense that much. When I got switched back to D, I always wanted to be up there in the play and try to make something happen and try and make a difference, and that’s what I’ve done so far. That’s my game right now.
Florida traded back into the seventh round to draft you. Did that surprise you?
I was waiting there for a long time. I just remember when Montreal traded the pick to Florida, I had an idea. You never really know though, and they called my name. It was so surreal. I’m so thankful Florida went out of their way to pick me up. It was a nice feeling.
What’s been your focus this offseason, your first as a pro?
Just staying physically fit, staying on the ice, keeping healthy. I’ve focused on nutrition, eating well – trying to get all that in line. I’m having fun at the same time – seeing family and friends. I’m having a good summer, but also taking it professionally because it’s a job now and you have to take it seriously.
What are you most looking forward to about development camp?
Being around the players, seeing the new prospects and seeing what it takes to get to the next level and the competition you’re going up against. It will be fun, and I’m looking forward to getting down there.
Is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to playing with?
It’s always nice to see Ekblad and see what he has to bring and where I am compared to him. Everyone saw him play at World Juniors, and he’s a good defenseman – I’m looking forward to seeing him.
What’s most exciting to you about playing pro hockey?
Just being there – my head hasn’t fully wrapped around it yet. I’ve come such a long way, and I never really expected to be here and now that I am, it’s a weird feeling. But the best part is being here and getting this far.I had a lot of people help me along the way – my mom has always helped me stay motivated and to have that drive and determination to keep going.