Even among a deep Charlotte blue line, Matt Kiersted had no trouble making a strong impression in his rookie year.
“I thought he was awesome to be honest with you,” said Head Coach Geordie Kinnear.
A standout at the University of North Dakota, Kiersted signed as an undrafted free agent with Florida at the conclusion of his college career and got into seven games at the end of the Panthers’ 2020-21 season.
For his proper rookie campaign, Kiersted took his brief taste of the pro game and built upon that foundation.
“I think I learned a lot this year,” he said. “From the beginning of the year to now, I think I’ve grown a lot as not only a player but as a person. It kind of opens your eyes to what it takes to have a long career in hockey.”
Kiersted was a steady presence on the back end for Charlotte, carving out a role as a dependable defender who could be called upon in any situation.
“From where he started to where he finished, the grit, the determination, doing whatever it takes to get the job done - it was outstanding,” said Kinnear. “He would take a hit to make a play.”
The 24-year-old clearly won over the coaching staff with his play and drew confidence from the trust they had in him as a first-year-pro - though he is quick to spread the credit to his partners on the blue line.
“It’s good to have that confidence in there,” said Kiersted. “But I don’t think it’s just me. You earn that confidence and I think a lot of us did. We had a really deep D corps and a lot of guys played in big moments. I think it’s something that I earned and I think all of us as a D corps earned that trust.”
Kiersted - who potted 20 points (5g, 15a) in 63 games for Charlotte - impressed enough to earn a look from Florida, where he logged 10 games and picked up his first NHL goal and assist.
“I think my skating is one of the strengths of my game,” said Kiersted. “I’m not a big guy, but I think if I can skate and use my speed and edges and transitions to keep up with the play and keep tight gaps, that’s probably the biggest thing for me.”
After making NHL appearances in each of the last two season, Kiersted is using this offseason to do all that he can to push himself further into the Panthers’ picture.
“The biggest thing for me is to have confidence in myself and play with that confidence,” he said. “But also this summer I need to get stronger and put on a little more weight.”
All in all, Kiersted made a name for himself after a strong first year.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a player from where he started to where he finished,” said Kinnear.