By David Dwork

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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers have made it a habit to sign its young starts to long, lucrative contracts.

The team locked up another youthful cornerstone on Monday, inking defenseman Mike Matheson to an eight-year extension.

The deal is reportedly worth $39 million with an average annual value of $4.875 million per year.

“Mike is an important part of our team’s young core and we are thrilled that he has decided to remain a Panther for the long-term,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. “He is a dynamic and intelligent defenseman with impeccable character and work ethic. Mike has developed into a difference maker on our blue line and will be an important player and leader for the Panthers for many years to come.”

A former first round pick by the Panthers (23rd overall in 2012), Matheson arrived in Florida with a bit more seasoning than most rookies after playing three years for one of the top college programs in the United States at Boston College.

Matheson would have been a restricted free agent following this season, but now he’s under contract with the Panthers through 2025-26.

“My first reaction was a little surprised,” Matheson said. “I’m still pretty young and new to the NHL so to be able to receive that sort of trust from the Florida Panthers is a huge honor.”

The 23-year-old made his NHL debut with the Panthers in February of 2016, playing in three regular season games and five Stanley Cup Playoff games that year.

Florida’s disappointing 2016-17 campaign was Matheson’s first full NHL season.

He recorded 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) over 81 games, logging more even-strength ice time than any other Panthers defenseman and the second-most shorthanded minutes. Florida had the league’s second-ranked penalty kill in the NHL last season.

Matheson recognized that the Panthers are an ascending franchise with lots of young talent, making the decision to seek a multi-year extension an easy one.

“I’m really excited about where this team is headed and it’s such an honor to be a part of it for such a long time,” he said.

Despite the exceptionally long term of the contract, Matheson said negotiations didn’t take long.

“I don’t think either side was trying to be unrealistic or play hardball,” he said, noting that his agent and Tallon were on the same page.

“He was the one that took a chance on me and drafted me,” Matheson said of Tallon. “He was the one that called me up for my first game and gave me a chance to show what I can do in the league. I really owe a lot to him and I hope he realizes how appreciative I am of everything he’s done for me.”

Matheson joins a large group of young players that Florida has signed for the foreseeable future.

Aaron Ekblad is signed through 2025, Jonathan Huberdeau through 2023, Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck through 2022 and Nick Bjugstad through 2021.

“To be able to play with those guys for a long period of time is incredible,” Matheson said. “That’s how you build championship teams; you build a core that is able to play together for a few years straight and really get to know each other.”

Additionally, defensemen Keith Yandle is under contract through 2023 and goaltender James Reimer is signed through 2021.

“It’s pretty impressive we have so many guys locked up for a long period of time,” Matheson added.


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