Gut-wrenching draft experience turns to joy for Panthers pick MacKenzie Weegar

After more than six hours of raw anticipation, MacKenzie Weegar was on the verge of giving up.

There with his mom and uncle by his side at Sunday’s NHL draft in Newark N.J., the Halifax Mooseheads defenceman had heard 205 names called- none of whom were his.

Five more picks and the event he’d worked his whole life for would be over and Weegar would be heading home devastated.

But then the Florida Panthers used their 206th selection on the 19-year-old.

“It was definitely a relief, it was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” said Weegar. “My mom wasn’t talking the whole day, she was biting her nails. Then she just jumped up with a big smile on her face.

“There was a point when I started to slowly get down on myself. But you never know, right. It just proves that you have to hold out hope.”

Paul Gallagher, the Panthers’ Cole Harbour-based scout, played a large role making the selection happen.

Gallagher watched Weegar constantly improve over 30 or so regular season and playoff games.

“He needs to get a little quicker,” said Gallagher. “But he has great puck presence and great puck poise.

“He’s got something that intrigues you as a scout, it’s also about his willingness to get better, to work at his game.”

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was also sold on the defenceman, who led the league with a plus-55 during the regular season and was 10th among rookies and defencemen in scoring with 44 points.

But Weegar knows he’s got plenty of work to do and he’s more than willing to do what it takes.

“I have to work on everything, especially footwork and speed and I’ll be focusing on that this summer and hoping that next season the scouts will see that I have made big improvements,” he said. “I’ve come along way, I’m sort of a late bloomer but I know I have a lot more in me to get to the next step.”

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