American Hockey League

Kiersted full of confidence following strong rookie season

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Matt Kiersted is looking to take another big step this season.

Finding success during his first full season in the pros in 2021-22, the 24-year-old defenseman posted 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) over 63 games with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL, while also recording two points (one goal, one assist) over 10 games with the Florida Panthers in the NHL.

Originally signed by Florida as a free agent on April 1, 2021, Kiersted was rewarded for his efforts with a two-year contract extension in June, with the deal’s second year being one-way.

“Matt made great strides this year in his first full professional season, showing his skill as an exciting young defenseman,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said in a release announcing the contact extension. “We are looking forward to his continued growth within our organization.”

Growth is what every young player is trying to show right now in South Florida.

Looking to make his mark in training camp, Kiersted, a 6-foot, 181-pound native of Elk River, Minnesota, has already appeared in two preseason games with the Panthers, including skating a little more than 20 minutes during a 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators on Monday.

Following Friday’s practice at the Panthers IceDen, I had a chance to sit down with Kiersted to chat about his goals for the upcoming season, his takeaways from last season, and much more.

Continue reading below to check out that conversation.

OLIVE: You’ve already suited up in two preseason games. What are some of the biggest areas of your game that you’ve been working on out of the gate?

KIERSTED: I think timing is the biggest thing. I haven’t played a game since the [AHL] playoffs last year, so I think that first game was a little bit of an adjustment trying to get the timing back. I think it took me a period or so to get that back, and then it kind of grew as the game went on. It’s definitely good to get back into game situations and feel the pace again.

OLIVE: It wasn’t necessarily a traditional-style of game, but I saw you competed in Da Beauty League back home in Minnesota this summer. How much fun was that?

KIERSTED: Oh, Da Beauty League’s great! It’s 4-on-4, so it’s a lot of skilled, high-paced, high-scoring games. It’s a blast. We made it to the championship this summer, so it was a lot of fun.

OLIVE: It seems like the local community really rallies around it every summer.

KIERSTED: Yeah, it’s great. To see all the kids come out is especially great. It’s great to see that kind of turnout for summer hockey. There’s a lot of kids at the tunnel asking you for autographs or wanting to carry your bag in for you. It’s cool to see that in the community.

OLIVE: I saw former Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad was on your team. How much fun was it having him in the locker room?

KIERSTED: He’s a great guy, for sure. He was always kind of the light in the room, talking and bringing guys together. It was really fun to play with him.

OLIVE: Now that a couple of months have passed, what sticks out when you look back on your first season in the pros in 2021-22?

KIESTED: It was different, for sure. Coming from college where you play 30-something games a year to 70-something last year, it was a big jump. It’s a long season, and you learn that quick. Right when you get around the 40-game mark, you feel it starting to get long. It was an adjustment, for sure. I think the guys we had, the older guys like Dalps (Zac Dalpe), helped us out a lot and told us when to reel it back and save the legs when we needed to.

OLIVE: How beneficial do you think it was getting to play in the AHL playoffs as a rookie?

KIERSTED: It was good to get that. I think the team we had, we were good. To be able to play in the playoffs last year in Charlotte, I think it just helps just to be in those kinds of situations. It’s good to feel those high-pressure games. To have that in my first year was great.

OLIVE: The end goal is to play in Florida, but how great was it to be in Charlotte?

KIERSTED: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. The group of guys there made it like that. When you’re winning, it’s always better. I’m going to miss a lot of the guys that left for Seattle, but that’s hockey. I enjoyed my time there a lot. But, like you said, ultimately you want to be here.

OLIVE: Heading into the 2022-23 season, you already got a big milestone out of the way by scoring your first NHL goal last season against the Kings on Dec. 16. Where does that puck live now and have you gone back to watch the goal at all over the past few months?

KIERSTED: Yeah, I have the puck. The team put it in a frame with a picture. That’s pretty cool to have. It’s in my room back home. It’ll probably stay there. That was a very special moment. I don’t still watch it, but the night it happened I probably watched video 100 times [laughs].

OLIVE: This season will also be year one of the new two-year contract you signed with the Panthers back in June. Especially with the second year of the deal being one-way, how nice is it to get that kind of vote of confidence from the organization?

KIERSTED: That shows the confidence the organization has in me, and I think that gives me confidence to know they expect me to be here. You’ve got to perform, and I put in the work this offseason. The one-way is next year, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be here this year, too.

OLIVE: With that in mind, what are you hoping to accomplish during training camp?

KIERSTED: Honestly, I just take it day by day. I just come to the rink ready to work, ready to compete. That’s about it. I’m trying the best I can to not look past tomorrow.

OLIVE: Looking around the locker room, how nice is it to have veterans like Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour and Radko Gudas helping you out along the way?

KIERSTED: I try my best to be a sponge in here. I just listen and see what guys do in the weight room and on the ice. They get out there early, work on certain things and stay late. Just being around that is really good and really helpful for me to see how they do it. I want to do the same.

The Florida Panthers will celebrate their 2022-23 Home Opener at FLA Live Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 19, 2022. The first 10,000 fans through the doors will receive a commemorative magnet schedule courtesy of Bally Sports Florida. Click HERE to purchase your tickets today!

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