One of the top college free agents this season after being undrafted initially, North Dakota defensemen Matt Kiersted had several NHL clubs vying for his services after his season ended in the Frozen Four Regional Semifinals.
Kiersted chose the Panthers over 20 different teams. He grew up rooting for the Panthers, so the match seemed likely from the start.
Kiersted was a good player coming out of the Minnesota High school system, averaging over a point per game in his three seasons.
He split time between Elk River High, and Twin Cities Orthopedics. With Elk River, he tallied 24 points in 21 games his first season. He followed it up with 36 points in 25 games in his last season.
He played for the Chicago Steel in the USHL and had a solid juniors career, tallying 38 points in 91 contests. Kiersted ended with 14 points in 24 games in his final campaign which resulted in a Clark Cup for the Steel.
Kiersted then would commit to playing Division 1 hockey at the University of North Dakota in 2017-18. He posted 8 points in 29 appearances as he learned and adjusted to the college game.
In the 2018-19 season, Kiersted scored seven goals, a career-high, to go with 18 points in 36 games.
His last two seasons in North Dakota were by far his best. In the shortened 2019-20 season, he became an alternate captain, tallying 29 points in 33 games.
Kiersted played a key role, helping to lead North Dakota to a regular-season championship and being named to the all-conference second team.
His final season with North Dakota would be just as good with 22 points in 29 games – he was the top defensemen all season long. He helped the Fighting Hawks to a back-to-back regular-season championship, but this time capping it off with a conference tournament win as well. Kiersted earned a spot on the all-conference first team and was named an NCAA west region second team all American.
The fit in Florida
The fit in Florida has been decent so far. Kiersted has played in a third-pairing role and has impressed in the time he has been on the ice.
While Kiersted has not recorded a point yet for the Panthers, he has been a welcome presence for the third pairing. Head coach Joel Quenneville has been impressed by his maturity and calm play and has rewarded him with around 14 minutes of ice time a night so far in his young career.
Kiersted has an interesting game, since he has a similar game to that of recently traded defensemen Mike Matheson, who also played third paring minutes and was a solid puck mover.
However, Kiersted plays a more balanced game, whereas Matheson at times struggled in his end.
Kiersted coming out of college was an interesting prospect. While his size does knock him from potentially becoming a top-pairing defenseman; his hockey IQ is elite which allows him to overcome his lack of size.
Kiersted is a great puck mover and can help start chances for others with his hockey IQ. This allows him to see the play and anticipate before it happens. Kiersted is talented enough to be able to play right away although he’s on the third-pairing to start. He will be a solid third-pairing defenseman for the majority of his career.
However, if he can continue to improve he could become a top-four defenseman given time.