After four years in the sunny state of Florida playing with the NHL’s Florida Panthers, Jason Garrison is coming home. Home – that is, British Columbia, Canada – where he will continue his NHL career for the next six years.
“We went through this same experience with Dan Hamhuis, a player who really wanted to come here and play and at the end of the day,” general manager Mike Gillis told canucks.com, “they both left money on the table with other teams to come here and be part of what we’re trying to do.”
On Sunday Garrison signed a six year contract with the Canucks for $27.6 million dollars, with an annual salary cap of $4.6 million dollars. The 27 year old, who grew up in White Rock, B.C., has just finished his best season in the NHL and vows to continue to improve as he takes his next step of his career in Vancouver.
“I’m looking forward to being a better player each year,” Garrison told the Province. “I spoke with Mike Gillis a little bit prior to signing and talked about the role I play and how it would be a good fit for me. With the way the team is coached, it’s a system I can step into and help.
“I’ll play wherever they need me to play.”
Garrison has made a name for himself in Florida, setting a franchise record for goals by a defenseman with 16 and posting statistics that ranked him among the NHL’s top defensemen. His 16 goals were third amongst NHL defense, right after Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson. Nine of those goals were on the power play, putting him second overall in power play goals by a defenseman and tying a Panthers’ franchise record. Those nine goals were his first NHL power play goals, as he did not score any in his three previous NHL seasons. With his new-found power play success, there has been a lot of talk about Garrison becoming a regular sight on the Canucks’ power play.
“He’s going to get plenty of opportunity now that Sami Salo isn’t here to play on our power play and utilize his size and his speed and his shot, so he fits in really well with where we’re trying to go,” said Gillis.
As well as performing well on the power play, Garrison has proven to be effective in the playoffs, with three points (1-2-3) in four games. He was also second on his team during the regular season in blocked shots with 124 and fourth on his team with 127 hits.
But before the 6-foot-2, 220 pound defenseman found his niche on the team, Garrison was an undrafted late bloomer. After two seasons with the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers, one in which he posted 62 points (22-40-62) in 57 games, Garrison played with the Canucks’ Mason Raymond for the University of Minnesota Duluth of the WCHA for three seasons. Finally, around the age of 23, the undrafted defensman was signed by the Panthers. He spent his first two years with them bouncing between the Panthers and their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
Despite his slow rise to success, Garrison’s 33 points in 77 games this season were enough to grab hold of Gillis’ attention, as he attempts to make the Canucks younger, stronger and more versatile.
“We wanted size, we wanted another guy who can shoot the puck on the power play and we wanted character and he fits all those criteria,” Gillis said.
Now Garrison will be joining Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis as one of the Canucks’ top defensemen on his home province’s team, and after his first year making the NHL playoffs, is determined to help his new team win.
“You want to be on a good team that has a chance to win and that’s a big factor for me at least,” said Garrison. “The Canucks are so close to winning and I just want to try and fit in wherever I can. And it’s just such a different experience to be a lot closer to my friends and family and playing for a team you watched growing up.”
During “Free Agent Frenzy,” the Canucks also lost Sami Salo, who signed a two year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Aaron Rome who signed a three year deal with the Dallas Stars. The Canucks re-signed Andrew Ebbett and Steve Pinizzotto.