Florida Panthers acquire veteran defenseman Ben Chiarot from Montreal Canadiens

The Florida Panthers have acquired Ben Chiarot from the Montreal Canadiens, taking one of the most coveted defensemen off the market ahead of Monday's NHL trade deadline.

The Panthers on Wednesday sent their 2023 first-round pick, a 2022 fourth-round pick and unsigned college prospect Tyler Smilanic to the Canadiens, who agreed to retain half of Chiarot's $3.5 million salary in order to make the trade more cap-friendly. Chiarot is in the last year of his contract ahead of unrestricted free agency this summer.

"Ben is a solid veteran defenseman that will bring both experience and size to our blue line," Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. "Having reached the Stanley Cup Final with Montreal last season, he is a player that knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run, which is what our organization is striving for in these next few months."

Florida opened up salary-cap space earlier Wednesday, trading forward Frank Vatrano to the New York Rangers for a 2022 fourth-round draft pick.

Chiarot, 30, is in his ninth NHL season. He played the past three seasons with the Canadiens after coming over from the Winnipeg Jets. He has 110 points in 469 career games but is primarily known as a defensive defenseman.

He struggled with Montreal this season after defense partner Shea Weber could not play due to multiple injuries that could spell the end of his career. But with Florida, Chiarot won't have to play top-pairing minutes, as he averaged a career-high 23:33 per game this season.

The Panthers did not have a 2022 first-round draft pick, which was sent to the Buffalo Sabres in the Sam Reinhart trade last year. The 2023 draft is considered a deeper one than the 2022 edition set for Montreal this summer.

Smilanic, 20, was drafted by the Panthers 74th overall in 2020 and has been playing for Quinnipiac University the past two seasons.

The Panthers lead the Eastern Conference with 88 points, with a 41-13-6 record. They're seeking their first playoff-round victory since 1996.