Downing agrees to pro contract with NHL's Florida Panthers

Monday, March 28, 2016 - 12:24pm

The Michigan defensive corps just got even thinner.

With sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski already out the door to the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, junior defenseman Michael Downing is also leaving, forgoing his senior season. Downing has agreed with the Florida Panthers on a three-year entry level contract, he confirmed to The Daily on Tuesday afternoon.

“I thought it was the best decision for me and my hockey career,” Downing said. “I talked to Red this morning and he said he thinks I’m ready to go. And I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

“Red told me this morning that I’m leaving as a man.”

The team has not yet announced whether Downing will be assigned directly to the Panthers or to the club’s AHL affiliate Portland Pirates.

Downing has been a top defenseman for Michigan since his freshman year. In his first year, he played with Mac Bennett and they formed the team’s top pairing.

In his sophomore season, he grew a reputation for laying down punishing hits and he became the team’s spark plug.

“It helps in a lot of facets,” said junior forward JT Compher about Downing’s hits last season. “You have to know when he’s on the ice as a forward on the other team. He makes them more and more hesitant coming through the ice. When he throws a big hit, it gets the bench going, and we rally behind it. They’re questionable calls at times, but we’re not going to tell him not to be physical, because that is the way he helps our team.”

Added sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski: “Someone who can hit like that definitely brings energy to the bench. You can see guys on the other team don’t want to go his way.”

Downing’s junior season was no different. On top of his continued massive hits, he became a focal point of the offense. He led the second power play unit, and he had an uncanny ability to get his shots through traffic and toward the net, which often led to goals.

The junior finished the season with three goals and 17 assists and was one of two defensemen to reach 20 points.

Now, Downing is eager to get his professional career started.

“I am going to go in and prove myself to my coaches and teammate,” Downing said. “There’s a lot to prove and do go in there and do what I do and gain the respect of my teammates.”