Jason Garrison (right) hits an Abbotsford Heat player during a 2009 American Hockey League game between Abby and Garrison’s Rochester Americans. Garrison signed Monday with the Vancouver Canucks

White Rock’s Jason Garrison signs with hometown Canucks

Former Florida Panthers defenceman signs six-year contract with Canucks on Sunday.

White Rock defenceman Jason Garrison is coming home, after signing a contract with his hometown Vancouver Canucks Sunday afternoon.

Garrison, 27, was a free agent after spending the last three seasons with the Florida Panthers. His new deal with Vancouver is a six-year pact, worth a total of $27.6-million.

Garrison, who grew up in the Lower Mainland and played minor hockey with the Semiahmoo Minor Hockey Association, was a sought-after commodity when the National Hockey League’s free-agency period opened Sunday. Last season, he was third among NHL defencemen with 16 goals.

In the days leading up to free agency, Garrison had said his first choice would have been to stay with the Panthers but that the chance to play for the Canucks would be “a dream come true.”

“We’re very excited, we think there’s tremendous upside there,” Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said in an interview posted on the team’s official website.

“He wanted to be in a hockey environment, wanted to be back in Vancouver, so we’re very pleased.”

Garrison’s recent rise to NHL star defencemen – he only has 190 NHL games on his resume – has been an interesting one. Growing up in Aldergrove before moving to the Semiahmoo Peninsula, he did not play rep hockey until high school, but eventually improved his game enough to make the cut, as a forward, with the Junior B Richmond Sockeyes.

“He was a good kid but he didn’t really stand out.” his former Semiahmoo coach John Blessman told Peace Arch News last fall.

It was with the Sockeyes that Garrison moved to the blue-line, and from there advanced to the BC Hockey League’s Nanaimo Clippers and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He went undrafted into the NHL, signing with Florida after his college career wrapped up.

Now with Vancouver, the late-blooming Garrison will be counted on to replace veteran defenceman Sami Salo, who left the Canucks to sign with Tampa Bay on July 1.