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Jonathan Huberdeau: the Panther you'd be a fool to forget

Jonathan Huberdeau had a rough sophomore season after winning the NHL's Rookie-of-the-Year award in 2012-13. But he's now got a coach who respects him – and Adam Proteau says opponents forget about him at their own peril.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. – Jonathan Huberdeau’s first NHL season ended with him winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s most outstanding rookie. But, like many second-year pros, he discovered consistency over the longer term is more difficult to achieve.

The 21-year-old left winger scored 14 goals and 31 points in the lockout-shortened 48-game NHL campaign of 2012-13, but last year those numbers dwindled to nine goals and 28 points in 69 games. However, the so-called sophomore jinx wasn’t to blame. Instead, the origins of Huberdeau’s struggles can be traced back to the hip surgery he underwent in May of 2013; while the procedure dealt with a nagging ailment, it also set him back in terms of working on all aspects of his game.

“It was hard mentally with the season I had,” Huberdeau said. “It was hard physically, too, but hey, no excuses. I could’ve done better.”

When he finally got his feet under him late in the season (and just before a concussion cost him 11 games toward the end of the campaign), former Panthers interim head coach Peter Horacek inexplicably sheared down Huberdeau’s minutes to what you’d expect to see given to a fourth-liner, not the reigning rookie-of-the-year.

That didn’t sit too well with GM Dale Tallon – and it was no coincidence the man he hired to replace Horacek, Gerard Gallant, was Huberdeau’s head coach with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior League. Gallant has treated Huberdeau like a son and won two QMJHL championships and one Memorial Cup with him.

Safe to say Huberdeau is going to get more respect this season. Safer to say he’ll be more productive and happier after having a full summer in which to train to the same extent his peers have. Safest to say the Panthers need him contributing if they’re going to make the leap from second-worst in the Eastern Conference to a playoff spot this season.

If he does start off this season strongly, Huberdeau can point to his decision to play for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship last spring as one of the reasons he rebounded so quickly. At that point, he was in need of a confidence boost, and being able to represent his country and play well – as he did, with four assists and five points in seven games – against NHL-caliber competition gave him that.

“I was really happy with that and I went back home in the summer more positive about things,” Huberdeau said. “I want to be one of the best players here and be an asset for the team and I think I can help this year.”

Gallant has all sorts of challenges in his first year coaching a Panthers team with a number of new veteran faces, but he doesn’t see Huberdeau being anything other than a key component of Florida’s core for the long term.

“Last year things got off track a little bit for him, but not because of anything Jonathan did,” Gallant said. “He had some injuries, and when you come back from that you’re not the same player and you don’t have the same jump. But I had Jonathan in Saint John and we know what kind of character kid he is. He’s real hard on himself. So I think he’ll have a bounce-back year and I think that’s just part of the development for a young player.”

Huberdeau worked like a madman in the gym this summer and has bulked up from the 188 pounds he was listed at last season. His rejuvenated spirit and growing game should worry opponents in 2014-15 and beyond.

“I’m stronger now,” Huberdeau said. “Along the boards I had some trouble staying up last year, but I’m feeling stronger and I think this can help me beat some guys 1-on-1.”

So whatever you do, don't sleep on Huberdeau. Lots of rookies who've had early success face adversity, and counting him out after a series of unfortunate events is the dumbest thing you can do.



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