The Florida Panthers’ attempt to build on one of the most successful seasons in franchise history has been marred by a slew of injuries to key players, and it could be a while yet before two of the team’s brightest young stars are back in the lineup.
Panthers interim coach and GM Tom Rowe said Thursday that Jonathan Huberdeau shouldn’t be expected back in the lineup anytime soon, and he stayed away from indicating a timeline for Aleksander Barkov, who has been out of action since midway though a Dec. 28 meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Asked about the possibility of the injuries to Huberdeau and Barkov being potentially season-ending, Rowe said that worry is there whenever a star player is out.
"Those are two franchise-type players and we're certainly not going to rush them back," Rowe said, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "They'll be back in the lineup when everybody feels they're ready to play. You're always concerned about it [being season-ending], but we're not consumed with it every day. We're moving forward and playing with the guys we have, and when they're ready to come back, they'll be welcome. It'll be a huge boost to us.”
The indication was that Huberdeau could potentially be back into action early in March, which would be slightly longer than originally expected. When Huberdeau first suffered the injury to his Achilles in the Panthers’ final pre-season game back in October, the expectation was that he would miss somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 months. An early-March return would put Huberdeau’s absence up to five months and would only allow him to get into action for a handful of games this season.
Huberdeau’s loss has already been impactful this season, as the Panthers have struggled greatly on offense with one of their top guns out of action. Huberdeau was coming off of a career-best 20-goal, 59-point season with the Panthers in 2015-16 and the 23-year-old was primed to take another step forward in his growth before being sidelined with the ailment. Without Huberdeau, the Panthers’ offense has mustered 111 goals this season, and only the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes are averaging fewer goals per game.
The Panthers struggles without Huberdeau have been exacerbated by the additional loss of Barkov, who manned the top line alongside Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr for much of the 2015-16 campaign. At the time Barkov exited the lineup, he was Florida’s leading scorer with nine goals and 27 points in 36 games, with a five-point edge on second-place Jonathan Marchessault.
There is a bit more clarity on what is ailing Barkov, though. The initial report was that Barkov would be sidelined with a lower-body injury, but Rowe revealed the 21-year-old is dealing with an upper-body ailment. The exact nature of the injury hasn’t been announced, however.
Given Huberdeau won’t be back in the near future, the Panthers will have to hope Barkov is in line to make his return post-all-star break or shortly thereafter. Every game without both Huberdeau and Barkov is a tough one for Florida, and with only 35 games remaining on their schedule, the Panthers could be in tough to find their way back into the post-season.
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