Earlier this month the hockey world took a break from the gloom and doom of NHL labor talks to honor the recent inductees to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Among these honored stars was former Panthers great Pavel Bure. Known by many as “The Russian Rocket”, Pavel lived up to his nickname by being one of the most gifted skaters and scorers during his illustrious playing career for the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. Bure was
a perennial all-star for the Vancouver Canucks until January 17th 1999 when Bure was traded in a bulk deal to the Florida Panthers. Though injuries limited Bure to only 11 games with the Panthers at the end of the 1998-1999 season, the team still saw it fit to offer him a five-year $47.5 million deal – the most lucrative deal in team history.
The Panthers’ huge financial gamble on a now injury pron Bure paid off big time for the young franchise. In his first two full seasons with the club, Bure amassed goal totals of 58 and 59 respectively, good enough to capture the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy in both years. His 58 goals and 94 points in a season are still Panthers club records to this day. He was an integral part in keeping hockey relevant in South Florida at the dawn of the new millennium. Hockey fans from all over the world tuned in to see what kind of magic Pavel would pull off on the ice on any given night. Bure was stellar in his 3 ½ seasons for the Panthers, but he never achieved the ultimate goal of taking the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. On March 18th 2002, Pavel Bure was traded to the New York Rangers – and the Panthers have been without a star player ever since.
Since Bure’s departure in 2002, the Panthers have been on a never ending search for the next great NHL talent. While players like Olli Jokinen and Stephen Weiss have been exceptional players for the Panthers since the Bure trade, the team has yet to re-obtain an impressive scoring talent. Continuous sub-par seasons left Florida with a bevy of high round draft selections, and through no fault but their own were unable to properly scout talent and find a legitimate star. Over the years, the Panthers have made poor selections on players such as Michael Frolik and Rostislav Olesz while passing up on future all-stars Claude Giroux, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and so on. However, the club could have finally righted all past wrong doing when they selected Jonathan Huberdeau 3rd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Already labeled as a shoe in to be a Calder Trophy finalist, Jonathan Huberdeau looks to be the star player that the Panthers have coveted for years. After leading the Panthers’ in scoring
last pre-season, Huberdeau was sent back to the QMJHL in order to build more muscle and prepare his body for the rigors of the NHL. During his time in the minors last season, Huberdeau impressed scouts by not only showing off his scoring ability, but his playmaking as well. With nothing left to prove in juniors, Huberdeau will most certainly make the jump the NHL this season and anchor the Panther’s second line. While his numbers have fallen slightly since last season, Huberdeau still has a stellar 29 points (12g 17a) through only 22 games played this season for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. While hype continues to build around the young scoring phenom, Huberdeau must now wait to prove himself in the NHL. However, when arenas finally do open and the NHL lockout is lifted, I fully expect Jonathan Huberdeau to turn heads and make the Florida Panthers must see TV once again.